The U.S. Department of Labor’s recent decision to withdraw the proposed rule dealing with family farms and child labor calmed a months-long storm in rural America. Accused by opponents of being a hyper-regulatory overreach, the rule would have prevented the children of farming families from many work-related activities.

But even as the DOL announcement was welcomed in farm country, it still leaves plenty of agricultural labor issues to resolve.

"The decision to withdraw this rule -- including provisions to define the 'parental exemption' -- was made in response to thousands of comments expressing concerns about the effect of the proposed rules on small family-owned farms,” a DOL statement said. “To be clear, this regulation will not be pursued for the duration of the Obama administration.”

For more, see here.

In lieu of the new rules, the DOL plans to work on educational efforts with leading farm organizations “to reduce accidents to young workers and promote safer agricultural working practices."

In early May, Frank Gasparini, Executive Vice President of the National Council of Agricultural Employers (NCAE), spoke with Farm Press on the importance of farm groups standing strong, ranching families’ big role, the DOL’s promised outreach, and where H-2A/H-2B and E-Verify legislation stands. Among his comments:

On the DOL’s withdrawal of proposed child farm labor rules…

“The DOL was invited – and I use that word facetiously – to talk to several congressmen about (the rules). I hate to name any because I’ll leave some out, but (Montana Rep.) Denny Rehberg and a number of others really put pressure on DOL asking ‘what are you doing? Why are you doing this – it’s bad for family farms.’

“Over the course of this, I found it remarkable how well agricultural groups stuck together and how much pressure people kept up through writing letters to newspapers, calling their congressmen and all the rest.

“Despite the fact that it looked like USDA wasn’t standing up to DOL on this, apparently there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than most of us realized. I’ve heard that USDA continued, through back channels, to tell DOL this wouldn’t be good. And apparently that pressure finally filtered throughout the (Obama) administration and they decided not to promulgate the rules.

“I suspect the fact that this is an election year helped them make that decision.”

On the DOL saying the rules won’t be revisited as long as Obama is in office…

“DOL says it won’t promulgate the rule but that (could provide wiggle room).

“This is an important victory for agriculture. Maybe the biggest victory is that so many different agricultural groups and individuals not only hung together, but did so for so long. That proves the strength of a unified agriculture.

“A lot of times, the commodity groups and associations and farmers from different states compete with one another. It isn’t always easy for such unification on the same issue for so long.

“My concern is that the actual definition of the family farm exemption hasn’t changed. That was what the DOL, the USDA and others kept telling us when agriculture became angry about this. They said ‘well, we understand why you’re so angry. But you don’t understand what we’re doing because the definition for “family farm” hasn’t changed.’

“Well, we feared and know that they were starting to reinterpret the definition and to enforce it differently than they had in the past. And they could still do that.

“We hope they won’t. We hope the marker has been put out that agriculture will be very angry (if they continue).

“The way the definition is written, children are still not exempted on their grandparents’ or aunts’ and uncles’ farms. By strict interpretation, if your family farm is an LLC -- or some kind of limited partnership, which so many are – that is partly, or mostly, owned by the grandparents and the child’s parents aren’t the sole operators/decision-makers, the (law) is still murky. There is still some risk for the family farm exemption – it doesn’t exist as most people perceive.”

Will Congress pass legislation regarding this?

“Many of our allies have been talking to Congress. They’ve been warning – and will continue to – lawmakers about this. A lot of folks in Congress are watching.

“So, (the DOL announcement) was a really good thing. But we can’t just walk away and forget about it. It requires more vigilance. That’s a good thing because it will help keep the coalition of disparate agricultural groups together.”