AmericanFarm.com

Child labor rules hot topic in N.J.

BILL PERSSON

Considering that they are growing a year-round crop — more like seven-years, plus-or-minus — it’s never too early in the year for Christmas tree growers to meet, which they did, during a light snow on a recent Saturday in February.
The New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association, started in 1950, held its 62nd Annual Winter Meeting the EcoComplex, an environmental research and Extension center which is a partnership between Rutgers University and Burlington County.
The annual business meeting was also an opportunity to hear from various experts about topics which may be useful to the growers.
This year, the topics included pesticide safety, pricing strategy – how to price your products, email and social media marketing, and the proposed changes to the federal agricultural child labor rules.
Ben Casella, field representative at New Jersey Farm Bureau, gave an update on proposed U.S. Department of Labor child labor regulations. He also discussed the proposal to increase the minimum wage to $8.50 per hour.
On Sept. 2, 2011, the USDOL issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking which included addi-tions and modifications to the existing federal agricultural child labor rules.
Many of the changes impact hired farm workers under the age of 16, and involved in what is labeled as “Agricultural Hazardous Occupations.”
According to the USDOL, “The Wage and Hour Division was driven to update its 40-year-old child labor regulations by studies showing that children are significantly more likely to be killed while performing agricultural work than while working in all other industries combined.”
On Feb. 1, of this year, USDOL issued a news release “… to re-propose ‘parental exemption’ of child labor in agriculture rule.” This was due to concerns about restrictions to parental exemption.
From the news release: “The parental exemption allows children of any age who are employed by their parent, or a person standing in the place of a parent, to perform any job on a farm owned or operated by their parent or such person standing in the place of a parent.”
Some of the concerns about the Sept. 2 proposed modifications involved the clarity and intent regarding what constituted a “family farm” for the purposes of parental exemption. Some family farms are operated within the legal business structure of a corporation, LLC or partnership. A concern is that parental exemption would be disallowed under one of these business forms.
Further, there is concern that children of relatives, even those children living on the farm, would not be included in the parental exemption.
The news release notes the USDOL’s intention to address this: "The Department of Labor appreciates and respects the role of parents in raising their children and assigning tasks and chores to their children on farms and of relatives such as grandparents, aunts and uncles in keeping grandchildren, nieces and nephews out of harm's way."
The release also stated, “Until the revised exemption is final, the Wage and Hour Division will apply the parental exemption to situations in which the parent or person standing in the place of a parent is a part owner of the farm, a partner in a partnership or an officer of a corporation that owns the farm if the ownership interest in the partnership or corporation is substantial.”
Some of the Agricultural Hazardous Occupation proposed changes add additional restrictions, though some of the modifications loosen specific restrictions.
The NPRM for part of Ag H.O. 1, proposes to “Remove the 20 PTO horsepower threshold. Small garden-tractors would not be covered under this Ag H.O. (they would be covered under proposed Ag H.O. 2).”
The existing rule, “prohibits a hired farm worker under the age of 16 from operating a tractor of over 20 power take-off (PTO) horsepower, or connecting or disconnecting an implement or any of its parts to or from such a tractor.”
Another of the proposals is to “prohibit hired farm workers under the age of 16 from operating all power-driven machines just as the nonagricultural child labor rules for 14- and 15-year-olds have for over 40 years.”
Information about more of the changes is available at the Department of Labor website, www.dol.gov/whd/state/agriemp2.htm.
About the proposed rule changes in the hazardous occupations area, Casella said he did not expect too much “effect on New Jersey growers because New Jersey laws are, in general, stricter.”
The final rule is expected in August of this year.
A comparison of the existing federal agricultural child labor rules, and the proposed changes is at www.dol.gov/whd/CL/SidebySideNPRM.htm.
State-by-state agricultural child labor rules are available at many states’ versions of their department of labor. Limited information is also at the USDOL website. The site includes information on night work rules and some hazardous occupation rules with age requirements. Seventeen states do not cover agricultural work in their child labor rules.