Teach Your Children

A California rancher friend, Jeff Fowle wrote on his blog Common Sense Agriculture that he recently got an email from a friend that he thought was a joke.  Turns out, it’s not all that funny.

The message centered on some changes to the child labor laws being considered by the US Department of Labor.

In essence, it seems the proposed regulations would make it illegal to allow a child under the age of 16 to do all of the following:

  1. Herd animals on horseback, Sort animals on horseback, or work with livestock in almost any way
  2. Operate any equipment;
  3. Operate any vehicle, tractor, feed truck, ATV or motorized conveyance;
  4. Operate any tool that is not powered by hand;

As Jeff says, what does our government have against teaching children the value of family, responsibility and a strong work ethic?

These new regulations do not just apply to “paid” children, but also makes it “illegal” for children under the age of 16 to do any of these activities if they are done as “work” without pay.

Jeff’s family still works cattle on horseback.  These changes, if seriously considered and passed, could prevent his son from participating in and learning from this time-honored tradition.  This vanishing way of life could vanish all the quicker.

Let’s stop a moment and take a deep breath, and consider what’s going on here.  No one in their right mind would suggest that children be forced to perform dangerous, unsupervised tasks that intentionally put them in harm’s way.  Nor would any reasonable individual endorse making a child to work long hours under extreme conditions for little pay.  Laws to address abuses of children in the workplace have been around for a century or more, they just need to be properly and intelligently enforced in the agriculture industry as well as manufacturing.  New laws that over-reach and overprotect wouldn’t be necessary then.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to get the National FFA and 4-H organizations to use my radio show Food and Farm as their bully pulpit and urge some common sense treatment of this situation.  I understand their reticence and reluctance to become involved in such a highly political and emotionally volatile matter, but it is they who will most likely be impacted the most should cooler heads not be allowed to prevail.  The current recommended changes would essentially shut down youth livestock shows and make it impossible for these two organizations to do what they have always done best – keep youth connected with agriculture.  Without livestock programs that instill stewardship and responsibility, the speeches these youngsters are taught to make would have a hollow ring.

The cascade of unintended consequences  could continue into industrial education and other areas.  What productive adult can look back at his or her youth and say there was never a summer or after-school job that made them sweat and got their hands dirty.  Not everybody gets the corner office with a view.

A 60-Minutes segment on CBS featured young migrant farm workers who came with their father to the U.S. to work.  Some may have seen a deplorable situation, but the teens and their father were glad to have the work that they couldn’t get at home and that would eventually contribute to getting the kids an education and an attitude that honest, hard work isn’t a bad thing.

Jeff concluded his blog with some statistics.  To put this in perspective, in California alone, in 2005, there were more than >100 homicides, >200 attempted homicides, >1500 aggravated assaults, >50 attacks on police officers, >1500 robberies, >150 shots into inhabited dwellings, >25 kidnappings, >20 rapes, >500 criminal threats and >100 carjackings…all by children and gang related.  Young people gravitate to gangs, in part, because they don’t have enough to keep them productively occupied and they have never learned the value of ethics and character that is developed from a sense of responsibility.

Worst of all, we’ve relinquished our responsibility to teach our children, making it the job of our churches, schools and government.  Then we can blame someone else when they don’t turn out the way they should.  Shame on us for being too busy to accept our duty as parents and grandparents.

Through the rest of October, you can read Proposed Rules 29 CFR Parts 570 and 579 on line and comment on them at http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=WHD-2011-0001-0001

I’d also recommend you read Jeff Fowle’s blog for yourself at http://commonsenseagriculture.com/

(The Department of Labor has announced it will extend the comment period on these rules through December 1.  Additionally, Rusty Rumley of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas has written an analysis of the rules that can be found at http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/articles/rrumley_Child_Labor.pdf )

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About raybowman

church of Christ elder, farmer, grandad, agriculture writer and broadcaster

Posted on October 17, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. This is quite obviously one of the most absurd changes to ‘law’, but it’s one more thing to take seriously so that it doesn’t actually happen. I guess they wouldn’t have appreciated me sending my (much quicker and younger) son out to catch the occasional errant sheep – both ovine and son landed usually on the ground in a single heap.

  2. The regulations are very clear that the new rules do NOT apply to children working on their parent’s farm. “The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children
    working on farms owned or operated by their parents.” There are also exemptions for supervised activities and training programs.

    • Respectfully, Susan, I don’t think it’s clear at all. I’m certainly not an attorney, but to me the language is very vague and open to interpretation. The parental labor exemption, for example, gets very complicated when the operation is anything but a sole proprietorship. I’ve included links so that anyone reading this doesn’t – or at least shouldn’t – take my word for it but read the language for themselves and then, if so inclined, comment to DOL.

  3. You are right Ray. If brothers farm together in a partnership or grandparents farm with parents the new rules will apply. With so many farms multi-generation this will be a huge and ridiculous mess. Good post!

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