ALBANY Family owned farms are a part of life for many Upstate communities. Albany County alone is home to about 400 farms, and surrounding counties are even richer with farmland. Around 99 percent of them are family owned. For generations, farmers have passed down skills and knowledge to their children.
That story could change under proposed regulations from the U.S. Department of Labor aimed at minors who work on farms. On Thursday, April 12, the New York Farm Bureau held a press conference in Albany to address the proposal.
At the core of the proposed regulation are restrictions on what kind of work children under the age of 18 will be able to do. Farming advocates say they’re overly restrictive.
“We’re here today to talk about the impact of a federal regulation that’s being proposed by the U.S. Secretary of Labor. … The impact of this proposal is two-fold. One, it changes the way the hazardous occupations orders are currently structured for our family farms,” said Julie Suarez, New York Farm Bureau’s director of public policy. “The hazardous occupations orders have been changed around to prohibit the ability of a minor working on a farm to do very simple tasks. They can’t for instance use a wheelbarrow, they can’t use anything that can hoist or lift an object, they cannot load or unload a truck … they can’t lift a flat (of plants). … This issue is of extreme importance to New York’s family farms.”
When contacted, a Department of Labor spokesperson would not issue a statement, but said some of the claims outlined by the Farm Bureau, such as minors not being allowed to use hoses or screwdrivers, are “false.” The new regulations are aimed at keeping minors safe from workplace injuries.
The department has extended the comment period on the changes and has to date received over 10,000 comments.