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PRESS RELEASE: Passage of House bill sends message that Congress does not care about child farmworker safety

CHILD LABOR COALITION & FIRST FOCUS CAMPAIGN FOR CHILDREN PRESS RELEASE

For immediate release: July 27, 2012
Contact: Reid Maki, (202) 207-2820, reidm@nclnet.org; Ed Walz, (202) 657-0685, edw@firstfocus.net

The First Focus Campaign for Children and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) today expressed their grave concern over Wednesday’s passage of HR 4157 by the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill, passed by voice-vote and without proper hearings or approval through the normal committee process, would prohibit the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL) from issuing occupational child safety rules for children working in agriculture—rules that were withdrawn by DOL earlier this year. As Congress debated HR 4157, the CLC weighed in with a letter urging members to vote against the legislation.

“At a time when the nation is reeling from a national tragedy and millions of Americans are struggling to survive in a depressed economy, the House of Representatives focused its limited time on passing legislation that bars already withdrawn regulations,” said Child Labor Co-Chair Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. “When DOL withdrew these child safety rules in April, it said that it would not re-issue the proposed rules during the remainder of the Obama Administration. By passing HR 4157, the House is wasting resources on a non-issue and sending out a dangerous message: the House of Representatives does not care about the health and safety of children working in agriculture.”

“When the facts are crystal clear and children’s lives are on the line, Congress should put kids ahead of politics,” said First Focus Campaign for Children President Bruce Lesley. “The American people deserve better from Congress than snap decisions on life-and-death issues for kids with no substantive debate.”

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Press Release: Saving Lives on America’s Farms–DOL Child Safety Rules Must Be Implemented

Washington, DC—Today, the Child Labor Coalition (CLC) held a press conference to dispel some of the misinformation surrounding the Department of Labor’s recently proposed safety updates to the rules governing child labor in agriculture.  The updates would be the first change in 41 years. A panel of experts from the advocacy, education, health and agriculture communities discussed the rules’ potential impact on children’s health and safety. Testimony was also shared by Catherine Rylatt, the aunt of Alex Pacas, a young man who was killed in the 2010 grain engulfment that killed 14-year-old Wyatt Whitebread.

Ms. Rylatt recounted the details shared with her by a friend of her nephew who survived. She said that as the boys were working to break up the corn, “Wyatt started sinking; he was yelling ‘Help me, help me!’” His young coworkers tried to save him. Alex, her nephew, lost his life as well. She went on to note that after the tragedy, “Chris, the 15-year-old who witnessed the death of his 14-year-old friend, kept saying ‘I should have stayed; I should have stayed and helped.’ He doesn’t understand if he had stayed, he would have been dead, too.”

Other experts who provided insight on the proposed updates, included:  Lorretta Johnson, Co-Chair of the CLC and Secretary-Treasurer of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT); Norma Flores López, Chair of the CLC’s Committee on Domestic Issues and Director of the Children in the Fields Campaign at the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs (AFOP), and a former child farmworker; Dr. Sammy Almashat, M.D., M.P.H., Research Associate at Public Citizen; and Bruce Lesley, President of First Focus, a national children’s advocacy organization.

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More than 150 Groups Urged U.S. to Implement Child Safety Rules for Agriculture But U.S. DOL Succumbs to Political Pressure from Farm Lobby and Withdraws Proposed Protections

[The CLC submitted the following letter to Secretary Solis, urging her to implement the first update of occupational child safety rules for agriculture in four decades. The letter was originally submitted in March with 105 signatories. This update had 156 organizational endorsements. Unfortunately, the Department of Labor withdrew the proposed rules in late April under strong pressure from the Farm Lobby .]

April 19, 2012

The Honorable Hilda L. Solis
Secretary
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20210

RE: Updates to the Agricultural Hazardous Occupations Orders as Proposed by the Department of Labor

Dear Secretary Solis:

The Child Labor Coalition represents millions of Americans, including teachers, workers, farmworkers, farmworker advocates, and human rights activists concerned about the safety, education, and welfare of children who work in agriculture. We understand the needs of our nation’s farmworker families and have seen the effects of agricultural work, especially on children. The Coalition, along with the organizations listed below, support the proposed changes to the agricultural hazardous orders and implore the Department to implement the changes as quickly as possible.

As many as 500,000 children and teenagers toil in agriculture, an industry consistently ranked as one of the most dangerous industries in America. Last year, 12 of the 16 children under age 16 who suffered fatal occupational injuries worked in crop production, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Just this past August, Oklahoma teens Tyler Zander and Bryce Gannon, both 17, each lost a leg in a grain auger accident. We can prevent these tragedies from happening to other children by implementing the proposed updates to the hazardous orders without delay. The rules won’t impair the rural way of life; they simply put the safety and well-being of children above corporate profit.

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