(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) today expressed concerns over a proposed ruling by the Obama Administration to restrict youth agricultural labor. In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Shaheen wrote:
"Family farms in New Hampshire and across the country rely on hard-working young people to help with farm operations, and youth in turn gain valuable experience and skills by working on farms in their communities."
This past September, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed extensive changes to existing youth labor rules to limit the activities of children under the age of 16 who work on farms.
“For generations, children in New Hampshire have learned invaluable lessons about hard work and community while working on their family farms. While this regulation may be well-meaning in its intent, it must not be done in a way that threatens the financial stability of families or the time-honored tradition of family farming,” Shaheen said.
Under current rule, children working on their parents’ farms are exempt from existing labor regulations. The new ruling may narrow this exemption so that children in families whose farms are registered as businesses or companies would not necessarily be exempt. The ruling would also prohibit youth from performing many commonplace farm tasks, such as operating tractors and other power-driven farm equipment, working at an elevation of more than six feet and assisting in any procedures (including vaccinations) that could cause pain to animals.
The full text of Shaheen’s letter is as follows:
The Honorable Hilda L. Solis
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210
Dear Secretary Solis:
I write to express my concern over the U.S. Department of Labor’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (76 Fed. Reg. 54836-85) that would drastically restrict youth agricultural labor. The proposed rule as currently drafted could have a serious negative impact on rural communities.
Family farms in New Hampshire and across the country rely on hard-working young people to help with farm operations, and youth in turn gain valuable experience and skills by working on farms in their communities. The Department’s proposed rule to expand hazardous agricultural occupations for youth would effectively prevent young people from meaningfully contributing to daily farm operations. While I certainly agree with the need to protect children from injury and exploitation, I am concerned that the rule fails to acknowledge the unique needs and environment of agricultural labor.
Furthermore, the Department must ensure that the parental exemption remains intact under any new regulations. The current proposal narrows the scope of that exemption in ways that do not take into consideration the legal structure of modern farm ownership. As the Department reconsiders this portion of the rule, the interpretation of the exemption must not cause problems for families who own their farms through limited liability corporations or through legal partnerships.
I am hopeful that the Department will reconsider this proposed rule and ensure that any future rulemaking concerning child agricultural labor adequately reflect the needs of local communities.
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