I have debated with myself for some time about writing this article. It may prove to be somewhat controversial. However, I finally decided that I would write it and that perhaps those of you who strongly agree with me may be moved to action and those of you who strongly disagree with me may also be moved to action. So, if this column moves you to action, then it has accomplished its purpose.
The U.S. Department of Labor is proposing to change child labor laws pertaining to agricultural workers. There are deaths and injuries that occur every year on farms and ranches across the U.S. Those individuals wanting to change the laws are doing so with the intent of protecting children from potentially dangerous situations. I cannot disagree with their motivation. I certainly do not want to see children injured or killed in a tragic farm accident. However, I do not believe a group of Washington D.C. bureaucrats know enough about farm and ranch life to write a set of rules that will protect your children from farm accidents without seriously impacting your way of life. I believe each of you know best how to teach and train your children to be safe while they work with you on the farm or ranch.
The proposed rule changes do not apply to children if they work for their parents on a farm/ranch owned by their parents. However, if there is joint ownership with other relatives, if the farm is incorporated, even if the shareholders are family, or if the parents are themselves employees then the new proposed rule would apply. The proposed rule changes apply to "young hired farm workers," defined as: (1) Fourteen- and 15-year-olds who are NOT the children of the farm owner or operator; (2) Twelve- and 13-year-olds who work on the same farm where their parents are employed; and (3) Children under the age of 12 who are employed with the written consent of their parents, on a small farm where no employee is required by the Fair Labor Standards Act to be paid the minimum wage.
The major rule changes are that: (1) No young hired farm workers under the age of 16 can operate any power-driven equipment (there is an exception to this after the youth has taken a 90 hour training course provided by your government run public school); (2) Prohibiting young hired farm workers from doing almost all work with livestock in any confined space (corrals, chicken coop, barn stall, etc.); and (3) Prohibiting young hired farm workers from using electronic communication devices while operating power-driven equipment. I see rules 1 and 2, has having the biggest impact on your farm/ranch lifestyle.