Amish ask Senate panel to loosen child-labor rules
By The Associated Press
|Amish 16-year-old Abe Yoder sands part of a bed frame at an Amish furniture manufacturer in Applecreek, Ohio, in 1997. 'You always have to pay attention,' says Yoder of working with power tools in the shop. 'But if you do that, you won't get hurt.'
WASHINGTON The centuries-old Amish tradition of allowing teen-agers to serve apprenticeships in sawmills and woodworking shops clashed May 3 at a Senate hearing with the government's desire to ensure workplace safety.
Amish children only attend school through eighth grade. The Amish want the law changed so that when their sons leave school they can legally work in family-owned shops and learn the trade that will provide their livelihoods as adults.
"You try to teach them 'learning by doing,' and that is the way of the Lord," said John Byler, a sawmill owner from Harrisville, Pa., who was fined $3,000 four years ago for employing teen-agers.
Federal labor laws prohibit children under 16 from working in manufacturing operations such as sawmills and children under 18 from working in other occupations deemed hazardous.
"Young workers' inexperience, smaller size, immaturity, and lack of training make employment in (the woodworking) industry even more dangerous," said Thomas Markey, acting administrator of the Employment Standards Administration's wage and hour division.
Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, said changing the law to accommodate the Amish is a matter of protecting their religious freedom. Specter, R-Pa., said he may propose such a change as an amendment to the education bill the Senate is considering. Such a proposal has twice passed the House, but has never before been brought up in the Senate.
The Amish, who call themselves the Plain People, generally shun modern conveniences such as telephones and cars. They have traditionally worked in agriculture, but as farming became less profitable, many began small businesses, especially manufacturing of wood and leather products and quilt-making.
Earlier last week, the House passed a bill that would increase retirement options for the Amish. The bill would allow the Amish to deduct from their taxes contributions to three kinds of retirement accounts: Keogh accounts, simple employee pensions and simple IRAs, all of which allow larger contributions than regular IRAs.
The law currently allows the Amish to make tax-deductible contributions only to regular IRAs. The maximum annual contribution is $2,000. They can open certificates of deposit to save for retirement, but those contributions are taxable.
The Amish have a religious exemption from the Social Security system because their doctrine precludes them from accepting money from social welfare programs. Many of the laws governing retirement savings are keyed to Social Security taxes.
The rules change would alter a 1989 law that allows self-employed members of certain faiths to deduct contributions to IRAs but excluded the Amish.
Some 150,000 Amish live in 22 states and Canada. Ohio, Pennsylvania and Indiana have the largest U.S. Amish populations.
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