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You'd think that a proposal to protect children from particularly dangerous child labor would be non-controversial. But no. Thursday evening the Department of Labor withdrew a proposed rule to keep kids under 16 from doing dangerous farm labor such as operating heavy machinery, working with pesticides, working with tobacco, and working in grain silos and other dangerous locations. The reason? Although the proposed regulation explicitly exempted kids working on their parents' farms, there was an outcry that it would ... hurt family farms by preventing kids from working on them.

After the Department of Labor clarified that the rule would not apply to kids working on their parents' farms, the opposition went in two directions. Some switched their focus to the alleged concern that kids wouldn't be able to work on uncles' and grandparents' farms and so rural life would still take a hit; others kept the focus on parents. That misinformation campaign included a Facebook post from Sarah Palin claiming, falsely, that "The Obama Administration is working on regulations that would prevent children from working on our own family farms."

In fact, the real issue here is not family farms. Last summer, two 14-year-old girls were fatally electrocuted while working in a Monsanto cornfield. Child labor is common on North Carolina tobacco farms, where workers may absorb as much as 36 cigarettes worth of nicotine in a day, have limited access to water and toilets, and are exposed to pesticides.

Many of the people concerned about the proposal to restrict child agricultural labor may have legitimately, if incorrectly, believed that family farming would be threatened. But more than 400,000 kids aged 12 to 17 work on farms in the United States. Most of them are not helping their farm-owner parents or grandparents out; many of them are migrant workers trying to help their families get by, working in the same harsh conditions adults face, and dropping out of school at high rates. There's big money in children working on non-family farms, and that played a major role in the organized, powerful campaign to keep kids in the fields.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 09:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement and Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Another day (16+ / 0-)

    another capitulation. We can't even protect children...

    I didn't abandon the fight, I abandoned the Party that abandoned the fight...

    by Jazzenterprises on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 09:33:45 AM PDT

  •  Those hazards are risky for adults too. (4+ / 0-)

    If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.

    by weck on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 09:48:38 AM PDT

  •  Wow, do they get this for free? (6+ / 0-)
    Child labor is common on North Carolina tobacco farms, where workers may absorb as much as 36 cigarettes worth of nicotine in a day,
    Just saying, it they had to * buy * the cigarettes to get that, they'd have to work a couple hours longer each day . . .

    Tangentially, for whatever it's worth, I worked as a child laborer on a farm for a couple of summers, and look how I turned out!

  •  Unbelievable. I admire your strength in (5+ / 0-)

    reporting day in and day out about things that are so discouraging and outrageous. Thanks.

  •  The "Misinformation" Was True. (7+ / 0-)

    We will never, ever, ever make even a tiny dent in industrial agriculture as long as progressives don't have a clue how farming and ranching works on the small scale.  And reading things like this make it clear that we don't.  

    Grandparents and uncles owning the farms their younger family members run isn't misinformation, it's how things commonly work in the real world.  Kids being formally employed by their parents/grandparents, by their parent's employers, and by their neighbors isn't misinformation, it's how things are actually run in rural areas.  

    I live in southern Montana, I have basically zero familiarity with the sort of giant corporate places that employ those 400k migrant kids.  

    But I know how things are run on the family owned farms and ranches here, both the traditional sort, and those of us going the CSA route.  These rules were dumb, and there has to be a way to differentiate between migrant workers and one of our kids doing their damned 4H project or working at a neighbor's place in a few years.

    •  But "working in dangerous locations"? (5+ / 0-)

      That's what the regulation addresses. If a "damned 4H project" or "the neighbor's place" involves kids working in dangerous locations, I don't think it takes a lubruhl to see the problem. Or, does it?

      Obama and strong Democratic majorities in 2012!

      by TRPChicago on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:40:43 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Spot on (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I grew up on family farm in Iowa and kids routinely worked on the farm and now the best farmers are often large extended family operations.  I know "abused" farm kids who graduated from Harvard and who are now doing something really abusive - practicing law.  Too bad they didn't help write a better bill.

    •  I was waiting for this DKos post (6+ / 0-)

      I'm a Democrat, a progressive one, even, in a rural area. I grew up on a farm that was owned by my grandfather. My father was legally an employee. Three generations of us worked on the farm (it's still there). Under this regulation, it would have been illegal for me to do so. I would not have been able to save for college (I had over 20 grand in the bank when I graduated high school, thanks to many years of being paid by my parents and grandparents for farm work). I would not have been able to participate in dairy animal 4-H programs. My many town friends would not have been able to earn spending cash stacking hay bales for us in the summer. I would not trade my farm upbringing and, yes, all the work that that entailed, for anything

      This is not misinformation. This is how the law would have worked.

      I still work in agriculture, and I can cite many examples of my customers who have their nephews, grandsons, ect working for them on the farm. There's a huge, massive disconnect I see in DKos readers who are pretty much all urbanites and what happens out here in the rural areas. Monsanto isn't Satan, every farm I work with is a 'family farm', Cargill is not taking over the country. I haven't voted for a Republican in years, but progressives' position on farm issues just makes me laugh. It doesn't begin to approach reality out here in the country.

      •  And they'll wonder why they'll lose Iowa (0+ / 0-)

        In November.  

      •  Not so (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, shaharazade, Ritter

        My understanding is that this rule allowed for an exception for children of family owned farms. In other words, the rules protecting other children didn't apply in a family farm. This was another instance that our "liberal" administration caving in to the noise and misinformation of the right and some pseudo democrats. Children be damned.  

        •  We all helped out on neighbor's farms (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rchipevans, farmbo

          and dairies, and at harvest time. I think what DrDoolittle was saying is that only work on your own farm was exempt, therefore helping out the neighbors would be illegal, and that's just not how it's done. It wasn't "free labor": we helped them, then they came over and helped us.

          I'm Gen 3 of 5 in family cattle ranching. We all helped get cows in from grazing land in the spring and back out in the fall. Three days of gathering cows on horseback, sorting, branding, earmarks and vacs, and we loved it. We also picked fruit and harvested hay for cash. Our school bus drivers drove the berry busses, and we couldn't wait to get out there and make our own money. A dollar per flat when I was 10 (1974) was good money and my single Mom appreciated that $20 every day. It helped pay for my horse and gear, and school clothes, not to mention how proud I was that I could help out.  In my rural community, a kid got props at 16 if they'd worked in the farms and fields and was now looking for a "real job" at the grocery or feed store.

          Worst job ever, best pay: picking chickens. $75 for a night's work catching  chickens 6 at a time and crating them for shipping. Bonus if your shed was done first.

  •  Another one of the flavors of human (0+ / 0-)

    husbandry--the exploitation of humans of their own kind to their detriment.

    People to Wall Street: "LET OUR MONEY GO"

    by hannah on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 10:49:19 AM PDT

  •  In the Summer, thousands of tweens (10+ / 0-)

    and teens work all over the midwest and plains states detasseling corn for local farmers.  It is hot and hard work, but they are taught to use their knives safely and are supervised during their working hours.  The law, as proposed, would have prohibited these thousands of tweens and teens from working and earning well earned dollars.  These tweens and teens are not children of migrant workers, but are my children and my neighbor's children and children of my community.  Without these children, farmers would not have had their fields of corn detasseled.

  •  DOL called it controversial!! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    George Pirpiris, divineorder

    What the hell is going on here....just pass the damn rules and the idiots will eventually shut the hell up!  Why oh why does the administration keep caving in to these liars?  Why?

    Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven. William Shakespeare

    by lutznancy on Fri Apr 27, 2012 at 03:09:33 PM PDT

  •  Hello crazy... pleased to meet you. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm Appalled.  With Two "P"s...


    I don't blame Christians. I blame Stupid. Which sadly is a much more popular religion these days.

    by detroitmechworks on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:34:14 AM PDT

  •  chances are... (5+ / 0-)

    that every time you buy a tray of blueberries from Michigan or strawberries from California, some of them have been picked by migrant children.

    Just another example of why "comprehensive immigration reform" is so unlikely.  Too many vested interests profit from a broken system and de facto unregulation.

    Oregon:'s cold. But it's a damp cold.

    by Keith930 on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:36:30 AM PDT

    •  BINGO! n/t (0+ / 0-)

      The thing about democracy, beloveds, is that it is not neat, orderly, or quiet. It requires a certain relish for confusion. Molly Ivins

      by MufsMom on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:42:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  There is nothing in these regs preventing kids (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from picking and packing. Many farmers want immigration FIXED YESTERDAY. They would love nothing more than to hire legal individuals. Having said that, we know there are children abused in industrial farming regions, along with their parents.

      “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

      by the fan man on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 09:43:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  anecdote trumps statistics again n/t (0+ / 0-)

    war is immoral. both parties are now fully complicit in the wars. bring everyone home. get to work.

    by just want to comment on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:41:56 AM PDT

  •  Anything good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade, Ritter

    for protecting any individual in this country is under attack and now this. . . what kind of country doesn't protect children.

    Those laws were there for a reason, just another sign of how our lawmakers have lost their reasoning skills.  They have become so cavalier they can't even protect our children.  The laws were put on the books after all the horrible accidents in factories during the industrial revolution and when children were put to work and not educated.  Big red flag, children will be workers and not educated. . . is that where we are headed as a country?

    Did the politicians even try to think this trough?  What about school for these kids?  Are they going to be working on the farms at night?  What barginning power does a seven year old have for wages?  


    "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolution­ary act. " George Orwell

    by zaka1 on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 08:58:06 AM PDT

    •  Yes at night (0+ / 0-)

      I went to high school with a farm kid who worked late evenings in the field in spring and fall.  He also played football, basketball, was President of the class and went on to become a corporate attorney.  

      •  Your defending (0+ / 0-)

        child labor?  Oh yeah, it is OK to put children to work because it will never be abused.  But, you know that one person who . . . and if it is like that for one person it is like that for all?

        "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolution­ary act. " George Orwell

        by zaka1 on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 09:34:37 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  The problem is the stupidity of the bill (5+ / 0-)

          Since Democrats tend to be bi-coastal urbanites it's no wonder they are clueless about rural America but this is why we lose Midwestern swing states.  Write a bill to protect migrant workers that doesn't demonstrate both contempt and ignorance for the lifestyle and business of many Americans.

          •  First of all (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            shaharazade, VTelder

            no need to insult Democrats especially since this one comes from several farming families, who worked on the farm during summers, and I do know about farming and how kids work to help out.  But, I'm talking about the corporate farms, not so much family farms.

            Second of all, I agree with the stupidity of the bill and almost all of the stupid bills that have been getting passed that are so bad a ten year old could have written them.  So, I do understand, but it will lead to abuse.  And the migrant children need to be protected as much as anyone else's child.

            I was social worker, abuse I know about, seen it first hand and my first priority will always be to protect children first.  But, moreover, the kids in my family have always tasseled corn, pick the strawberries, helped with the farm aminals, etc.  My Mom as a child in 1930s use to help with churning butter and pouring it into moulds and went with my Great Granny on her egg and butter route.  

            I think the farm is a great place for kids to learn things I think more kids should help out on farms in the summer and really learn about different lifestyles, I did as a kid.  But what I don't want is children being used in a way that is harmful and that is what I'm opposed to.

            You don't have to insult another DK member to get your point across OK?

            "During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolution­ary act. " George Orwell

            by zaka1 on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 11:03:22 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  It's not an insult to point out the obvious (0+ / 0-)

              Democrats have a hard time selling themselves in rural states and often it is not that they are too liberal, it's that they are too uniformed and arrogant.  I don't want migrant kids exploited either but when you tell someone that their extended family are no longer able to experience their lifestyle you are both insulting them and playing to the heart of why campaigns against big government sell in rural America.

      •  I doubt that he was the child of migrant labores; (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        he was, more likely, a farm kid working on his family's farm or for a neighbor who knew his family and, thus, had a reason to pay and treat him well.

        "I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in 'A,' 'B,' 'C,' and 'D.' Just who do they think they are?" Barry Goldwater

        by ranton on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 12:43:52 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Why can't we fight back? (0+ / 0-)

    Why couldn't the Sec. of Labor at least pen a succinct op-ed setting the record straight about what was being proposed, and then send it out to every major paper in every state where this was an issue?
    It's always the same. We do something that's right and common sense > the wurlitzer goes into high gear to knee cap it > after a few days of ineffective "no,no,  that's not what we mean" which no one even hears > we cave in because it's out of hand and politically harmful. They win and have another scalp to wave.

  •  Wow, I actually know someone who would have been (8+ / 0-)

    affected by this.

    A friend (not a migrant worker) whose 15yo daughter makes money by artificially inseminating cattle for the local neighbors and dairies. She also drops hay and helps the local beef operations with their daily operations, driving tractors and feeding and stuff.  Enough of this stuff is considered dangerous, that she wouldn't be able to do it anymore, and she has been doing competitive speaking (and winning prizes), speaking out against the proposed rule.

    So I can see both sides...

    •  Poorly drafted regulation + hatred of Obama = (0+ / 0-)

      successful misinformation campaign. I agree with you, in spite of the fact that family farming is going the way of shoe cobbling, there are still many out there and they still do hire from their community at as young an age as their parents will allow. The correct approach should have been educating before legislating, especially since this is a regulation that would need careful enforcement.

      “The first principle [in science] is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” Richard Feynman

      by the fan man on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 09:34:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The ill informed American electorate (0+ / 0-)

    once again perverts government.   Because you just can't expect this electorate that that has the privilege to vote for America's Got Talent to take presidential elections seriously.  Remember these are the folk who think the ACA is going to destroy Medicare and establish Death Panels to kill off elderly white Republicans.  It would be suicide to give them one more thing to scream about in an election year.

  •  A former colleague of mine comes from a farm (0+ / 0-)

    family and his young nephew-- I think the child was around 7 years old-- was killed when he was helping in a field where his grandfather was operating some kind of huge heavy machinery, and when it occurred to the kid to run off to another part of the field and do some kind of hiding game, the machine ran the kid over.

    Horrible, tragic accident that rent the family asunder.  But it could have been avoided if little kids were not part of family farm operations.

    That's one more thing to add to my long list of small problems. --my son, age 10

    by concernedamerican on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 09:42:04 AM PDT

  •  So if they don't starve to death from the cuts (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to SNAP, kill them by working them to death on farms?

    Sounds like a "death panel" to me...

  •  small statement of fact about tobacco farms (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    very few children of the farmers themselves actually work in the leaf any more.  It is very unpleasant and "tobacco gum" is sticky and takes days to wear off.  The children who are involved, and they are few, mostly are involved in driving tractors and such.  None handle the leaf any more.  I believe I may be the last farmer to "crop" tobacco by hand and that was circa 1990

  •  Misinformation...yes; but DOL botched this (5+ / 0-)

    USDOL introduced a package of regs without consulting with farm groups -- even the progressive-leaning National Farmer's Union-- and just tried to run with them.

    Yes.. statistics show that farm work is dangerous. Twas ever thus. These farm kids (and I was one of them) are working with livestock and machinery and farming ain't beanbag.

    But to tell farm families that USDOL and not parents, uncles, grandparents, etc, are competent to dertermine when and under whose supervision these kids can work, was akin to an attack on Apple Pie. And in an election year?!

    What we're they thinking?

    (PS... these regs would have had virtually zero effect in migrant kids-- their hours and field working conditions are ALREADY REGULATED.)

  •  Gosh, you mean the Obama administration (0+ / 0-)

    caved in when faced with a small amount of Republican/corporate opposition? Wow, who'd have thunk it.

  •  I'm glad that they took down the bill (0+ / 0-)

     I'm a dem, but learned a lot working on neighbor's farms during the teen age years. I largely don't see the problem in leaving things the way they are. Another consideration is perhaps at least losing IOWA in this year's election. Yea, I know that many of the big farm states would have voted Republican anyway, but I go back to my first sentence. Hauling hay, driving a tractor and numerous other things are good for a teenager.

  •  Can't we just use the truth. (0+ / 0-)

    Department of Labor withdraws=Obama caves once again.  

    Yes, Yes I'm going to vote for him.  I was at our Democratic County Convention which is the second phase of picking national delegates today selling Obama gear and raising money for the campaign.  We have to elect him.  I don't have to like that he isn't a strong enough leader to unequivocally oppose child labor though.  This isn't about kids working on their parents small family farms the way my Dad grew up.  There aren't any small family farms left it's about child immigrant labor.  So let's just be honest.    

    A bad idea isn't responsible for those who believe it. ---Stephen Cannell

    by YellerDog on Sat Apr 28, 2012 at 10:22:52 PM PDT

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