Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) has applauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture for withdrawing proposed rules dealing with children who work on farms.
"I’m relieved that the Department of Labor decided to shelve these regulations," Franken said. "I’ve heard from a lot of Minnesotans about this proposal -- and I’ve worked to make sure that we protect our proud tradition of family farming. For generations, Minnesota’s kids have grown up on farms, learning the trade and the values that are so important to our state. And on the farms I’ve toured in Minnesota, I’ve always seen how seriously everyone already takes safety. While they may have been well-intentioned, these rules would have had a negative impact on our state’s ag community, and I want to thank the Department of Labor for hearing our concerns."
The Labor Department had proposed updating the Fair Labor Standards Act by strengthening current child labor regulations related to work with animals, pesticides, timber operations, manure pits, and storage bins. The regulations would have prohibited those under the age of 16 from operating heavy machinery, working with pesticides, and working in dangerous locations, such as grain silos.
The Labor Department said it proposed the new regulations because of studies showing that children are significantly more likely to be killed while performing agricultural work than while working in all other industries combined.
Following pressure from Republicans, some Democrats, and some agricultural groups, the Labor Department announced last week that it was withdrawing the proposed rules.
"Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices," the department said.
However, children who work on their parent's farms would have continued to be exempt under the new rules. Teens working in 4-H or other agricultural training programs would have been exempt as well.
“The all-out campaign of misinformation and distortion about the Department of Labor’s long overdue and important proposal to protect children working on farms will have an impact for years to come,” Sally Greenberg, a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition, said. "Nearly 100 kids are killed performing hazardous farm work each year. Many of those kids work for wages. The Department of Labor’s sensible recommendations -- based on years of research indicating the jobs in which teen injuries and deaths occur -- sought to protect them. Unfortunately, the proposed rules fell victim to misinformation and exaggeration from groups like the National Farm Bureau and others that should know better."
Half of the fatalities in agriculture involved youth under the age of 15, according to the group.
More than 150 organizations had urged the Labor Department to implement the proposed child labor rules.