Press Releases

Bill Introduced to Protect Farmworker Children and Keep them in School

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Washington, September 15, 2009 | HELEN MACHADO (202 225-1766) | comments

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-34) introduced "The Children’s Act for Responsible Employment" (CARE) today to ensure adequate protections for children working in our nation’s agricultural fields. 

“It is unacceptable that children who work in agriculture, one of this country’s most dangerous occupations, are less protected under U.S. law than juveniles working in other occupations,” Congresswoman Roybal-Allard said. “The CARE bill addresses this inequity by raising labor standards and protections for farmworker children to the same level set for children in occupations outside of agriculture.”

“Farmworker children often work long hours, use hazardous farm equipment, earn sub-minimum wages, and are continually exposed to hazardous pesticides,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard continued.  “Our farmworker children deserve the same protections given to children in other industries; if they are too young they should not be working, and if they are working, they deserve protection from long hours and unsafe work practices.”

While retaining current exemptions for family farms, the CARE Act (H.R. 3564) would require that teenagers be at least 16 years of age to work in agriculture and at least 18 years of age to perform particularly hazardous work.  The bill retains an existing exemption that permits 14 and 15 year olds to work in certain agriculture jobs, during limited shifts and outside of school hours. 

 “Tragically, absent from our nation’s classrooms each school year, are thousands of children who instead of going to school, will be working in the fields and orchards of our country.  Studies show that an alarming 50 percent of youth who regularly perform farm work, drop out of school,” Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard said.  “All children in our country deserve the benefits of an education.  The CARE Act will help farmworker children receive valuable educational opportunities proven to be an essential pathway to a better life.”

David Strauss, who is the Executive Director of the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs and a member of the Child Labor Coalition, said about CARE: "I commend Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard for her strong effort to eliminate this unconscionable discrimination in federal law against poor, mostly Hispanic, farmworker children.  I urge all Americans to contact their Members of Congress and ask them to support this important legislation."

Bruce Goldstein, Executive Director of Farmworker Justice, which is also a member of the Child Labor Coalition, said: "Labor-intensive agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations, but our laws allow children to perform agricultural work on large farms at ages when they would be prohibited from working in safer workplaces.  This nation should end its history of discriminating in labor laws against farmworkers and also must substantially increase labor law enforcement in the fields. We strongly support the CARE Act." 

In addition to addressing the age and hour requirements for child farmworkers, CARE addresses several other problem areas:

• To serve as a stronger deterrent for employers who violate child labor laws, the bill increases the maximum civil monetary penalties for child labor violations from $11,000 to $15,000.  The bill also raises the maximum penalty to $100,000 and imposes a criminal penalty of up to 5 years imprisonment for willful or repeat violations that lead to the death or serious injury of a child worker.

• To provide children with greater protections, CARE raises the labor standards for pesticide exposure to the levels currently enforced by the EPA. 

• To improve information gathering, the measure requires data collection on work-related injuries, illness, and deaths of children under age 18 in agriculture, as well as an annual report by the Secretary of Labor on child labor in the U.S.

(Click here to read the full text of the congresswoman’s floor statement about CARE)

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