Human Rights Watch, though, has just issued a scathing report on the Labor Department's abandonment of a policy that would have protected minors from dangerous working conditions on farms, bluntly stating that our leaders are condemning vulnerable children to maiming and death. Conventional corporate media spin has it that the White House was the victim of a right wing disinformation campaign by Sen. John Thune and others, accusing it of waging a war against family farms, the American work ethic, moms and apple pie. They had no choice but to crumble! However, the proposed regulations would only have applied to farm employees under the age of 16 -- not to the children of farmers. Family farms, to the extent that they have survived predation by Agribusiness, would have been exempt. Obama never even fought back.
Yet again, this Administration has "caved" to Republican and corporate pressure because it does not want to be maligned as anti-family farm, anti-Heartland. However, what nobody is talking about (yet) is that the proposed rules would have adversely affected big tobacco farms in those all-important swing states of North Carolina and Virginia. Tobacco farmers employ migrant workers, and migrant workers bring along the kids to help out and make more money. They get paid by the bushel, and do not earn a regular salary. Among the new rules the Labor Dept. had been due to enforce was a provision prohibiting minors from exposure to toxic tobacco plants and the equally toxic pesticides used to protect them. Barring children from the harvest would have cut into the bottom line of R.J. Reynolds. Barring children from de facto slavery might have evoked the wrath of the powerful tobacco lobby. Protecting children from nicotine poisoning in the fields might have spawned a whole slew of anti-Obama SuperPac ads in Virginia and North Carolina -- two states crucial to his re-election.
Although the president has been a public critic of Big Tobacco (his Justice Dept. fought back against cigarette makers' fight to keep warning labels and graphics off the packages) he also has had no qualms accepting money from donors enriched by the cancer-causing industry. The late Smith Bagley, heir to the R.J. Reynolds fortune, was a major Democratic fund-raiser and Obama bundler. Obama appointed his equally generous widow, Elizabeth, to a "global ambassadorship" at the State Department. She had been ambassador to Portugal during the Clinton Administration.
Of course, this big money/political rationale for throwing migrant farmworkers' children under the bus is pure conjecture on my part. I gave up trying to delve into the presidential psyche a long time ago. Who really cares what his reasons are, when the results of his reasoning are what really count. And who can be surprised by this latest deregulatory action from an administration that has already condemned thousands of asthmatic children to suffering and death by punting on smog regulations last year?
That may sound harsh, but it is no harsher than this embrace of Dickension child labor abuses by a Democratic administration. As Zama Coursen-Neff, HRW's deputy director of children's rights puts it in her report:
The US Labor Department has caved in to Big Agriculture and their allies in Congress to abandon the most vulnerable working children in America. Instead of protecting child farmworkers, the Labor Department will look the other way when children get crushed, suffocated, and poisoned on the job.According to OSHA, most farm accidents happen to people over 65 and under 16. Three hundred children are killed on American farms every year. (Most child deaths are not related to work, per se; the OSHA numbers reflect all accidental deaths on farms. These might include household accidents, animal mishaps, motor vehicle accidents.) Adolescents already have a false sense of invincibility and usually don't have the maturity to operate heavy machinery safely. Tractor overturns are the most common farm accident, accounting for 44% of all fatalities. Most farms are located far from emergency medical facilities and ambulances usually take a long time to arrive. They are often too late.
Agriculture is the most dangerous work open to children in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Children risk pesticide poisoning, serious injury, and heat illness. In 2010, the latest figures available, 16 children under age 16 were fatally injured at work in the US; 12 of them worked on farms. Thousands more are injured each year.
In interviews with Human Rights Watch, child farmworkers have described working with heavy machinery, including tractors; falling from ladders; exposure to pesticides and experiencing symptoms consistent with pesticide poisoning; working in extreme heat to the point of dehydration; and “topping” and harvesting tobacco, risking nicotine poisoning, known as green tobacco sickness.
Under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the US Department of Labor bears responsibility for determining what jobs are particularly hazardous, and thus off limits, for children under age 16 working on farms that are not owned or operated by their parents. Current rules, known as “hazardous orders,” which were drafted decades ago, prohibit operating certain equipment, working in areas with certain animals, working from a ladder at a height of over 20 feet, and applying the most toxic agricultural chemicals.
In case you were wondering what the Obama Administration has to say for itself -- well, not very much. The president can't even take his usual easy way out and blame Congress. Here is the official spin:
"The Obama administration is firmly committed to promoting family farmers and respecting the rural way of life, especially the role that parents and other family members play in passing those traditions down through the generations," the Labor Department said in a statement announcing the withdrawal of the rule.
"The Obama administration is also deeply committed to listening and responding to what Americans across the country have to say about proposed rules and regulations."(Hint: the day before the decision, Sarah Palin complained on Facebook that President Obama was not pro- working family values and family entrepreneurial togetherness. Enter damage control, exit rules against damaging children.)
|The Happy-Talk Bullshit|
|The Grim Reality (from the film La Cosecha (The Harvest)|