By Iowa Congressman Tom Latham
America’s family farms won a great victory over misguided government regulation last week when the U.S. Department of Labor abandoned plans to pursue mindless regulations that would have kept farm youth from working on farms owned by their own families. The labor proposal would have upended Iowa’s great family farm tradition, and I’m heartened that the public outcry the regulation sparked among farmers and youth agriculture groups forced the U.S. Department of Labor to withdraw the rule.
But the decision doesn’t mean we can give up our efforts to defend Iowa’s family farms. Instead, we must remain vigilant to make sure government bureaucrats understand the needs and realities of modern family farmers.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s proposal threatened to eliminate an exemption to child labor laws that had been extended to family farms for decades. It could have outlawed youth from working on operations that are owned jointly by parents and extended family members such as aunts, uncles or grandparents. It also would have eliminated a pair of certification programs that allow student learners to perform certain kinds of farm work, such as the operation of tractors. The proposed elimination of the certification programs, which are designed to encourage safety among youth farm workers, drew opposition from groups like FFA and 4-H. The regulation would have made it impossible for many FFA and 4-H students to complete projects that involve the use of facilities owned by neighbors or extended family members, which is a common practice today. Additionally, the regulation would have kept many FFA students from completing their supervised agricultural experience (SAE) projects.
As soon as I learned of the department’s proposal, I did what the federal bureaucracy seemed incapable of doing: I sought input from Iowa family farmers, youth agriculture groups and others who would be impacted by the proposal. Then I wrote legislation in response to the overwhelmingly negative reaction I got to the proposed labor rule.
This grassroots process resulted in my introduction of two bills. The first was a sense-of-Congress resolution that would have recognized the special status of family farms when it comes to labor regulations. The second piece of legislation, which I introduced in March, would have taken legally binding action to block the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing its mindless proposal. My bill was also used to introduce companion legislation in the U.S. Senate by Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota.
I reached out to Rep. Dan Boren, an Oklahoma Democrat, as the lead co-sponsor of the bill because this is a bipartisan issue. Protecting one of the greatest traditions in American agriculture goes beyond the scope of party politics. It’s simply the right thing to do, and that’s why I’ve been so proud to work in a bipartisan fashion with Congressman Boren throughout this process.
But this isn’t a victory lap. We have more work to do to preserve America’s family farms. I’ll continue the push to get binding legislation approved by Congress to ensure that these misguided rules don’t threaten Iowa’s family farms in the future. There’s no guarantee that the Department of Labor won’t reconsider its decision to abandon the regulation, and the only real solution is binding legislation blocking them from taking that route in the future.
It’s encouraging to see the U.S. Department of Labor withdraw its regulation to keep farm youth off of family-owned operations, but we must remain vigilant against similar misguided initiatives in the future. The family farm is a cornerstone of Iowa’s economy and cultural heritage. We can’t allow federal bureaucrats, many of whom have never set foot on a farm, to tarnish that powerful tradition.