Local farmers oppose proposed changes to child labor laws
The Department of Labor's proposed changes to child labor laws are designed to improve safety, but as YNN's Matt Hunter reports, farmers believe they'll do more harm than good.
To view our videos, you need to
install Adobe Flash 9 or above. Install now.
Then come back here and refresh the page.
WASHINGTON COUNTY, N.Y. – Besides running their families' more than century old farms in Washington County, John Hand and Neal Rea have a few more things in common: they both started work on the farm as youngsters and both have relied on their kids to get through a day's labor.
"I was operating a tractor at 12 years old and that was a very valuable lesson for me," said Hand, who runs the 100-year-old Hand Melon Farm in Greenwich.
"I just can't envision rural America without children, without children being involved," said Neal Rea, owner of Reafield Farms in Battenville, a dairy and vegetable farm that’s been in business since 1798.
For centuries, having children involved in farming has been a way of life: a way of life local farmers will tell you is in jeopardy because of the U.S. Department of Labor's proposed changes to child labor laws.
Late last year, United States Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis rolled out the proposal which calls for preventing anyone under 18 from handling raw materials on a farm, including most types of livestock.
Anyone under 16 would be barred from operating a motorized vehicle that sits more than six feet above the ground.
"There's a high rate of injuries on farms where children have even lost their lives handling machinery or equipment so we're looking at revising this rule that's been in place now for 40 years," Solis told YNN in an interview last week.
According to the Department of Labor, the laws, which have not been updated since 1970, would not affect children and teens working on their families farm, only those who are employed elsewhere.
Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburg has joined a growing group of lawmakers vowing to block the legislation.
"This whole process would be impeded, in fact people wouldn't be able to do it anymore,” Owens said Wednesday. “So I think it's very important that we get a rational set of regulations."
While the laws wouldn't prevent families like the Hands and Reas from working with and teaching their own children the trade, they would limit the amount of work the teens they hire would be able to accomplish each summer.
They fear that will prevent more young people from getting involved in an industry that sorely needs them.
"It just doesn't happen where you come in from the street at 16 years old and say 'I'm going to become a farmer.' That's just not the way it happens," Rea said.
"That is a way of life that could be a greater consequence of an otherwise well intended safety law," Hand said.