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Labor Secretary Investigates Child Labor Law Violations in Farming Industry

June 19, 2010

In a recent blog, our Santa Ana Labor and Employment Attorneys discussed the announcement by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) this week that employers who illegally hire children and violate child labor rules and regulations, will now face stronger penalties.

According to the New York Times, the Obama administration has embarked on the campaign of enforcing child labor rules and regulations to keep farmers who hire children and underpay workers from breaking the law.

Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis, whose father was an immigrant farm worker, claims that enforcing labor rules and laws on farms is a priority in the current administration, and that they will be hiring over 250 labor investigators and will raise the wage and hour violation fines to reflect the priority. Congress is also currently considering whether laws that permit 12-year-olds to engage in summer farm work with almost no limits need to be rewritten.

The Care Act, put forth by Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA) is a proposal to ban the hiring of 12- and 13-year-olds, and to limit the hours of 14- and 15-year-olds to keep teenagers away from hazardous jobs. Reportedly 91 representatives have co-sponsored the act, and Iowa Senator Tom Harkin claims that he plans to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) reportedly launched the plans to step up investigations after finding violations last year in farms across the country, including Michigan's agricultural fields during the Blueberry harvest, where children as young as 6 years of age were working in the fields. After the DOL checked 35 randomly selected farms in Michigan, eight farms were fined about $36,000 for violating federal migrant-housing and child-labor laws.

In another case, the department fined an Arizona contractor more than $30,000 for employing 10-year-old children, as well as underpaying workers. Workers have also reportedly been drawn to eastern North Carolina for years, but after 9 blueberry farms and 17 labor contractors were fined last August, growers have been trying to keep from violating laws by keeping all children under the age of 16 from working, and even ensuring minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to the mainly Hispanic immigrant workers.

Human Rights Watch recently published a report claiming that hundreds of thousands of children who are under the age of 18 work every year on farms, harming their health and their schooling. Advocates for children and children's rights claim that the signs of federal resolve are encouraging, but they will wait to see how long the enforcement will last.

The DOL plans to increase enforcement of the child labor laws, including violation checks of the blueberry farms during weekends and weeknights. Solis also plans to start a campaign to educate the workers about their employment rights.

In Santa Ana, California, and throughout Southern California, call our labor and employment attorneys at Howard Law, PC toll-free at 1-800-872-5925.

Feds Boost Labor Law Checks for Blueberry Harvest, Bloomberg Businessweek/AP. June 16, 2010

U.S. Cracks Down on Farmers Who Hire Children, The New York Times, June 18, 2010

Feds Order Stiffer Checks of Blueberry Farms for Illegal Child Labor, The Detroit News, June 17, 2010

Related Web Resources:

Human Rights Watch

Department of Labor (DOL): Wage and Hour Division (WHD)

Department of Labor (DOL): Youth Rules