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Thursday, July 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Labor laws and personal beliefs collide

Seattle Times staff reporter

Washington state child-labor laws


The minimum age for employment is 14.

An employer must get a permit to hire anyone under 18, which must be signed by the child's guardian and school. A school signature is not needed when school is not in session.

All children are restricted from certain duties, such as repairing elevators, logging or operating power machines.

Children under 16 cannot cook or bake, work in any factory or wash windows, among other duties.

During the school year, children under 18 can work no more than 20 hours a week. For those under 16, the maximum is 16 hours.

All children are restricted from working at certain times, such as during school hours or late at night.

For exceptions to be made, the director of the state labor department must issue a variance, which is given only if the child's health, safety and welfare are not compromised.

For more information, visit www.lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/TeenWorkers/

Source: state Department of Labor & Industries

Lisa Heyamoto

YAKIMA — Jude Doty has spent the past 15 years whittling his life philosophy down to a motto: home birth, home school and home business.

To live by those words, he says, is his right.

To fight for them is fundamental.

From the head of his sturdy dining-room table, Doty speaks rapid-fire about his efforts to preserve his family amid a society he says is eroding around him. His Bible lies near one hand, a history book near the other.

Doty's fight has pitted him against the state, which says he violated child-labor laws by bringing his two eldest sons — Zach, now 15, and Stephen, 12 — to work at his construction business. The resulting fines have effectively put him out of business and could cost him the very thing that's central to his ideology: his home.

MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2003
Jude Doty is fighting state laws that prohibit his sons Zach, left, and Stephen, from working with him in his business.
" Doty believes a strong work ethic is the most important education a child can receive, which is why he brought the boys to work. The state says he violated child-labor laws by allowing his sons to do jobs that are too dangerous for kids their age.

He says he's willing to fight the state as long as it takes. The law, Doty says, should make exceptions for kids working with their parents, even if the work is dangerous. He wonders why his family is being singled out when kids can hop on a snowmobile or run a combine without the state stepping in.

As Doty makes his case, his wife, Angela, drifts in and out of the dining room, rising at intervals to tend to their seven children and to fix lunch. The boys are outside, flying down hills on their horses. The baby is crying upstairs.

All this activity is typical in the Dotys' renovated colonial home, which also serves as a school, church and recreational center for the family of Christian fundamentalists. As someone practices the piano, Doty explains that he's raising his eldest sons to be followers of the Lord: hard workers and good Christians, like boys were a century ago.

"Youth in the past were productive," he said. "Young men should be like trees — producing fruit."

But the state Department of Labor & Industries says Doty is exposing his boys to jobs that are simply too dangerous for kids so young. A state administrative-law judge recently ruled against Doty, but he has appealed the ruling in the hope that the laws will change.

L&I officials say Doty's case is the most tenacious campaign they've seen against child-labor standards. They say it could force the state to change its laws.

"This could be something big," said Reuel Paradis, Yakima regional administrator for the department. "This could be absolutely business as usual — or the Department of Labor and Industries misinterpreting the public policy, and then that becomes pretty earth-shattering."

Backhoes and bulldozers

The dispute started in January 2003, when Doty's house-moving business was hired to move a block of houses to make room for Yakima Memorial Hospital's expansion. L&I received several phone calls — some from Doty's co-workers — who were alarmed at the work Zach and Stephen were doing for their dad.

The boys, 13 and 11 at the time, were riding on the peak of a house as it moved down the street, callers reported, pushing up low-hanging traffic lights. They were flagging traffic at construction sites, driving bulldozers and backhoes, and they seldom — if ever — wore protective gear. Fueling fears for the boys' safety, a backhoe flipped with Zach inside.

"My bottom line is that these children should have an opportunity to survive to adulthood," Paradis said. "I absolutely support [Doty] in his contention that he was in the right to teach his children a work ethic, but I also really believe that there are jobs that aren't appropriate for some age groups."

Child-labor laws in the United States were put into effect in 1938 as part of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which also established a minimum wage and overtime laws. Changes have been rare.

Washington laws, updated in 1991, are more strict than federal ones. They put tighter limits on when kids can work, for how long and in what occupations.

State laws say no one under 18 is allowed to do the kind of work the boys were doing, and the rules explicitly prohibit children from working backhoes and bulldozers, flagging traffic and working on rooftops.

In February 2003, Yakima Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction that banned the kids from all of their father's construction sites. Doty contested the order, but the court upheld it. L&I fined him $26,000 for the labor violations; he appealed.

In late May, a state administrative-law judge ruled in favor of L&I, saying that children who work for their parents are not exempt from child-labor laws.

"Children 11 and 13 years of age are generally inexperienced at exercising sound and independent judgment necessary for work in inherently dangerous activities," wrote the judge, Chris Blas. "Mere supervision in these occupations is insufficient to cure the inherent dangers."

Doty says he was expecting the ruling and has appealed it to the director of L&I. From there, the case could be appealed to Yakima County Superior Court.

Paradis is confident that his department will prevail. But if Doty wins, L&I will take a hard look at the rules, he said.

This isn't the first time Doty's beliefs have run counter to the law. He's been arrested a dozen times, he says, maybe more. In 1983, he was charged with third-degree assault after spanking an 18-month-old boy with a stick, Kittitas County Superior Court records show. Doty, who believes in corporal punishment, was running a homeless shelter in Ellensburg at the time and disciplined the boy, with his mother's permission, for "acting up at the supper table." A jury found him not guilty.

He's also been battling L&I on other fronts. He has been audited five times since 1990 for such violations as failing to have industrial insurance and inaccurately reporting employees' hours. He was fined $107,000 for erroneously reporting hours for workers-compensation insurance and $4,400 for violating state health-and-safety laws.

Fighting L&I has tied up all his assets, Doty says. Half his construction equipment has been repossessed, and he's lost his contractor's license and insurance, he said. He hasn't been able to move a house in more than a year. Without income, he and his family have been scrimping by, he said, and his home is being foreclosed on.

Despite everything, he remains optimistic.

"I think I'll come out pretty well," he said. "But in the meantime, it's brutal."

Although the Dotys say they aren't anti-government, they keep to themselves and believe the strongest influences on family should come from religion.

MARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES, 2003
Stephen Doty practices the piano while Grace waits her turn. The Doty family performs regularly at a local nursing home.
They have considered nullifying their marriage license because they say the only authority should be the Lord. None of the kids have birth certificates, and only the first few have Social Security numbers. They don't allow TV because they want the kids to think for themselves.

Doty and his wife, a certified home-school teacher and former Christian-school teacher, teach their kids at home because public schools don't teach the Christian religion. Conservative literature and history are important in their education, but faith looms larger than anything else.

Faith, Doty says, will sustain his family.

"I have a big-enough vision and a great-enough God to keep [this family] intact," he said.

The Dotys are not alone in their belief that work is an important part of education.

The home-school movement often butts heads with federal labor law, said Chris Klicka, senior counsel with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, a national nonprofit advocacy group. Some home-school supporters believe children should be taught skills in apprentice-type situations, but laws prohibit work that takes place during school hours.

Klicka cited the Michigan case of a home-schooled girl who was prohibited by state child-labor laws from practicing sign language as an interpreter in a public school because she would have been working there during school hours.

"We're into modern living, and there's so much more available to a child and more preparation that they need for life," Klicka said. "Times have changed, and labor laws need to change with them."

Instilling a work ethic

Doty learned his work ethic as one of seven children raised on a farm in Indiana. Public school failed him, he said, and he received most of his education on the farm.

The work was dangerous. When he was 8 or 9, he cut off four fingers at the knuckle while using a buzz saw. They were sewn back on.

"Losing an arm or a leg is not the end of the world," he said. "But losing your soul would be a bad situation."

Doty was supervising his sons' work and knows it was hazardous. But for him, that's not the point.

For his wife, overseeing children is the key in teaching them to go it alone. Having the boys work with their father, she says, is like learning to cook: Kids are taught under a watchful eye until they're ready to handle a hot stove.

Angela Doty says her boys enjoy working with their dad because it provides them a strong male role model and a set of skills.

"[They've] got a dad that cares," she said. "My children beg to go to work with their dad."

Zach and Stephen say they are itching to get back to work. Leaning on the desk in the family's school room, their eyes light up when they talk about the equipment they operated and the time they spent with their dad.

The Dotys say numerous activities — skateboarding, snowmobiling and horseback riding, to name a few — imperil children far more than construction work does.

And Jude Doty wants to know why kids on farms can use tractors, combines and other heavy machinery while his boys are banned from backhoes.

The answer is steeped in history and politics, says James Gregory, a history professor at the University of Washington who specializes in labor studies. In Washington and across the country, farms are treated differently than the industrial world.

"We have a strong tradition of thinking about farming as sort of noble and protected and nonindustrial," Gregory said. "Someone that says, 'I want my kids to work with me on the family farm,' seems to be saying something a little different than, 'I want my kids to work with me at the factory.' "

There is an inherent contradiction in that position, he acknowledges, but he says lawmakers have to draw the line somewhere.

"This is a reasonable distinction," he said, "not a perfect one."

On top of that, farm lobbies are wealthy, powerful and tough to beat. Few people are willing to take on such a venerable institution.

'I'm doing right'

Doty's lawyer, Raymond Alexander, says L&I is interpreting child-labor laws too broadly. Doty's sons should be exempt because they are his children, not his employees, Alexander says.

"L&I is basically saying that anytime any parent has their child do any work that isn't housework or farm work, they're going to be considered an employee," Alexander said. "That has staggering ramifications."

Alexander wants the laws rewritten to make it easier for parents to teach their kids skills and a work ethic.

But relaxing the rules could open the system to abuse, Paradis said. It could allow parents to work their kids in any way they like.

If a judge rules for the state, the boys will be considered Doty's employees and be subject to child-labor laws. They would not be allowed to work with him.

If a ruling goes Doty's way, the boys could return to the job sites and resume their training, but with restrictions: Doty would have to comply with state health-and-safety rules and federal labor laws, so the boys wouldn't be able to do a lot of the work they were doing: no driving backhoes, no working on rooftops, no directing traffic.

While the case plays out, Doty lingers around the house to spend time with the boys, watching his livelihood wither and feeling attacked. His patience is wearing thin.

"I'm not going to be sheepish about it, and I'm not going to be apologetic," he said. "I'm doing right."

Lisa Heyamoto: 206-464-2149 or lheyamoto@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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