U.S. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (MO-9th District) is joining congressional colleagues in challenging the U.S. Department of Labor's proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act that could impact the ability of youth to explore agricultural related careers and farm families to employ youth to work in agriculture.
In a recent letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, Luetkemeyer and his colleagues argued the proposed regulations have the potential to dramatically change the way in which children under the age of 18 are allowed to work in both agricultural and nonagricultural operations. There is an existing exemption in the proposed rule for children working on a family-owned or operated farm, but there is concern that the rule could ultimately affect the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire youth to work in agriculture. The public comment period is set to end on Nov. 1. The letter requests that Secretary Solis extend that comment period by an additional 60 days so that more interested parties are able to express their concern.
"Given the state of our nation's economy and the high potential for cuts to agriculture programs, the last thing the government should be doing is standing in the way of young people who want to gain work experience on the farm, which is the lifeblood of many of our communities," said Luetkemeyer, who owns and operates a 160-acre farm in Missouri. "As someone who raised hogs to pay for my college tuition and learned many important life lessons while working on a farm, I find the Labor Department's actions extremely disturbing. There needs to be more time for the public to comment on these changes."
On Sept. 2, 2011, DOL indicated their intention to revise the Fair Labor Standards Act as it relates to young workers employed in agriculture. The proposed changes as they relate to youth employment in agriculture include:
• Strengthening current child labor prohibitions regarding agricultural work with animals in timber operations, manure pits, storage bins and pesticide handling.
• Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from employment in the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco.
• Prohibiting hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating almost all power driven equipment.
• Preventing children under 18 years of age from being employed in the storing, marketing and transporting of farm-product raw materials. Prohibited places of employment would include grain elevators, grain bins, silos, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and livestock auctions.
Also expressing opposition to the proposed changes is Rep. Denny Rehberg, a fifth-generation rancher from Billings, Mont., and chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee with Labor Department oversight.
"At its core, this is a simple question of who is best equipped to look out for the wellbeing of our young farmers and ranchers. Some folks in Washington are inclined to think that government knows best, but I disagree," Rehberg said. "I think these sorts of decisions are best left to parents."