U.S. Department of Labor proposed rules block youngsters from farm work, in some cases
Farm kids have polished a strong work ethic for generations while performing chores on the family farm. But now the U.S. Department of Labor is proposing regulations that would make many of those activities illegal for farm kids under 16.
Videoview all videos
Nov 30Farmer Matt Muller discusses a Labor Department proposal...
Photoview all 7 photos
“We're very concerned,” said Mike Spradling, president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and a Sand Springs area cattle and pecan farmer. “If this were to become law, there's a lot more at risk than the safety of the youth. It could be our industry as we know it now.”
The proposed regulations don't apply to children working on their own families' farms. Restrictions do affect those working on farms owned by nonguardian relatives and others, including family farms operating as corporations that include nonguardian relatives, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau's Tyler Norvell said.
The Labor Department is taking comments on its proposals until 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The department has received more than 4,000 comments on the safety proposals and will begin analyzing them when the comment period closes, a spokeswoman said Wednesday.
Martha area farmer Matt Muller, who got a loan at age 6 for his first calf and rented his first farm at age 14, said pending restrictions are serious intrusions on the way families like his operate a farm and teach responsibility.
“I'm a fourth-generation farmer, and for the first time in my life, the government is trying to tell my family that the kids can't help on the farm,” said Muller, 40.
He said operating a farm takes all hands from different generations working together. Come summer, his son, Lincoln, 10, will drive the tractor. He's too small to buck hay bales onto the trailer with the other children.
“We like working on the farm,” Lincoln said.
The boy also often drives a four-wheeler from field to field as he helps with irrigation and while working with his grandfather.
But riding tractors and four-wheelers generally would be banned for youngsters working for farm neighbors or their own non-guardian relatives.
The Labor Department prohibits hired farm workers under 16 from driving tractors or other machinery. Certain tractors and machinery equipped with features, such as seat belts, could be operated after teenagers have had 90 hours of agriculture education from a public or private school.
“Some of these things are downright silly,” said U.S. Rep. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City. “For instance, a 14-year-old or 15-year-old could not ride on a tractor with someone else driving. When you're on the farm everybody rides on a tractor.”
Restrictions on helping grandparents
Fifteen-year-old Taylor said she, Lincoln and their brothers, Luke, 12, and Levi, 14, all help feed cattle, build fences, chop weeds in the cotton field and pack cotton into machines called cotton module builders at their grandfather's farm.
Matt Muller said his youngsters frequently pitch in to help neighbors and relatives, while their kids help the Muller family.
But the proposals would prohibit most of those activities.
Under the federal definition, “employment” doesn't necessarily include cash compensation, Lankford said.
“It varies greatly. For instance, if a grandfather owned a farm and his grandchildren came to work there, they wouldn't be exempted under the rule. Their own kids on their own family farm would be exempted, but their grandkids would not,” he said.
News Photo Galleriesview all
- 90847Oklahoma weather: Severe storm updates
- 47098Oklahoma tornadoes: 'It took it all'
- 38051Oklahoma devastated by second round of twisters
- 30921Oklahoma State football: Limiting Wes Lunt's transfer options makes Mike Gundy look bad
- 13823Oklahoma City tornado so large, may not be recognized, officials say
- 12196Several kids pulled out of Oklahoma school rubble alive
- 11468How to help tornado victims