Proposed federal ag child labor regulations overreaching
January 3, 2012
OPINION By JOHN SALISBURY
Mercy, Mercy! Please deliver us from these nanny-state unregulated regulators who have set their sights on agriculture child labor laws.
If you have chanced upon my columns in the Avila Community News, Cal Coast News, or at our blog inthevines.com, you know that I have been lamenting the lack of work ethic in our youths and young adults. Well, here comes another codling work-ethic killer. The Department of Labor (DOL) has issued a set of proposed regulations that all but keeps kids from working on farms to include those owned by extended farm families. Aimed at migrant labor but traps all.
Among some of the proposed new rules, with more pending, would include;
– Operation of Ag tractors – Prohibit workers under 16 to operate or assist in the operation of tractors to include tending, setting up, adjusting, moving, cleaning, oiling or riding as a passenger or helper. This includes the operation of power-driven equipment by any power source (animal driven also) other than human hand or foot power (i.e. forklifts, lawn and garden tractors, milking equipment, ATVs. etc.). Guess we have to go back to 16th century technology.
– Prohibit hired farm workers under 16 from the cultivation, harvesting and curing of tobacco (huge in the South), entering GPS settings on any moving equipment, detasseling corn (big deal in the Mid-West), or be on a ladder more than 6 feet (convert to all dwarf orchards?). No longer exempt student learners who have received equipment operating certificates from Ag. Extension Services. Instead they will have to enroll in a 90 hour systematic school instruction above the 8th grade level (translation equal more government jobs).
– A young man or woman under 18 cannot work for companies that store, market or transport farm-product raw materials. That would include grain elevators, feed lots, stockyards, livestock exchanges and auctions. Those under 16 could not work around any breeding stock to include sows, cows, sheep, and horses with their newborns. This would probably include working during breeding, branding, castrating, herding by horseback, vaccinating, and most other common animal husbandry chores like just catching poultry. So is this the end of the FFA & 4-H projects and county fair auctions many of which also involve young city kids?
– Prohibits for any under 16 to work on any farm construction, scaffolds, roofing, and handling any ag chemicals no matter how benign (to include organic).
– Exception would be farm kids working directly with their parents. They would not be exempt if they worked for a family corporation, partnership, or LLC that has an uncle, aunt, cousin, grandparent or a non-family partner involved which would eliminate 95 percent of all farms. Also, unpaid child labor would be exempted possibly which would really make no sense if the child’s welfare is a factor.
Where do I start? Maybe my own experience will show what is common on a family farm. We, to include most my school buddies and relatives, started working summers at least by the 5th grade (10 years old) at 85 cents an hour and a few years later we even worked during Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter vacations. From these jobs, we paid for our entertainment, cars (hot rods in the late 50’s), and most of us paid for our own college education and gained an unparalleled work ethic. My dad always said “I can pay for your education anywhere you want to go but you will appreciate it much more if you pay for it yourself.”
I got my driver’s license at 14 and was driving an old dump truck on the dangerous two lane levee roads in the Sacramento Delta (river on one side and pear orchards on the other 25 feet below) delivering sugar beets and grain to the receiving sites. I drove tractor full time mowing, disking, cultivating, hauling pears, etc. in the summers starting at 11 and sprayed our pears at 14 with a caterpillar tractor.
Later, still under 16, I moved sprinkler pipe and hand loaded full pear and tomato lug boxes in the fields. When lug boxes were replaced by half-ton bins, I hauled them out of the fields by tractor and then loaded onto trucks with a forklift. We also did dozens of other normal farm chores. I am not looking for a medal or pity for this because where I come from this was business as usual and I profited from it in so many ways. This is what we do growing up on a farm and it is expected and accepted because the many generations before us did it also with much less sophisticated and inherently much more dangerous equipment and we all survived – so no big deal.
My kids also worked from an early age in our agri-business operation (heck, my daughter is still at it). I already have my 9 year old grandson, Drake, helping me in the vineyard and it is a very special bonding time for the both of us. He drives the ATV Mule and hops off and helps me pick up grow tubes, big rocks, trash, prunings, etc. He has started his own garden at his home completely on his own initiative. He also has a good feel for running a bulldozer. He might not be our 8th generation California farmer but by God he, and the other three, will know the value of work by the time they are out of college.
Because we are structured as a family LLC (Salisbury Vineyards), these rules may try to prevent that from happening but rules or no rules, they will work on the farm.
I guess the DOL thinks that we farmers can’t be trusted to properly train our kids and non-family kids to do the jobs safely. They have to think they know better, in their tiny cubicles over there in Washington, and need to step in and protect our kids from us ignorant, bib overalled, uncaring hayseeds and stifle work ethics, life long skills and accomplishment to boot. So who do we replace this large population of farm workers with – union workers or worse yet more illegal immigrants? Is that the idea here? Who is going to enforce this in the field (again more government jobs)?
Farming is not just a way to make a living but a lifestyle that has been passed down through many generations. Over half of the present day farmers are elderly and about to retire or give up major responsibilities (most of us expect to die with our boots on). We have always needed to start the next generations early on and train them to work safely and with responsibility.
When they are all-knowing teenagers, forget about it because the chance to instill caution, safety, responsibility, work ethic and a desire to be farmers has passed. These proposed regulations will definitely hinder interest in agriculture as a possible and desperately needed career choice for our youths. Sure, there have been serious accidents in agriculture and there are cracks in the system, but you don’t have to treat the safety problem with a sledgehammer and draconian age restrictions that are contrary to a historic lifestyle.
“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”. Ernest Benn
John is a 6th generation California farmer whose family has been continuously farmed in California for 160 years starting in the Sacramento Delta in 1850. John now concentrates on farming 45 acres of wine grapes in the Avila Valley and Paso Robles producing Salisbury Vineyard wines.