New Labor Regulations Threaten Agriculture
By Frank Priestley, Idaho Farm Bureau President
A farm or ranch is one of the best possible places for young people to learn how to work and to learn the life lessons that build good citizens.
However, new regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor threaten to drastically reduce opportunities for youth to work on farms and to learn the many time-honored traditions that are passed from one generation to the next.
It’s been a common occurrence under the Obama Administration for federal agencies to increase their regulatory authority through rulemaking. We have seen it with federal land management agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency. Now the Department of Labor has a plan that would drastically limit what work children under the age of 16 are allowed to perform. But what many of us who live in western states would like the Washington D.C. bureaucrats to know is that we don’t believe the federal government knows what’s best for us.
The Department of Labor’s existing Fair Labor Standards Act includes a parental exemption that allows children to work for their parents. However, under new rules children wouldn’t be allowed to perform many traditional tasks on a neighbor or relative’s farm. It would also severely restrict opportunities for students in agricultural education programs across the country.
Specifically, the new rules would prohibit youth under 16 from operating or working around tractors including cleaning, oiling or repairing, connecting or disconnecting farm implements. Further, it places major restrictions on the use of power tools, including battery-powered drills and even screwdrivers. The federal definition of power-driven equipment includes “all machines, equipment, implements, vehicles and/or devices operated by any other power source other than human hand or foot power.
To illustrate how absurd this definition is consider that under these new rules no one under 16 working on a farm owned by someone other than parents would be allowed to stack hay in a barn using a conveyer. They wouldn’t be allowed to move wheel lines used for irrigation or to turn on a center pivot sprinkler system; they wouldn’t be allowed to check the oil on the tractor or air up a low tire. With regard to livestock, youth would be prohibited from branding, castrating, dehorning or vaccinating calves. They would be prohibited from herding animals in confined spaces such as feed lots or corrals, or to work from horseback herding animals in confined spaces.
The rules are also vague in their attempt to define arduous work conditions and they prohibit youth from working in buildings where fruit, forage or grain is stored.
We appreciate that federal bureaucrats care about keeping kids safe on farms and ranches. But when rules such as these throw roadblocks in front of time-honored traditions that are passed down from one generation to the next on farms and ranches throughout the nation, we view it as a threat to the future of agriculture in this country.