Rick Montgomery Kansas City Star Response

Rick Montgomery’s January 2nd  piece, “Proposed Changes to Child Labor Law Could Affect Life on the Farm,” fails to note that the proposed Department of Labor (DOL) protections could save 50-100 kids from dying on farms over the next decade, according to the estimates of the Child Labor Coalition.  Agriculture is the most dangerous industry in which large numbers of kids work, and the proposed regulations are long overdue, representing the first significant update of child labor safeguards for agriculture in 40 years. The protections are necessary because of widespread exemptions to child labor laws that agriculture enjoys and will continue to enjoy. The “parental exemption,” for example, will continue to exempt from coverage kids working on their parents’ farm. Children will still be allowed to work on farms at the age of 12 as long as the work task is not known to be especially hazardous by DOL. We would ask farm families, isn’t preventing 50-100 child deaths worth some minor inconveniences? This summer two 17-year-old boys lost their legs in a grain augur in Oklahoma. The proposed protections would apply some common sense protections and save thousands of teen workers from needless pain and suffering.

One important thing to remember is that agriculture already gets a huge exemption that allows kids who are 16- and 17 to perform hazardous work that minors cannot do in any other industry. The rules, with a few exceptions (tobacco and grain storage facilities), do not impact this greatly. This sense from the Farm Community that Ag is getting picked on is nonsense. The rules are trying to move Ag slightly toward the same protection level of all other industries. We can argue that the rules are an attempt to deal with known hazards that because of discriminatory child labor laws, kids are subjected to. The important point is that AG is THE MOST DANGEROUS industry that we find kids working in. I’ve attached our comment submission. And I would encourage the Congresswoman to site a few of the death and injury examples that we list…..kids getting their legs torn off (Mary Miller in her comments said a third kid in that incident had his genitals torn off), 14-year-old girls getting electrocuted, teens suffocated in grain silos…..we need to convince the reporters that the dangers of ag are very real. The new rules wouldn’t prevent all of these deaths but they would prevent many.

These proposed rules have not been updated in 40 years. The CLC, me, estimates that they could save 50-70 kids lives over the next decade.

The rules only prohibit dangerous activities, permitting many/most types of farm work for 12-15 year-olds.

The parental exemption remains in effect. So parents hoping to pass  their farm down to their children would not be impacted. The farm community is arguing that a lot of family farms are incorporated so they would be covered. It’s hard to assess this issue but ultimately, if farms want to incorporate to pay less taxes I don’t think they should be given a pass on rules to protect kids from getting hurt.

I don’t buy the argument that children need to work at young ages or they will not learn an industry and do other things. If you follow that argument then we should have child auto-makers, child coal-miners…..why does Ag get a pass? And besides, as I said, they will still be allowed to work at 12 in all the farm jobs that DOL believes are safe. Kids can still work on their parent’s farms, they can do 4H, FFA…they can learn to be farmers, there is nothing preventing that…..only some rules to prevent work that we know to be especially hazardous and dangerous.

I would also make the point that there is “misinformation” or “disinformation” campaign out there, suggesting that the rules would prevent kids from detasseling corn or performing any farm work if they are under 16. Some stories say 18. The farm community is worked up because of these falsehoods….in part…..

Hope this helps.

Reid Maki

Child Labor Coalition (www.stopchildlabor.org)