Vilsack clarifies DOL child labor proposal

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The following commentary was written by Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack and published on the USDA's blog.

Recently there has been some concern and confusion in rural America over the Department of Labor’s (DOL) proposed regulations on child labor and I’d like to help clarify how this regulation will impact our farmers.   We all know that kids benefit from good old-fashioned farm work.   It’s a longtime way of life that has helped make this country strong, and it teaches kids lessons that last a lifetime.

However, statistics show that while only 4 percent of working youth are in the agriculture sector, 40 percent of fatalities of working kids are associated with machines, equipment, or facilities related to agriculture.  That’s way too high.  We don’t want to blur the line between teaching kids about a good day’s hard work, and putting them in situations more safely handled by adults.

First, it is important to know that DOL is not proposing any changes to how a son or daughter can help on their family farm.  There is nothing in the proposed rule that affects the ability of parents and families to assign chores and tasks to their children.  Further, the proposed rule respects the various ways that farms are structured in rural America, including partnerships and LLC’s.   DOL is looking at possible approaches to simply protect the safety of children hired to work on a farm.

DOL announced their proposal on September 2 to start a conversation about how to keeps kids out of harm’s way and solicited comments from the agricultural community to ensure everyone had an opportunity to provide input.   USDA worked with DOL to extend the comment period through December 1, to give the farming community additional time to prepare and submit comments to help avoid unintended consequences that impact farmers and ranchers.

We want to ensure that children of farm families maintain their ability to help with the family farm, while working to prevent unnecessary child injuries or deaths.

In the months ahead, we will continue to work with DOL on how to find a common-sense approach to strengthening our agricultural economy and keeping our farm kids safe.

Click here to learn more about DOL’s proposed rule.

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Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  December, 14, 2011 at 09:10 AM

Ever notice that many of Tom Vilasack's mass communications to the greater Ag Community are essentially attempt to convince everyone that some the action of some other federal department won't really over-regulate farming and damage the rule economy? I don't recall any other Sec. of Ag having to spend so much time at apologetics for an Administration. President Obama has surely reduced the status of this position by turning the Sec. of Ag into PR sink. If DOL proposed the regulation, then the Sec. of Labor should be the apologist, not the Sec. of another deparmtent.

Mankato, MN  |  December, 14, 2011 at 09:15 AM

Help me understand how the government believes that they have a stronger interest in my children's well being than I do as their own father. There are places for government, but this is not one of them.

Gregory Goebel    
Mankato, MN  |  December, 14, 2011 at 09:24 AM

As someone who has lost a sibling in a farm accident some of the rules do make sense. I think Vilsack can probably explain this to the farm groups who will be affected.

russ davis    
Alturas, Ca  |  December, 14, 2011 at 10:23 AM

Oh how could we survive without the government telling us how to live our lives???

Wisconsin  |  December, 14, 2011 at 10:29 AM

The answer to issues for this Administration always seems to be, more government.

WI  |  December, 14, 2011 at 04:29 PM

Why does this administration want to constantly put up roadblocks in front of those who want to work and improve their lives, but can't wait to increase the government handouts and class warfare rhetoric with those who don't want to work?

little rock  |  December, 14, 2011 at 06:49 PM

good....more government rules I can ignore,,,hopefully they make a rule that says we only get 4 breaths per minute...probably gonna ignore that one too!!

Palmer Holden    
Iowa City  |  December, 14, 2011 at 09:23 PM

The Secretary said absolutely nothing of value. Just platitudes.

Rural Nebraska  |  December, 15, 2011 at 03:28 PM

The administration gives lip service to interest in how jobs are created. This rule will discourage anyone from hiring young men and women to work in the hay filed,corn field, hog barn, cattle yard, ranch, almost any place where kids can getan eductaion in how to work and do it in the great outdoors with fresh air. This adminestration apparently wants kids ot sit on thier duffs playing R and X rated video games while becoming fat and lazy. Then the admin. can promise them a hand out if they just vote them in, again. This next election is the most important in our history. We must change leadership. We must.

New Mexico  |  December, 15, 2011 at 09:11 PM

Farmers are certified to handle chemical etc, can't they be certified to handle kids? If the farmer , the kids and the parents all get involved in establishing safe working conditions and guidelines these rules would not be needed. This would also reduce adult accidents.

Kentucky  |  December, 16, 2011 at 04:14 PM

As a mother, educator and farm safety instructor, I realize that we need to teach farm safety and keep kids out of danger. I do not believe the deaths are all from equipment, ATV's are the biggest threat to youth and we still continue to avoid that issue. Again more rules to break.

Burke Teichert    
Utah  |  December, 19, 2011 at 12:59 PM

This is about as ridiculous as it gets. Has anyone thought about the children of ranch employees? Are they exempt along with the children of the owners? Often living away from town, what are they expected to do if they can't be with Dad or Mom out doing ranch work. If they do that, they should learn to work safely--especially learn to work and to be self-reliant. Where are farmers and ranchers supposed to come from if our kids can't work on farms and ranches? I will guarante that not many will start after age 18 if they aren't already "in love" with this profession. They want to ranch when they are 5-10 years old, and that's when they learn rapidly. I wouldn't be in Agriculture today if my dad hadn't started taking me with him at a very young age when I wanted to go--not because he needed the help.

Maxine Jones    
Midland, SD  |  December, 19, 2011 at 07:01 PM

Mr. Burke Teichert has it exactly right! Having raised four kids on a ranch, and participated, along with four siblings and multiple cousins and our friends as kids on a family ranch, I can state equivocally that kids want to learn to do ranch jobs from a very early age, and are as safe and competent as those the learn from! I would like to see comparisons between farm/ranch children injured or killed WHILE WORKING on the ranch/farm as contrasted with number injured while working in other jobs, playing, and just generally being kids in non-farm/ranch settings. Think skate boards, hanging out in parks, driving cars and ATV's ( legal or not, they do it!) and all the other ways kids find to appease their boredom.

Midland, SD  |  December, 19, 2011 at 07:09 PM

Thanks for great comments, Mr. Teichert! Having raised four kids who participated in work and play on a family ranch, and participated as a kid along with four siblings and many assorted cousins and friends on another ranch, we had our share of mishaps, most NOT involving work. After all, we were NOT 'messing around' as much while working as while entertaining ourselves!!! I really would like to see comparisons between numbers of injuries and deaths of children working on ranch/farm settings and those in other work the same ages of children are doing. Then, compare the rate of injury and death while children are playing, in sports, riding ATV's and other recreational vehicles, and see how that compares with farm accident injuries and deaths. Contrast the abilities of youths who do not learn to work by observing and instruction from parents or others with those who do so, especially on farms/ranches. It is pretty obvious which youth are in demand for jobs, and have a better change for a successful life. The role models one sees working and enjoying the work on farms/ranches is powerful and enhances opportunities for 'country kids'!

sheilia hopkins    
bloomfield, iowa  |  December, 27, 2011 at 04:42 PM

if you are going to enforce these laws, you had better start with the amish, their children drive buggies on highways, work in fields long hours around all kinds of chemicals. dont just check on the every dayd farmer but check on the unique groups. horses can be as dangers as a motorized vehicles. there have been many injuries in the amish communities in this area. thanks

Ames, IA  |  April, 26, 2012 at 12:53 PM

Government needs to stay out of homes and specifically farmers! Shame on you Governor Vilasack!

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