Obama Criticized for Labor Reversal

Just days after rejecting proposed Labor Department changes to agricultural child labor regulations, President Barack Obama and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis are being criticized by labor organizations and child safety advocates for playing politics with children’s wellbeing.

The controversial labor proposal, which the Labor Department worked on for a year, would have banned children under the age of 16 from operating powered machinery, like tractors, and would have prevented children under 18 from working in grain silos, feedlots, and stockyards. The new regulations, Labor Department officials said, were necessary given the fact that the old rules, unchanged since the 70s, did not reflect current agricultural technology or practices.

In the face of heated opposition from agricultural advocacy groups and agricultural politicians, Obama and Solis backed off the proposal. The opposition cut across party lines, with staunch conservatives in the Senate joining forces with liberals like Al Franken of Minnesota to protect their constituents’’ way of life.

Some labor advocates, however, are accusing the president of playing politics with children’s lives. Reid Maki, the director of the Child Labor Coalition, stated, “There was tremendous heat, and I don’t think it helped that it was an election year. A lot of conservatives made a lot of political hay out of this issue.”

Children are four times more likely to be killed while performing farm work than in all other industries combined. However, while farm work is still inherently dangerous, the total number of farm deaths and injuries has been decreasing over the past decade.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer