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Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in Law, Politics | 7 comments

Is The Obama Administration Intervening In Farm Chores?

The short answer is no. Here’s the long one (at Storify).

Remember this: when a headline or tweet sounds too good or too bad to be true … it probably isn’t! Neither is this meme.

(Storify should appear below as an embed – please be patient!)

Is The Obama Administration Sticking Its Nose Into Farm Chores?

According to the DailyCaller, Sarah Palin and a host of conservative politicos, the answer is yes. But what, exactly, does the rulemaking proposal say?

Storified by Kathy E Gill · Thu, Apr 26 2012 02:10:37

Rural kids, parents angry about Labor Dept. rule banning farm choresA proposal from the Obama administration to prevent children from doing farm chores has drawn plenty of criticism from rural-district mem…
But is that what the regulations say? [Oh, and why is this “news” today?]

The only link in the Daily Caller article is to a DOL August 31, 2011 press release, which clearly states that there is a “complete exemption for youths employed on farms owned by their parents.”

Not content to read the press release, I also checked out the actual rulemaking proposal. (What a concept. Primary sources.)
DOL – FedRegDOL Home > Federal Register > By Agency
The proposal would implement specific recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, increase parity between the agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions, and also address other areas that can be improved, which were identified by the Department’s own enforcement actions. 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 (emphasis added).”
The Daily Caller isn’t alone its hyperbole. Former GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, on Facebook:
If I Wanted America to Fail, I’d Ban Kids From Farm Work | FacebookThe Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms. This is more overrea…
It’s great link bait, as Twitter demonstrates (S.E. Cupp and David Burge each have 50+ retweets):
It’s official: the America we know is over. "Labor Dept Rule Bans Farm Chores" @dailycallerS.E. Cupp
Labor Dept banning farm kids from doing chores has nothing to do w/safety but about changing a wholesome way of life & work ethic.Gail
If farm kids & bureaucrats swapped chores, you could enjoy an efficient government while starving to death.David Burge
I think my head is going to explode. Rural kids, parents angry about Labor Dept. rule banning farm chores Peter
Can we agree that “chores” are parent-driven and not work-for-hire?  
If so, can we then agree that both The Daily Caller author and Palin have misrepresented the rule (and stirred up the base in the process)?

What about incorporated farms?

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau claims that the rule would not provide an exemption for family farms that are incorporated:

Farm Bureau notes that DOL claims its “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” will not change the “parental exemption” in the current law, but Farm Bureau says DOL’s new language would not include an exemption for farms that are incorporated or formed as family partnerships.”

I am not a lawyer, but if the rule says it does not affect existing law, then I need more than a claim with no evidence from an advocacy group known for protesting just about any regulation relating to farming. (I lived in PA in the 1980s, where I worked in agriculture and water resources issues and dealt with the PFB.)

The parental exemption for the owner or operator of a farm is statutory and cannot be eliminated through the regulatory process..for children working on farms that are registered as LLCs, but operated solely by their parents, the parental exemption would still apply.” 
Finally, in February DOL said it was revisiting this portion of the rule (one assumes in order to make it crystal clear that the rule can’t change the statute):

On February 1, 2012, the Department announced that it will re-propose the portion of its regulation on child labor in agriculture interpreting the “parental exemption.” The parental exemption allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent. The re-proposal process will seek comments and inputs as to how the department can comply with statutory requirements to protect children, while respecting rural traditions. The re-proposed portion of the rule is expected to be published for public comment by early summer.

Why now?

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) wrote about this last week:
Opinion: Labor Dept.’s overreach could threaten life on the farm – Sen. Jerry MoranThe recent influx of federal regulations is stifling Americans’ fundamental freedoms. Washington has instituted guidelines for everything…
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and I have introduced legislation to prevent the Labor Department from implementing its controversial proposed restrictions on youth working on family farms..If the federal government can regulate the relationship between parents and their children on their own farm, virtually nothing seems off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.”

Like Palin and the DailyCaller, Thune and Moran are using hyperbole to stir emotions in an election year. (Neither are running for re-election, however.)

Why new regulations?

The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938) has not been modified in 40 years. Why might there be changes proposed relating to agriculture? 
It’s because of risk.
Young farm workers at greater risk of dying on-the-job, proposal to protect them called "detrimental," "foolish" and "idiotic" : The Pump HandleThe Labor Department is seeking public comment on a proposal to enhance safety protections for workers under age 16 employed in agricultu…
From Scienceblogs:

For U.S. workers, the risk of dying on the job is highest if you are employed in agricultural, fishing or hunting. These jobs are not just a little riskier than the average job, they are nearly 8 times more life-threatening. The fatality rate for all private sector workers is 3.5 per 100,000 workers; in agriculture, fishing and hunting, the rate is 26.8 deaths per 100,000 workers. Combine these statistics with age-specific fatality rates and it was time for the US Department of Labor (DOL) to review the adequacy of its safety regulations for children working in farming jobs.

Is this an Obama rule?

In the sense that he is President now, yes. In the sense that this process started at least 10 years ago, no.

Does the rule kill FFA and 4-H programs?

Per the DailyCaller:

The new regulations, first proposed August 31 by Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, would also revoke the government’s approval of safety training and certification taught by independent groups like 4-H and FFA, replacing them instead with a 90-hour federal government training course.”
Remember, we’re talking about work-for-hire. Not “chores” but employment by a non-family farm. And not just any work but work that is classified as hazardous.

Currently, youth younger than 16 can be hired (paid) for farm work if they are classified as a “student-learner” in a “bona fide cooperative vocational program.”
From the rulemaking proposal:

In 2003, the National Farm Medicine Center of Marshfield, Wisconsin, in its comments on the recommendations of the NIOSH Report, advised the Department that no exemptions for hired youth operating tractors should be allowed. “The current 4-H and vocational agriculture tractor and machinery certification programs have not been subjected to sufficient evaluations to confirm their effectiveness in preparing youth to safely operate tractors.”

A 2006 article reported that extrapolating from 4-H records and Ohio census data, fewer than 1% of the youth in Ohio who were operating tractors or other hazardous machinery had participated in tractor certification training (see Heaney JR, Wilkins III CA, Dellinger W, McGonigle H, Elliot M, Bean TL, Jepsen SD [2006]. Protecting Young Workers in Agriculture: Participation in Tractor Certification Training. Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health. 12(3): 181-190). 

“Another study notes that, nationally, the 4-H Tractor program has been one of the smallest 4-H education programs, with less than 21,500 participants enrolled in 1997 (see Carrabba, Jr., JJ, Talbert, BA, Field, WE, Tormoehlen, R [2001]. Effectiveness of the Indiana 4-H Tractor Program: Alumni Perceptions. Journal of Agricultural Education. 42: 11).
A 1996 report from NY state notes that “Approximately half of all injury-related fatalities in the agricultural industry are associated with farm tractors.”
As the ScienceBlogs authors point out, forklifts are off-limits to employed non-agricultural youth under 18 years of age. Is operating a tractor (for hire) less risky than forklifts? 
Based on research such as this, the Department of Labor is considering a change for farm workers (paid, not chores) younger than 16 when it comes to driving tractors: 

The Department is requesting comments as to whether 14- and 15- year-old hired farm workers are capable of absorbing, and implementing on a continuous basis, the knowledge necessary to ensure their safety and the safety of others while performing tasks otherwise prohibited by the Ag H.O.s. Therefore it is asking for public comment as to whether the child labor provisions should permit any hired farm worker under the age of 16 years to operate or assist in the operation of agricultural tractors or agricultural implements (emphasis added).”
There you have it, another poster child for Kathy’s rule: If it sounds too good or too bad to be true … it’s probably not! 

Don’t retweet, share, like, plus, pin (etc etc etc) without doing some due diligence first. And if you don’t have time to check it out, let your head rule your gut (for once).

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