After thousands voiced opposition to a plan that would limit child labor in the agricultural sector, the Obama administration yesterday said it would drop the proposal for the duration of the administration.
"If the administration follows through on its promise to not pursue these rules, this is a win for agriculture and the traditions of rural America," Sen. Mike Enzi said. "The federal government has no place telling families how they can raise their children on the farm. Wyoming ranchers and farmers stood up to Washington’s overreach and their voices were heard."
The U.S. Department of Labor rules would have barred children younger than 16 from driving tractors and most other powered farm equipment. Also, those younger than 18 would not have been able to work in feed lots, grain bins or stockyards. Even routine cattle ranch activities like vaccinations and hoof trimming would have been nixed. Some question the motives behind the withdrawal.
"It’s clear that the only reason the Obama Administration canceled this absurd rule is because of the president’s upcoming election," Sen. John Barrasso said. "... We cannot back down against Washington’s continued efforts to control our lives and change our values."
In a release, the Department of Labor voiced its withdrawal of what opponents have called impractical, heavy-handed and out of touch with a rural way of life.
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the Department of Labor stated in the release.
Recent changes to the proposal under pressure would have exempted children who work on farms owned by their parents or legal guardians, but the changes were not enough. Many still remained outspoken about the tradition of children helping on a farm belonging to extended family, such as an uncle or grandparent.
"This proposal was a clear intrusion on the family farm by the government," Rep. Cynthia Lummis said in response to the withdrawal. "I’d like to thank the families across the country that took the time to voice their opposition to this proposed government intrusion and firmly drew a line in the sand. This is truly a victory for the family farm and the dedicated, time-tested student organizations like 4-H and FFA that were targeted by this proposal."
In place of the child labor rules, the Department of Labor has opted to pursue educational training through 4-H, American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union and the Future Farmers of America that would hopefully "reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices," which was the reported original intent of the proposed rules.
The Child Labor Coalition supported the rules, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers indicating that 12 of 16 U.S. children under age 16 who died last year from occupational injuries worked in crop production. The coalition gathered support from about 150 organizations, including numerous Latino immigrant rights groups and worker safety groups.
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