Morning Read: Obama administration scraps farm safety regs for teens

Safety regulations strongly backed by farmworker advocates were mothballed yesterday by the US Department of Labor.

The move came following a fierce backlash from ag industry groups and farm-region lawmakers including North Country Rep. Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh).

This from the Glens Falls Post Star:

The crackdown on farm workers incited area farmers and the region’s local, state and federal lawmakers, who immediately questioned the administration’s commitment to rural America.

And on Thursday evening, the Labor Department pulled back, specifically citing the nationwide rebuke of the attempt to bring farms under the same standards as other industries.

“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,” read a statement released by the Labor Department. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

Rep. Owens issued a statement late last night, which reads as follows:

“This is great news for youth interested in agriculture and family farms across New York State. I applaud this commonsense decision by the Department of Labor to reverse course on a regulation that would have been damaging to New York family farms,” Owens said. “Agriculture is vital to our region’s economy and food security, and I look forward to continuing to work with New Yorkers to ensure Washington works for the farming community — not against it.”

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8 Comments on “Morning Read: Obama administration scraps farm safety regs for teens”

  1. Ken Hall says:

    Although I voted for and in general agree with Bill Owens positions; it is my opinion that he was bamboozled by the lobbyists for the forces of greed in this issue. The headline for this article is illustrative of the effectiveness of these lobbyists and the ease with which the “press” succumbs to their bilge. Rather than pointing out that the Obama Administration concluded that there was zero likelihood of corralling the congressional votes required, as a result of lobbying efforts against, they withdrew from the effort temporarily. The “Obama administration scrapped” the bill engenders a more visceral response, I reckon.

    Aggressive farm lobbying efforts in the past have resulted in the definition of a family farm such that roughly 98% of the active farms in the US are so defined. As defined by USDA regulations to farm loan programs (e.g. those administered by the Farm Service Agency), a family farm is a farm that:

    1. produces agricultural commodities for sale in such quantities so as to be recognized in the community as a farm and not a rural residence;
    2. produces enough income (including off-farm employment) to pay family and farm operating expenses, pay debts, and maintain the property;
    3. is managed by the operator;
    4. has a substantial amount of labor provided by the operator and the operator’s family; and
    5. may use seasonal labor during peak periods and a reasonable amount of full-time hired labor.

    Nebulous enough? How about this jewel? The US Department of Labor (DOL) Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines small farms as:

    those that did not utilize more than 500 “man days” of agricultural labor in any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year.

    A “man day” is defined as any day during which an employee performs agricultural work for at least one hour.

    I wonder how many of the “job creators” would find such a definition of a man day of labor for their employees acceptable? A days benefits for an hour of labor; sounds good to me.

    Although the NC community took umbrage en mass to this effort to protect young farm workers, this area is but a drop in the bucket in the agricultural labor market. This law was in all probability targeted at the huge “family” farms in CA, Fl. . . . wherein entire families of, perish the thought, “illegal aliens plant and harvest crops on a massive scale. We sure as hell don’t want anyone protecting people who are taking jobs “real” Americans are standing in line to hire on for. When I lived on my farm in Peru, NY I was regularly amused at apple picking time by the local fruit farmers efforts to encourage the locals to pick apples. The few that tried it seldom lasted out their first day on the job; but, complained about the “legal” Jamaican pickers.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  2. Pete Klein says:

    Is it any wonder most kids who grow up on farms can hardly wait to move out?

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  3. Paul says:

    Probably a good idea to ditch it. The intent here may have been good but the execution was bizarre. There is no point in passing a law that is basically unenforceable. You would have to set up some kind of new department to handle spying on all the small farms out there. Impossible.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  4. jeff says:

    The laws and regulations that OSHA now enforces and MSHA now enforces were once “unenforceable.” While there is equal danger to farm children, the protection needs to be there for non-family employees. Ten year olds used to work in the coal cleaners.

    For farmers who grew up in the farm environment they believe many things are normal and because they never got hurt, safe. Therefore they may not recognize the dangers particularly the failure to adequately train employees and provide oversight to unskilled workers.

    Employers are to provide employment and a place of employment free from recognized hazards. From the general duty clause of OSHA.

    That is done by guards, safety devices, procedures, personal protective equipment and training as well as correcting known defficiencies.

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  5. Paul says:

    Jeff, that is true. That is why any legislation needs to contemplate (and fund in some way) how the law will be enforced. Like I said you will probably need somethings similar (albeit smaller) to the infrastructure that is required for OSHA compliance and enforcement. Good intention, bad execution this is often the hallmark of Washington these days.

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  6. I think we have to take into consideration that parent farmers are unlikely to be as casual about the safety of their children than other employers might.

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  7. Gary says:

    Does anyone feel the upcoming election has anything with Obama’s decision? Oh the things we do to get re-elected.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    So here’s the deal. Lawyers and corporations control everything.

    Lawyers and corporations in collusion with lawmakers have made it nearly impossible for a family to run a small farm as a family operation. To protect themselves from government gobbeldygook they have incorporated as S-corps or LLCs thereby technically becoming Corporations just like Megafarms or Monsanto or General Electric in the eyes of the Dept. of Agriculture or Labor or the IRS.

    So then the Megafarms can call themselves “family farms” and they can work on legislation to call the products they provide “organic” while a real small family farm can’t achieve the “organic” status because of all the hoops they have to jump through to legally call it what it is.

    And the real small family farmers whose interest are being hurt by the Megafarmers work to protect the Megafarms in their bid to squash (so to speak) the small family farm.

    Then Megafarms can squelch necessary legislation to protect children who are working on farms – often children of illegal immigrants who are working illegally on farms doing dangerous work which helps the Megafarms undercut the prices the small family farms need to survive.

    I’ve been around a lot of horses and I know horse manure when I see it.

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