By Reid Maki, Coordinator of the Child Labor Coalition
2010 has begun with positive momentum building for the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment (CARE), legislation that aims to protect the sons and daughters of migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Support for CARE, which is a priority of the National Consumers League (NCL) and the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), which NCL co-chairs, grew rapidly in December. During the month, the number of members of Congress who have agreed to be co-sponsors of the legislation quadrupled. The legislation is now endorsed by 64 members of Congress as well as 30 national groups!
CARE would fix exemptions in U.S. child labor law—dating back to 1939 and the enactment of the Fair Labor Standards Act—that allow large numbers of kids to work for wages in U.S. agriculture at ages 12 and 13. Our belief is that although it’s okay for kids to work on their parents’ farms, children working for wages in agriculture should be subject to the same child labor laws as all other working children in the United States. Agriculture is consistently ranked by the U.S. government as one of the most dangerous workplaces. Does it make sense to allow young children to work in an industry known to be dangerous?
In November, ABC’s Nightline found several children under the age of 10 working for blueberry farmers in Michigan. In 2008, staff from our campaign partner, the Association of Farmworker Opportunity Programs, conducted investigative visits to blueberry fields in North Carolina and found numerous children under 10 working. There are so many exemptions to current law that it’s often hard to tell if young children are working legally or illegally.
Often the sons and daughters of impoverished migrant and seasonal farmworkers, the children, who work mostly as hand harvesters of fruit and vegetables, pay a heavy price for their work. In addition to suffering health consequences from exposure to pesticides and dangerous farm machinery, these farmworker youth experience drop-out rates that are truly frightening: More than half of these kids do not graduate from high school! The work is often exhausting. Long hours in the hot sun after getting up at 3 or 4 a.m. are combined with constant bending over. Is it ethical to allow these kids to suffer so much so that we can enjoy lower-cost fruits and vegetables? Why should these children work under different protections than other children? It’s well known that child labor reduces wages for adult workers. Wouldn’t it be better to restrict this work to adults and pay them a living wage?
Please consider contacting your member of Congress and telling them that you would like them to cosponsor HR 3564, the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment—CARE. The legislation has been endorsed by both of America’s largest teacher unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, a co-chair of the Child Labor Coalition. The AFL-CIO, Change to Win, the Teamsters, and the Communications Workers of America have each endorsed it. The United Farm Workers of America and the Farm Labor Organizing Committee—the country’s two largest farmworker unions—have endorsed it. Farmworker Justice, the National Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Association, the National Association of State Directors of Migrant Education, and the National Farmworker Ministry have also announced their support for CARE. Human Rights Watch, Interfaith Worker Justice, and the International Labor Rights Forum—groups that monitor human and worker rights abuses—have endorsed it as well. Please help us pass the CARE Act.
If you would like more information about the CARE Act or the Children in the Fields Campaign or would like to receive updates about CARE, email Reid Maki at email@example.com.