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Bill proposes change to logging child labor law

By John O’Connell

Capital Press

Members of Idaho's congressional delegation have proposed a bill that would lower the minimum age for children of logging company owners to work with a parent in the industry.

COUNCIL, Idaho — When his son, J.T., was 14 years old, Mark Mahon disregarded child labor restrictions on the logging industry, paying the boy an adult’s wages for physically demanding work, but sheltering him from the most dangerous jobs.

Mahon believes heading to the forest at 4 a.m. on summer mornings honed his son’s work ethic and taught him responsibility — until the day a U.S. Forest Service official noticed the young employee and sent him home.

Mahon is backing the proposed Youth Careers in Logging Act, which would amend the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to lower the minimum mechanized logging employment age for children of logging company owners from 18 to 16. Parental supervision would be required for the 16- and 17-year-old workers.

“The Forest Service guy was sympathetic, but he said, ‘He’s too young. We can’t have him out working.’ It just broke my heart, and my son was near in tears,” Mahon recalled. “I was very proud of him. He was learning how to be a man.”

Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, both R-Idaho, introduced the bill in the Senate, and Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, submitted a House companion bill.

Crapo has heard no opposition to the bill but expects concerns may surface during its vetting.

“On a family-owned operation with parental supervision, (children) learn the value of hard work, they learn the value of safety and they learn the value of a business,” Crapo told the Capital Press.

Now 16, J.T. recently bought a tuck with the money he earned while logging. He worked as a “pack mule,” never cutting a tree or hooking timber to cables. He plans to pursue a carrier as a physical therapist or personal trainer, but believes logging made him tougher for football and taught him to trust his instincts.

“Logging is dangerous but you gain a sense of work ethic. You become stronger physically and mentally,” J.T. said. “I think they should change the law so parents can grow their kids up the way they want to.”

Mahon would also like his 13-year-son, Sam, to have the opportunity to work by his side. Mahon’s brother and business partner, Joe, has a 16-year-old son, Josh, who would also benefit from the bill.

Mahon got his start in the industry as a child, working under the radar with his father.

“We had all of the safety training and all of the protective equipment,” Mahon said. “We were working shoulder to shoulder with men, learning the family trade.”

The average age of an American logger is 58. Mahon believes the bill could help with new blood.

“Within our association, we talk about how we got started in the industry, and it’s that we were working with our dads,” Mahon said.

Serena Carlson, a consultant for the Idaho Forest Product Commission, believes the bill would add consistency to labor laws, which already allow 16-year-old children to work on farms and operate heavy equipment.

“Logging and agriculture are very similar. It doesn’t make sense that there would be an exception for agriculture but not logging,” Carlson said.


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