Obama Gives Up Fight to Restrict Child Labor on Non-Family Farms

Monday, April 30, 2012
Hannah Kendall and Jade Garza
Fourteen-year-old best friends Jade Garza and Hannah Kendall of Sterling, Illinois, looking forward to starting high school, were just trying to earn some money by working for Monsanto during the summer of 2011, when they were electrocuted in a farming accident. Like the rest of the 400,000 children used as laborers on non-family farms, Jade and Hannah’s work was not covered by labor laws.
Little more than a month later, the Department of Labor (DOL) proposed rules to restrict kids under 16 from working for non-family employers in certain capacities, including handling tobacco, driving tractors without rollover protection, operating heavy machinery, handling pesticides, and working inside grain silos, manure pits and storage bins. As DOL pointed out, the fatality rate for child farm workers is four times higher than that of nonagricultural child workers, and the rules were an attempt to save young lives.
Last week, only seven months after issuing them, DOL withdrew the regulations, citing heavy pressure from the agriculture industry, which got strong support from middle of the road Democrats from rural states like Montana’s Jon Tester and Missouri’s Claire McCaskill, who are facing tough election battles this fall.
Critics contended that the rule’s family farm exemption allowing children to work on their parents’ farms needed to be broadened to include extended family, and attacked the idea of regulating child labor on the farm as un-American.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, a key opponent, praised the decision to withdraw the rules as a “victory for farm families,” while Norma Flores Lopez, of the nonprofit Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, said “these were commonsense protections that maintained the traditions of family farms and would have saved many kids’ lives.”
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:

 Labor Department Clashes with Farm Groups over Child Labor Laws (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov) 


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