Farmers Decry Proposed Child Labor Law Changes

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Many farmers are upset with the Obama administration over a proposal to change child labor laws for kids who work on farms. Many family farmers say the rule changes — a response to a number of high-profile farming accidents involving kids around the country — are well-intended but could put some businesses in a bind.


Here in the United States, the Labor Department is reviewing thousands of comments from farmers who've weighed in on a government proposal to make farm work safer for kids. The proposal comes after several high-profile farming accidents, including the death of a teen in a grain elevator in eastern Colorado. But as Kirk Siegler of our member station KUNC reports, many farmers do not like these proposals.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: There's a long list of proposed changes, but one of the more contentious is a rule that would ban anyone under 18 from being in a grain elevator or pretty much anything that's taller than six feet. Another rule would bar children under 15 from working anywhere but their parents' farm.

Troy Marshall is a cattle rancher on the high plains near the Colorado-Kansas state line. He worries the rules would make it hard for him to find extra help.

TROY MARSHALL: We have a lot of good kids out there that have helped us, you know, from everything from branding to helping move and sort cattle that won't have the opportunity to work in agriculture and get that type of experience.

SIEGLER: Federal laws governing kids working on farms haven't been updated since 1970. And since then, government studies have shown kids are more than three times as likely to die working in agriculture than they are in any other part of the economy.

Michael Hancock, an assistant administrator at the U.S. Department of Labor, says the whole purpose is to improve safety for kids.

MICHAEL HANCOCK: Tractors, augers, all sorts of mechanical devices with a lot of moving parts. It's the nature of the machinery. There's a limit on how safe you can make them without making them non-functional.

SIEGLER: Hancock's office is now analyzing some 18,000 public comments, and officials are not saying when they'll finalize the new rules. For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver.

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