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Hastings Law Journal

Abstract

A recent trend in the American agricultural industry is the practice among growers of classifying farm workers as independent contractors rather than employees. The Fair Labor Standards Act was enacted by Congress in 1938 to eliminate labor conditions detrimental to the maintenance of the minimum standard of living necessary for the health, efficiency, and well-being of workers. The Act's protections specifically include workers' compensation insurance, health and safety standards, unemployment and disability insurance, and perhaps most importantly, prohibitions against oppressive child labor. Under the terms of the Act, however, only employees are covered by the legislation, not independent contractors. Because independent contractors are exempt from the Act's coverage, growers who classify farmworkers as independent contractors are able to escape the responsibility and expense of compliance. Farmworkers are classified as independent contractors through sharefarming agreements with growers. Under a sharefarming agreement, the grower and the farmworker split the harvest proceeds and share supposedly equal control of the farming operation. This arrangement creates the illusion that the migrant farmworker is an independent business person.

This Note examines the history and legislative purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act, focusing on the implications of classifying farmworkers as independent contractors for migrant farm children. It further discusses the evolution of the Act's child labor provisions and reveals the fallacy behind the "family farm" exemption. This exemption allows children to be subjected to oppressive labor conditions because the Act does not cover the nominally independent family business. In this area judicial guidance has failed and Congress' clear intent to protect vulnerable workers is not being effectuated. This Note urges the abolition of the family farm exemption under the Act and also proposes other solutions to the injustice worked by the classification of farmworkers as independent contractors.

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