UPDATE (April 27, 2012) : The U.S. Department of Labor has withdrawn the proposed regulations that would have affected our educational programs. Thanks to everyone who took the time to contact their legislators and share this information with friends. You truly made a difference!
The DOL’ s statement:
The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations. The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations.
As a result, the Department of Labor is announcing today the withdrawal of the proposed rule dealing with children under the age of 16 who work in agricultural vocations.
The decision to withdraw this rule – including provisions to define the ‘parental exemption’ – was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms. To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.
Instead, the Departments of Labor and Agriculture will work with rural stakeholders – such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the Future Farmers of America, and 4-H – to develop an educational program to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices.
In September 2011, the U.S. Department of Labor proposed new regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that would affect the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire youth to work in agriculture.
Though some aspects of the proposed regulations may have an adverse effect on some of our educational programs, they do not seek to eliminate FFA.
The Department of Labor’s primary concern is for the safety of America’s youth and we share that concern. We have had a very successful working relationship with this administration, especially with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and USDE Secretary Arne Duncan. We believe that we and other agricultural education organizations can successfully work with the Department of Labor to ensure that the proposed regulations do not adversely affect learning opportunities for students.
The Department of Labor gave FFA and other organizations the opportunity to share with them comments and concerns about the proposal. Here are some of the issues we asked the department to consider before finalizing the rulemaking process:
- The proposed regulations as they are currently written could have an adverse impact on Supervised Agricultural Experiences (SAEs). SAEs are a key experiential learning program, in which students work for pay on farms under the supervision of highly-qualified and certified agriculture teachers. SAEs provide safe learning environments where students can learn the skills they need to succeed in the agriculture industry. As educators it is important for us to have opportunities to teach our students how to be safe when working on farms. Limiting our ability to do so will not allow us to adequately prepare young people for future careers in agriculture.
- The proposed regulations as they are currently written will allow only immediate family members of a farm’s owners to work on the farm. Many of our students have opportunities to work on farms that are not owned by their parents or legal guardians. Farms owned by grandparents, uncles/aunts, siblings and other relatives provide excellent opportunities for students to gain work experience in agriculture. Friends and neighbors may provide excellent work experience opportunities to students. While we appreciate the parental exemption in the current regulations, we believe it should be expanded to include farms owned by other relatives, neighbors and even corporations, as long as the student’s parents or guardians approve.
- We believe it’s important that the Student Learner Exemption currently provided in the Fair Labor Standards Act include school-based agricultural and career and technical education programs. Nearly a million students are enrolled in these programs across the United States and its territories. Some 7,500 such programs are available through primarily public high schools, and instruction is provided by 11,000 highly qualified teachers certified to teach agriculture. These programs play a critical role in educating young people and introducing them to careers in agriculture and agricultural science.
If you’re concerned about the impact these proposed regulations could have on an FFA chapter in your community, you can help by contacting your state’s senators and representatives and asking them to support the Preserving America’s Family Farms Act ( H.R. 4157.)
You can find contact information for your senators and representative’s through the NAAE Legislative Action Center.