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Ranchers Wary Of Proposed Department of Labor Changes

San Miguel Basin Forum of Nucla, Colorado

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The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) has announced its intention to substantially revise existing Child Protection Laws in ways that have many farmers and ranchers concerned. In a summary of the proposed legislation, the DOL states:

"The Department is proposing to revise the child labor regulations issued pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which set forth the criteria for the permissible employment of minors under 18 years of age in agricultural and nonagricultural occupations.

"The proposal would implement specific recommendations made by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, increase parity between the agricultural and nonagricultural child labor provisions, and also address other areas that can be improved, which were identified by the Department's own enforcement actions.

"The proposed agricultural revisions would impact only hired farm workers and in no way compromise the statutory child labor parental exemption involving children working on farms owned or operated by their parents.

"In addition, the Department proposes to revise the exemptions which permit the employment of 14-and 15-year-olds to perform certain agricultural tasks that would otherwise be prohibited to that age group after they have successfully completed certain specified training.

"The Department is also proposing to revise subpart G of the child labor regulations to incorporate all the regulatory changes to the agricultural child labor provisions made since that subpart was last revised. Finally, the Department is proposing to revise its civil money penalty regulations to incorporate into the regulations the processes the Department follows when determining both whether to assess a child labor civil money penalty and the amount of that penalty."

Despite certain exemptions pertaining to children working farms and ranches owned by their parents, some are still skeptical. "I am not an expert on the child labor rules," said Robert Bray, Colorado Cattlemen's Association member and owner of Bray Ranches, near Redvale.

"I feel that it is a rule or regulation in search of a problem," said Bray.

"I feel that it is a rule or regulation in search of a problem," said Bray.

Colorado has a long history of family-run ranches and farms, some-being operated by the same family for generations. Bray Ranch began as a small family operation in 1907 when Bray's grandfather, Edgar, moved from Cedaredge to Redvale. Edgar's son, Bill, inherited the ranch and ran a flock of sheep and a small cattle operation that was the basis for today's herd. Robert took over the ranch in the early 1980's with about 2000 sheep and a small herd of cattle.

He and his family run the operation to this day. Bray and many others fear that the new legislation will make this lifestyle a thing of the past.

"I do believe that if the new rules are enacted it will have a profound negative effect on farmers and ranchers in their ability to hire youth for odd or summer jobs," he said. "They would not even able be to hire their own family members unless the parents were the sole owners of the farm. I would not be able to hire my grandkids, nieces or nephews etc."

The current economy and continued high unemployment rates make it difficult enough to find work, but Bray sees an even more significant potential impact.

"The youth today as well in the past, mat have, or are growing up in rural areas and on farm and ranches are some of the most productive and engaging young people in our society. They are taught responsibly and "work ethic" at a young age. They are less likely to engage in gangs, drug activities etc. because they are busy at home and develop a sense of commitment at an early age," he said.

Bray maintains that the concepts of social responsibility and community involvement are an inherent outcome of this type of upbringing.

"In our area how many kids do you see helping with a cattle drive riding horses, helping with changing the oil in the pickup, working with an adult farming with tractors, etc?" he said. "All of that could potentially be a crime if these rules go in effect. In our area and much of rural Colorado, the only jobs available for youth are in the neighbors agricultural operation. The rules could potentially severely limit 4-h programs, FFA program or Vo-Ag programs in our schools."

Bray believes that self-regulation and personal responsibility make the potential changes unnecessary.

"Farmers and ranchers have no interest in placing youth at risk on our operations," he said. "We believe and have proven mat youth employment on farms and ranches is positive, enriching, and rewarding experience."

He finds the inconsistencies in existing laws ironic. "We allow a youth to carry and operate a big game hunting rifle but we would not be allowed to hire these same youth on our agriculture operations."

Bray foresees a bleak future if me proposed changes are enacted.

"Our rural area and our local farms and ranches are struggling to get the next generation to come back to the farm, or to the area in a different occupation. We need to foster and have the ability to encourage our kids to be a part of our communities and it cannot start at age 15 or 16," he said.

"We need our communities to grow and maintain their identity and incorporating our youth is critical, or we will all die on the vine."

Original Publication Date: January 19, 2012



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