I recently took a poll of my public speaking class to get a feel for what my audience would know about my upcoming persuasive speech topic. Out of 18 students polled, all from the Honors College at MSU, only 2 had heard of the proposed changes to child labor regulations that could severely limit family farms and educational opportunities for agriculture students.
Today, my Agriculture Leaders class heard from the Missouri Farm Bureau National Legislative Programs Director Garrett Hawkins, a graduate of Missouri State. During his visit, Garrett answered some of our questions about the changes and Farm Bureau’s stance and actions regarding the measure. He shared with us that Farm Bureau, like every agriculture entity he has heard from, is strongly opposed to the changes as they are currently written. While no one would argue that safety wouldn’t come first when it comes to high school students working with animals, farm equipment, and so on, the changes would take away valuable education tools for teaching safety.
In case you’re still wondering what changes have been made, I strongly suggest researching this topic so that you can make your own call. However, here’s a quick overview. Before occupying her current position, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis backed an initiative in California that called for strict regulations for the children of migrant workers who worked with their parents in the fields. This, of course, crossed not only labor issues, but also differences in culture – and did not pass. When she became labor secretary in 2009, she continued to fight the same fight on a grander scale.
The changes are a combination of the issues Solis wanted addressed, as well as a number of sweeping rules and changes that would apply to all US teens – including removal of student learner exemptions, as well as the ban of certain kinds of work for students age 13-16, which includes work with animals, in hog & poultry barns, and machinery (defined as anything powered by an engine, meaning mowing the lawn is out), unless they were volunteering or working directly for a parent or guardian whose operation had not been incorporated.
I say all that to say this: the proposed changes are a major deal. If you caught what I did in that list, you’d notice that the Department of Labor is trying to kill the traditional FFA SAE Project, as well as other activities for students in FFA and 4-H programs. The changes also threaten multi-generational farms where children and grandchildren learn safety and agriculture through work. Doing away with these opportunities for children to learn safety in a supervised environment is not protecting children – it’s exposing them to undue risk of harm.
Right now, these changes are being proposed yet again (they’ve been proposed before, causing passionate backlash from the agriculture community). The goal as I understand it is to push the changes into law by the end of the summer. Why? If our current president is not re-elected this November, the new president will have the right to go back through all laws passed during a certain time period before the office changed hands. The people (and activist groups) backing the labor law changes want the proposed changes signed into law before the window for review opens.
This means the agriculture community has a lot of work to do. Maybe you can help me spread the news about the changes. Maybe you’ll see fit to call or write your congressman and let them know what these changes really mean, and why they should oppose them.