An Agricultural Perspective on the Child Labor Law Changes

It was speech time again this week! We’ve been working for a while (too long in my opinion) on our persuasive speeches. My class covered everything from Study Away to the existence (or lack thereof) of time and space as we perceive and measure it. I chose a topic that I’ve written about on Farm Out Loud before – the Department of Labor‘s proposed changes to Ag H.O.s.

I gave the speech today, and while I haven’t taken the time yet to analyze the video that was taken during its presentation, I decided it wouldn’t hurt anything to share it – maybe someone who doesn’t like to read will listen to it (and that is what I would suggest – listen, I don’t know what you’ll see if you watch.) 🙂 I hope you enjoy it – mistakes and all!

For those of you who do like to read, the transcript of my speech is below the video.

A New Mindset for Child Labor

When we hear the phrase “child labor,” almost all of us get the same mental image

We see photos from history books of immigrant children in the United States or sweatshops abroad working among dangerous machines for little pay.

I’m Laura Wolf, an agriculture student at Missouri State University, and my topic today is child labor, but it isn’t what you think.

When I say “child labor,” high school vocational classes probably aren’t what come to mind.

Today, I’d like to show you my mindset about child labor by explaining proposed changes, their effects on vocational education, and its effects on me as a representative of the effected group.

First, let’s look at changes proposed September 2011.

The U.S. Department of Labor issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to amend the child labor in agriculture regulations in 2011. Their goal was to make the rules for agriculture more like those for non-agriculture industries. According to Garrett Hawkins, an expert on the subject and legislative liason for Missouri Farm Bureau in 2012, the U.S. Secretary of Labor is using this proposal to take care of a problem prevalent in her home state of California – the children of migrant workers becoming a liability in orchards.

The changes don’t just apply to migrant workers, though – they are for all workers in the U.S. under the age of 16.

Here are a few examples from a handout written by Nurse Mary E. Miller for a rural and agricultural health center in Washington in 2011 outlining the differences between the existing and proposed rules. It sounds a bit – well, a lot – like legal jargon, so I’ll keep it short.
1. “Reduces maximum height at which youth under age 16 can work at elevation from 20 feet to 6 feet, including work on ladders.”
2. “Expand prohibitions from lists of specific machines to all power-driven equipment.”
3. “Prohibit engaging or assisting in…practices that inflict pain upon the animal…such as vaccinating and treating sick or injured animals.”

Imagine that you’re a legislator and one of your people has briefed you on these changes – what do you say?
It sounds good, and it’s needed… right? According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 40,000 agricultural workers were injured on the job in 2011, out of a total of 967,800.  Given this information, my guess is that you’d think, “Yep, check, let’s move on to the real issues,” which could be exactly where many actual legislators are right now.

Now that we know the basics of the proposal, let’s take a look at how schools could be affected by it.

When vocational and agricultural educators came across the same legal jargon I read to you earlier, they heard something different – a threat. The maximum height rule means that students working for area farmers can stand in a hayloft, but would be legally unable to assist in retrieving hay from the loft until they were 16. The power-driven equipment rule means that landscaping classes couldn’t use certain tools to landscape, and construction classes couldn’t use many necessary tools to construct. The rule I read about animals would keep students from exploring and gaining valuable experience in the field of veterinary science until their junior year when the career crunch is on.

When Heath Wright, the agriculture teacher at Ozark High School, heard about the proposal, he could feel his students’ opportunities shrinking instead of stretching. According to a Springfield News-Leader article March 6, 2012, the high school is in the process of building a school farm to add to other hands-on experience with local farmers and in greenhouse and welding shop classes. Hands-on work experience is important – in a survey I conducted March 9, over half of you mentioned work ethic or responsibility as benefits of holding a job as a student. If the opportunities are more restricted for work in high school, it follows that fewer students will choose to hold a job and develop those traits.

Do you remember the statistic I told you earlier? Imagine what might happen if fewer of those workers had been trained for more than a few weeks because of the new rules. It could be that accidents and injuries would increase instead of decrease. Another increase we wouldn’t want is in the strain on our pocketbooks – food prices may rise because of an even more limited number of willing and able agricultural workers, resulting in produce scarcity.

We’ve heard a little about the changes and how educators feel about them. Now I’d like to tell you a short story about my reactions.

As a farmer’s daughter, future teacher and advocate, and vocational agriculture student, the proposal would have a significant effect on me. I decided in 7th grade Ag Expo that I’d be in FFA – an agricultural organization – in high school. Our class project was building flower boxes using circular saws, drills, and other tools under the supervision of our teacher. First, we had to pass a safety test with a 100% as part of the Ag. H.O. student learner exemption. No one got hurt, and we learned a lot about basic safety precautions for a shop setting.

For FFA, I was required to hold a job and keep records for a supervised agricultural experience project. I chose to mow lawns and crop scout for my dad. Under the proposed rules, those two jobs would have been illegal until I was a junior. The rules prohibit the operation of power-driven equipment, which includes lawn mowers. They also eliminate the usual exemptions for students working for parents if the company is incorporated – my dad partially owns Brauer Farms, L.L.C.

Now that you’re more aware of the U.S. Department of Labor’s proposed changes and their potential harmful effects, I have a challenge for you. Keep those history book pictures of child labor from clouding your vision and help others to do the same. Spend a few minutes on Google learning more about new developments. When you find an article that makes a great argument, share it on Facebook. Then take a step further – contact your congressmen to explain what you’ve learned and where you stand.

Instead of doing something wrong that sounds right, show your government that you expect the right thing to be done, even when it sounds wrong.

Farm Out Loud!

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About Laura Wolf (farmoutloud)

Ag communicator by trade, bookworm at heart, and a perpetual word nerd. Cohost of AgBookClub. Find me @farmoutloud on Twitter and Insta, where I try too hard to be funny.

Posted on April 10, 2012, in Ag Issues, Agvocacy, MSU and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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