Friday, August 13, 2004

Capitalism and the Law: Forestry or Agriculture?

Such dilemmas the regulatory state faces. Christmas tree farms do not have to pay their workers overtime because they are involved in agriculture, not forestry according to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in a ruling earlier this month. According to the AP:

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a decision by U.S. District Judge Richard L. Voorhees, who declared that Christmas tree growers in North Carolina were not exempt from the overtime requirements of the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act.

The federal wage-and-hour law exempts farming but not forestry.

The growers paid their workers overtime until 1995, when they began hiring legal aliens to harvest their trees. The Labor Department declared that federal immigration law required the growers to provide additional benefits, including free housing, meals and transportation.

According to the Labor Department, the work was defined as agriculture for purposes of the immigration law but forestry for purposes of the labor law. The growers insisted the government couldn't have it both ways, and they ceased paying overtime until the Labor Department filed an enforcement action in 1998.
How typical of our government today—wanting to cut the cake both ways.

Still, it is amusing to think of Christmas tree farms as agriculture. The Oxford Dictionary (2nd Ed.) defines it as “science and art of cultivating the soil; including the allied pursuits of gathering the crops and rearing livestock; tillage, husbandry, farming (in the widest sense).” One thinks of a process ultimately dedicated to producing food. Of course, there is the legal definition:

"Agriculture" includes farming in all its branches and among other things includes the cultivation and tillage of the soil, dairying, the production, cultivation, growing, and harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodities (including commodities defined as agricultural commodities in section 1141j(g) of Title 12), the raising of livestock,bees, fur-bearing animals, or poultry, and any practices (including any forestry or lumbering operations) performed by a farmer or on a farm as an incident to or in conjunction with such farming operations, including preparation for market, delivery to storage or to market or to carriers for transportation to market. [Emphasis added] 29 U.S.C.A. § 203(f) (West 1998).
Ultimately, the court held that the Christmas tree farms fall within the meaning of horticulture and that the government’s regulatory classification in this case “provide[d] no analysis” and was “arbitrary.” Bravo.

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