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.