C O M M E N T S :   October 12, 2011

 
usca@uscattlemen.org
 

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association
Re:  Federal Register Vol. 76, No. 171/Friday, September 2, 2011/Proposed Rule
Department of Labor:  Wage and Hour Division
RIN 1235-AA06:  “Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation; Child Labor Violations-Civil Money Penalties”
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The Department of Labor (DOL), Wage and Hour Division, proposed the revision of existing child labor regulations on September 2, 2011.  The revisions will be made to The Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) which was passed in 1938.  Over the years, Congress and the Department of Labor have made numerous revisions, tightening restrictions and bringing more and more activities under federal control.  The child labor laws under the Fair Labor and Standards Act have always included exemptions for children working for parents, and also for minors who take classes under organizations such as 4-H and FFA.  The proposed rule, “Child Labor Regulations, Orders and Statements of Interpretation; Child Labor Violations-Civil Money Penalties” will eliminate many of the exemptions for these programs and have dramatic consequences on the nation’s agriculture industry.  

The United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) is a national association of cow-calf producers and state associations whose mission is to present an effective voice for the domestic cattle industry. USCA’s membership includes cow-calf operators, backgrounders, and feedlot operators.  USCA membership ranges from young producers to those carrying on a family business that has been established for multiple generations. 

The proposed rule, as outlined by the Department of Labor, would impact not only our members’ current operations but also the ability for these family businesses to continue in the future.  The proposed rule has been submitted in order to update the regulations which were established over 40 years ago.  However, the updates presented would effectively set the industry back decades and reject any notion of the years of successful business and operation practices that have been employed for generations.  The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association would like to issue the following comments for the record in regards to this proposed rule:

Section 13 (c)
Section 13 (c) changes the parameters under which family members and other youth may operate on a working ranch.  This section addresses the underlying premise that the majority of cattle operations have been established and are allowed to continue existing under: the use of family members as the principle workers on the ranch/farm.  For years family ranches have relied upon the help of both the immediate family members and secondary family in order to sustain their livelihood.  The majority of families operate ranches that are located directly next to other established ranchers, many of which have operated next to one another for multiple generations.  This results in many operations combining work days and personnel in order to create the most economically sound business possible.  In most cases, the combined labor force between the two ranches consists of family members from both ranches.  

Under this section, those youth who are not the children of those who own and operate the ranch would be prohibited under this section from assisting in any work on the ranch.

Section 13 (c) (3)  
While Section 13 (c) addresses the general involvement of youth on the ranch, the following subsections address specific activities that youth would be barred from while on the ranch.  The nature of these sections originate from a public safety standpoint; however, the rural community is a unique sector within the nation’s industrial framework, and as such these parameters will severely impact the success and in most cases the continued existence of these family operations.  
Family-run operations in the rural sector are unique in that children are exposed to the landscape and working nature of the ranch from an early age.  For many, day-to-day tasks on the family ranch are done by those youth in close proximity to the ranch.  This framework has youth working alongside parents, uncles and aunts, and neighboring families from an early age, and thus, learning the proper and safe way in which to carry out multiple ranch tasks.   Not only does this instill a sense of responsibility and work ethic in these youth from a young age, it also represents a necessary component to the success of the family ranch.  The majority of rural youngsters participate in public programs like 4-H and FFA, curriculums fundamentally grounded in operational safety.  Specific subsections within this guidance outline multiple tasks that, if implemented, would drastically reduce the ability of youth to contribute to their family or neighboring operation.  

This sub-section represents a lack of industry knowledge and would severely inhibit youth from any type of meaningful contribution to an operation.  The section states the following in regard to basic animal husbandry, “Working on a farm in a yard, pen or stall occupied by a bull, boar, stud horse maintained for breeding purposes, sow with suckling pigs, or cow with newborn calf”.  While this item has been drafted to address the safety factors in line with the behavioral traits of the listed animals, a successful operation involves interaction with the farm animals.  While the animals listed are characteristically more volatile than others, any animal, at any time, can be of a threat to youth, this includes pets such as dogs and cats.   To place a restriction on any interaction with these animals severely limits a youth who has been around them since a young age and acknowledges the need for careful interaction.  This provision places an undue economic burden on agriculture operations by limiting available labor.   
The rule is contradictory and confusing about its effect.  For example, if a youth is training a sexually intact horse for a cutting competition, is that considered a work or recreational environment?  If a youth is training and preparing sexually intact cattle, sheep or swine for livestock show purposes, is that considered a work or recreational environment?  

Within this section is an inclusion that is particularly extreme and would severely limit any interaction a youth would have in the day to day operations on a farm.  The section states the following action would be prohibited, “…riding on a tractor as a passenger or helper”.  

The above parameters represent the underlying flaws within this proposed rule.  The rule is an extreme example of government overreach into the private lives of the nation’s agriculture producers.  Farms and ranches have been operated for centuries on the foundation of family support and learning safety begins at an early age for rural youth.  This rule, as proposed, would effectively restrict the industry and the family values that are based and fostered through the inclusion of youth involvement on the ranch.  
This rule is essentially an intrusion into the framework of the rural community. Family farms and ranches base their daily operations on the availability of their children, nephews, nieces, and neighboring families in order to carry out the tasks necessary to maintain an economically effective operation.  This rule does not take into account the youth, who are outside the family nucleus, who are engaged in the daily operations of the farm/ranch as a student-learner, in the hopes of entering the industry one day.  The rule elicits a prejudice against those youth whose parents do not operate a farm, but still want to enter the industry.  The agriculture industry requires hands-on experience and practice, especially at an early age, in order to gain the necessary industry knowledge and practices to one day run their own operation.  As such, this rule fosters the exact opposite of what it states as the end goal.  The exclusion of youth from daily tasks inhibits the teaching and adoption of safe practices on the farm/ranch.

USCA has only highlighted a few of the provisions that are included in this rule.  We are confident that our industry partners will effectively convey their concerns in regards to production practices and those subsections specifically referencing crop and orchard tasks.

The implementation of this rule, as currently drafted, would drastically transform the agriculture industry and restrict the fundamental values and morals that are based on centuries of practice of the very actions this rule would restrict.  Further, there must be a more thorough understanding of the economic consequences this rule would have on production agriculture in the U.S.  The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association urges the Department of Labor to undertake an economic impact study of the rule prior to any further action to publish or implement the rule.  

USCA strongly opposes this rule and the fundamental changes it would apply to the entire agriculture industry. The consequences that would stem from this rule would be drastic to the industry and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association strongly urges the Department of Labor to consider the above comments as well as those offered by other industry groups before taking any further action on this rule.

Sincerely,


Jon Wooster
President, U.S. Cattlemen’s Association

 

Established in March 2007, USCA is committed to concentrating its efforts in Washington, DC to enhance and expand the cattle industry’s voice on Capitol Hill. USCA has a full-time presence in Washington, giving cattle producers across the country a strong influence on policy development. For more information go to www.uscattlemen.org.