Congressman Boren has signed on as an original co-sponsor of legislation that would support the tradition of Oklahoma's family farms in response to new U.S. Department of Labor regulations.
The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed updated regulations on labor practices for minors in agricultural operations. Historically, family farms have been exempted from such rules, but this new proposal could be interpreted to exclude operations that are partly owned by extended family members such as grandparents, aunts or uncles. Such practices occur often in modern agriculture as families employ a variety of legal structures to remain financially viable.
Congressman Boren is an original co-sponsor and lead Democrat of bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Latham (R-IA) on Friday that expresses the sense of Congress that "the Secretary of Labor should recognize the unique circumstances of family farm youth and multi-generational family partnerships in agricultural operations when drafting regulations under the Fair Labor Standards Act."
"While there is a need to update labor regulations to accommodate modernization of technology and improve safety, the government should not seek to adversely impact the longstanding tradition of young people working on farms," said Boren. "Many family farms in Oklahoma depend on the contributions of youth for their successful operation. Also, for many young people, working on farms and participating in programs such as 4-H teaches valuable skills and lessons on hard work, character, and leadership."
In 2007, there were more than 1,500 farms in Oklahoma held by family corporations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The current regulatory structure has been interpreted by federal agencies to exempt such operations, but there's no guarantee that a new regulation would be interpreted the same way.
"The face of modern agriculture has changed in many ways since the 1970s when these labor regulations were first enacted, and there's no doubt that they need to be updated," Congressman Latham said. "But the Department of Labor must be sensitive to the needs of family farms that use alternate legal structures to stay in business. Everyone agrees that safety must always be the top priority on farms and ranches, especially when children are involved. But we have to make absolutely certain that federal bureaucrats, many of whom have never set foot on a farm, will not be able to tell successful family farms how to run their operations."