New Child Labor Laws Difficult Idea To Plant With Nebraska Farmers

Farmers say updated child labor laws proposed by the US Department of Labor could have a chilling effect.

The department says they're just protecting kids who work on farms.

Kids under 16 would be restricted from doing some agricultural activities the department finds dangerous.

At 14, Stetson Meyer has practically grown-up on farms. "About since I could come into one, ever since my dad could take me to one."

Stetson works at the pig farm his dad runs. Under proposed laws by the US Department of Labor, Stetson wouldn't be able to work at Linden Acres, just outside of Beatrice, NE, because his dad doesn't own it. But the Nebraska Farm Bureau says that's just the beginning.

Jordan Dux is the National Affairs Coordinator for the Nebraska Farm Bureau. He says, "Kids under 16 can no longer work with livestock, kids under 16 can no longer go on a ladder, kids under 16 can no longer work with irrigation. They wouldn't be able to ride on a hay wagon anymore to stack straw bails or hay bails."

The Department of Labor's concern is safety. They say kids working in agriculture are four times more likely to die than kids who are not.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a division of the CDC, made the recommendations to the department. The NIOSH's findings show child labor laws in agriculture have not been updated since 1970. And therefore don't reflect equality between agricultural and non-agricultural jobs for kids under 16. But the Nebraska Farm Bureau says they're too broad.

Dux says, "There are some hazardous things on a farm, however when you look at the reality of the situation and the things they're trying to protect against, they're going above and beyond and really have no backing

Shane Meyer is Stetson's dad and he runs Linden Acres. "I think it's beyond broad, I think if something like this were to happen, I think it would be detrimental to what happens out here in Nebraska."

At Linden Acres the safety of both the sows and the pigs, along with their employees is their number one concern.

Shane Meyer says, "We're very tight on bio-security, a high-health heard. We're trying to keep out disease, so we limit who can come in. It may seem like we're trying to hide something, but we're just really concerned for the health and the safety."

Stetson adds, "We work in a team, so there's always people checking up on us all the time to make sure we're not going to get hurt."

They Meyer family believes the best training and how to be safe on farms is from hands on experience.

Shane says, "It's taught them a lot about animals and care-giving and just a lot about life."

Dux adds, "You teach them to be around livestock by giving them a decent amount of training. Simply telling them you can't be around it and that's how we're going to protect you, it doesn't make sense."

The proposed child labor laws would also prevent kids under 16 from working on farms not owned solely by their parents.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau says that would impact family farming corporations.

The Department of Labor says exemptions would be possible, as long as the task isn't dangerous.

But farmers say it could impact the future of agriculture

Shane says "It's hard enough to get kids to come back to the farm, and this would be just another step to hurt us."

But a Department of Labor spokesperson says the goal isn't to prevent everyone under 18 from being on a farm, just make sure kids aren't working in hazardous conditions.

There is a public comment period going right now until December 1st. To make a comment or to read more about the proposed child labor laws, click on the links to the left.