Who Picked Your Berries?

by Nancy Leppink on September 13, 2011 · 14 comments

It is at least 40 years ago now that my childhood friend’s younger brother was killed in a tractor accident near Crookston, Minn. And I have thought of her and him often as my staff has worked on the regulations that propose long overdue amendments to the Fair Labor Standards Act Child Labor-Agriculture regulations.

In an ideal world – one that the Wage and Hour Division is working hard to create along with its many partners – every employer would pay workers of all ages a fair wage and would employ the young only when they are old enough and only in jobs in which their welfare can be assured.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world, at least not yet. There are too many employers who don’t pay the minimum wage. And while work provides an opportunity for many young Americans to gain valuable skills and make important contributions to the nation’s economy and to family budgets, there are too many families whose children need to work, in order to buy food, pay for clothes, purchase school supplies and simply make ends meet.

Agricultural work is difficult and dangerous for all farm workers. But children farm workers are among the most vulnerable of our country’s workers. Too many children working in agriculture are injured or killed.

That’s why the Department of Labor is proposing increased protections for children who work in agricultural jobs, protections that have not been updated for more than 40 years – including protections that require the use of seat belts and roll-over protection on tractors. If children are working, it makes sense to keep them safe.

No employer wants a child injured at its workplace. No parents want to see their children put at risk to make ends meet. No sister wants to bury her younger brother.

So in addition to more effective enforcement, the proposed rules make significant strides toward the creation of that ideal world.

I encourage you to comment on the rules the Wage and Hour Division is proposing. Go to http://www.dol.gov/whd/CL/AG_NPRM.htm and learn more about the proposed rule and how to submit a comment.

I also encourage you to go to http://www.dol.gov/whd and learn more about the division’s administration and enforcement of the FLSA child labor provisions.

Nancy Leppink is the Deputy Administrator for the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Reid Maki September 13, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Great blog, Nancy! As you know, several kids have been injured or killed this summer working in agriculture, including two 14-year-old girls who were electrocuted in a corn field and two other teens who had legs amputated in a grain storage facility. Agriculture is an extremely dangerous industry and it’s very exciting to us that the Department of Labor is proposing these new rules to increase protections.

Reid Maki, the Child Labor Coalition

2 Didar October 21, 2011 at 5:50 am

Why would a family put their child in labor? It must be for some financial benefits. It is also probably because of their ignorance. This is where I try to point on. Even with little income from parents and some assistance from government and a solid investment and financial planning, parents could avoid sending their kids to work. But the prerequisite he is financial and investment education for families on top of awareness.

Thanks for the nice post Nancy.

Didar.

3 Mark November 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I find it interesting that there is a proposal that “children” can not use a cell phone on a tractor or combine traveling at 3-6 miles per hour in a farm field, but they can while traveling 70 miles an hour on the highway while driving to school. These proposals are the same as most that are sent down from Washington by rulemakers that are not elected and are protected by their union contracts, but don’t have a clue about how the industry they propose to regulate actually operates. How many children have committed suicide because somebody made fun of them on facebook? I will agree that not all people under the age of 16, or 18, or even 45, are mature enough to make the decisions that need to be made to safely operate farm machinery. I’m certain I would not hire any of the people who have proposed these new rules, because they have already displayed their lack of judgement in doing so.

4 Wendy Faber November 17, 2011 at 12:45 pm

PLEASE………just more Government OVER-REACH!! Obviously the people who make up these rules have FAR too much time on their hands. I want all Federal Employees to be PART-TIME with a part-time pay. And NO, we do NOT want to pay you any self-imposed BONUSES for a job well done. GEESSS…….

5 clara fernandez-como disminuir el colesterol November 27, 2011 at 4:10 pm

To legislate for these things do not happen.
clara fernandez

6 Laura Wickham December 1, 2011 at 11:27 am

While the loss of children in Ag related accidents is a tragedy, would you prefer to have them playing in the street or being shot in a bad neighborhood? Farming is not just a job, it is a way of life. The avg American farmer is now in their 50′s. If so many restrictions are placed on todays youth, who is going to replace those aging farmers?? A love of agriculture must be learned from a very young age. I have owned and cared for my OWN livestock since age 9 in 1973. Those animals, and donations of a beef annually by my dad, in addition to detasseling starting at age 14, because we crossed a state line, paid for my first 2 cars, the first at age 13, for $800. The livestock also paid for 2 yrs of college.
I was an 11 yr member of 4H, and 7 yrs in FFA including alumni yrs, and wouldn’t trade it for ANYTHING! The prohibitions about working with livestock threaten to destroy these vital programs that teach our youth so much more than they get in schools.
Don’t tamper with our way of life! Those who believe kids work because the parents are ignorant are sadly misinformed. Most of todays farmers have Technical School degrees a a bare minimum. Tamper with our farms and you will legislate many farms out of buisness. If you prefer eating Chinese pork and chicken, Argentine beef, and Mexican produce fertilized with human waste, by all means, proceed with this insanity!

7 Kids Furniture January 13, 2012 at 4:08 pm

The main solution to this would be to provide much-needed EDUCATION to everyone involved in agricultural work in every farm community across the country- both children and adults – letting them see the proposed dangers associated with farm work in addition to the rewards of utilizing preplanned safety precautions. Just like the safety precautions involved in horticultural greenhouse and nursery work. What about a safe worker certification program/initiative utilized by a town or county Extension System (where extension service is still available!) to be made a requirement for farm operator’s/farm owners? Safety obviously needs to be simply spelled out [S - A - F - E - T - Y] for the modern-day farm worker. People have to be responsible and think of safety when working around farm machinery; especially when children are present on a farm. And under no circumstances should children be around pesticide use on crops/plants or within the vicinity of such. And farm workers should wear PPE gear as well.

8 Stock Trading January 15, 2012 at 7:32 am

We support the initiative in the right direction with change in rules by U.S Department of Labor to protect the Children farm workers.

9 Mariana - quiero adelgazar January 15, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I agree we need to control and legislate youth work in agriculture statewide.
Mariana.

10 Mind Tricks January 23, 2012 at 9:45 am

I also had a friend hurt in MN about 45 years ago. Riding on tractor, something went wrong and he lost his leg, not his life, but bad enough. It is tough out there on the farm and it is ripe for catastophe.

11 Peinados con trenzas April 21, 2012 at 1:08 am

I agree we need to control and legislate youth work in agriculture statewide.

12 Tim April 24, 2012 at 7:59 am

Clearly there are too many worthless idiots chiming in here that have never done a hard days work in there life. I grew up working on farms since I was very young. Started driving ATV’s, pickup trucks, tractors, running chainsaws, swinging axes. Hell, I was even allowed to shoot guns at age 6!! Can you liberals believe that?? all before the age of 10. Yeah, doing some of the work is dangerous but going out into the world and being exposed to ignorant legislation by idiots who have never had to work for anything in there life is much more dangerous than working on a farm…

13 Gale April 26, 2012 at 8:51 pm

There will never be the utopia you dream of Ms. Leppink. Life is hard. Life is not fair. The children working on farms have purpose and skills long before they become adults. Life does not begin at the age of 18. We are supposed to live in a free country. How are we free when the government decides what is best for our children? What makes you think your well-intentioned regulations will improve our society? How have those regulations worked out in urban settings? Are you better off/more safe growing up with government assistance in Detroit or working on the farm in Omaha? Yes, I am sentient, but I question whether the people writing these regulations are. Maybe we should ask all citizens that same question before they are allowed to vote?

14 Monika Borua June 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I like your blog very much. Thank you for your very nice articles. As a student i always search for new blogs or articles or recent news to learn something new. And i look forward to visiting your site in the future!

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