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Farmers denounce labor law changes

Department of Labor regulation would keep minors from some family farm work

Julie Suarez, New York Farm Bureau’s director of public policy, spoke against proposed changes to labor laws that would keep minors from performing some jobs on family farms.

Julie Suarez, New York Farm Bureau’s director of public policy, spoke against proposed changes to labor laws that would keep minors from performing some jobs on family farms. Photo by Julie Cushine-Rigg.

— Many family farms have formed corporate structures to protect their assets. Under the new regulations, a child of a farmer who has a corporate structure would not be able to work on the farm or perform simple tasks on the farm.

A portion of text from the new rules, first presented in September, reads in part, “The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents.”

Congressman Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, talked about the restriction of minors working on their family farms at the Thursday press conference, relaying a personal story. He had heard from an 11-year-old boy who was concerned that he would no longer be able to work on his family’s farm. In response to the boy’s concern, and others, Owens asked the secretary of labor to reexamine some of the provisions.

“We asked that they address a couple of issues. One, to make sure the children could in fact work on the farms and make sure that the definition of a family farm include … corporations, but also related folks (adjoining farms owned by a large family). This rule would prohibit the child working on various farms. We want to make sure that they’re still able to do that,” said Owens.

“It shows a lack of understanding on the part of the government about what’s happening on the ground. Clearly we want to make sure the children work in safe environments, but the number of injuries has been declining… We really should be moving toward sensible regulatory structures,” Owens continued.

Sarah Gordon Avery grew up on Gordon Farms, her family farm in Knox, helping out from the time she was about 11 years old. She feels that some of the newly proposed rules have their place for safety reasons while others seem to make more broad prohibitions and could be written to promote safety through proper supervision and training.

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