Montana's Congressman, Denny Rehberg, today took the lead on a bipartisan letter to Labor Secretary Hilda Solis asking her to extend the comment period for a proposed regulation that would undermine the ability of farmers and ranchers to hire young people to work on their farms. Rehberg, who is the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Department of Labor, submitted the letter with 77 other members of Congress after Montana ag groups contacted him with concerns about the rule.
"At its core, this is a simple question of who is best equipped to look out for the well being of our young farmers and ranchers," said Rehberg, a fifth generation rancher from Billings. "Some folks in Washington are inclined to think that government knows best, but I disagree. I think these sorts of decisions are best left to parents. It's insulting to suggest that ag parents put their kids at risk and need the government to step in. The informed decisions of an involved parent will always be more important to me than the edicts of an unelected bureaucrat thousands of miles away."
The Department of Labor has proposed significant changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) that will severely impact the type of work young people are allowed to do on farms and ranches. While the FLSA already prevents young workers from doing some tasks, there has previously been sufficient flexibility within those rules to allow for the employment of young workers in agriculture.
Among the proposed changes would be a prohibition of hired workers under age 16 from working with some kinds of animals, in timber operations, and working around manure pits and storage bins. It would also prevent children under the age of 18 from working in grain elevators, feed lots, stockyards, and livestock exchanges and auctions.
Rehberg's letter asks for a 60 day extension of the comment period for this proposed rule -- to January 1, 2012.
"The American Farm Bureau Federation appreciates that Rep. Rehberg has taken the lead on this important issue," said AFBF President Bob Stallman. "Coming from a ranching background, he understands U.S. agriculture, the traditions and the work ethic associated with growing up on a family farm. American agriculture must be able to pass these traditions and hands-on lessons about how to farm and ranch along to the next generation, and the Department of Labor's proposed regulations are harmful to the future of our industry."
"Montana ranching is a family affair," said Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stockgrowers Association. "It is essential to the future of ranching in Montana that kids are able to work side by side with their parents and grandparents to learn what it takes to run the ranch. Also, important youth development and leadership programs like FFA and 4-H are built around opportunities to begin working in agriculture at a young age. This proposal would have broad implications for ranching in Montana and this needs much more analysis."
"These proposed regulations make absolutely no sense for Montana agriculture," said Jake Cummins, Executive Vice President of the Montana Farm Bureau Federation. "No one cares more about these children than their own parents do. Many young people interested in agriculture develop a great work ethic and thoroughly enjoy working on farms and ranches, at sale yards and feed yards. You learn by doing. It would be a real shame to have this rule deter the absolutely essential development of the very kids we're counting on becoming our next generation of farmers and ranchers. It's clear that these rules were crafted by someone who's never spent any time on a farm or ranch. Lucky for us, Denny has and so have his kids."
"Too much of the Red Tape coming out of Washington these days is written to fit the problems of city living and not the unique challenges of rural life," said Brian Eggebrecht, a grain producer from Malta and the Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association. "The Department of Labor's proposal shows a lack of understanding of how agriculture works. Training the next generation of farmers is essential if we want agriculture to remain a viable industry in the future. Denny's a rancher, so he understand this. We thank him for standing up for Montana's grain producers."
"On behalf of the Montana Wool Growers Association, I want to thank Congressman Rehberg for formally asking Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis for a sixty-day extension on the public comment period for her Department's proposed regulations that would negatively impact the ability of Montana's agriculture producers to hire youth to work on our farms and ranches," said Dave Hinnaland, President of the MWGA. "As someone who has spent my life in agriculture, I know how critical it is for the success of Montana's agriculture community to be able to rely on and hire young people to help out both in the fields and in the yards and in transporting commodities. The regulations being proposed by the Department of Labor, if implemented, will have serious, and negative, consequences on the way many sheep producers operate. Montana's sheep industry very much appreciates Congressman Rehberg taking the lead on this important issue and for his efforts in obtaining more time for Montana's agriculture producers to submit comments on the proposed changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act. This letter is a real help to Montana's agriculture community."