Several farm labor agencies and migrant worker care experts have issued tips and guidelines for how to continue farming while following the social distancing and hygiene rules now required due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Most tree fruit production states are under shelter-in-place orders, though the federal Department of Homeland Security has deemed farming an “essential” job that may continue under the stay-home orders issued in California, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, New York and other states and counties across the country.
Associations and some agricultural attorneys have suggested issuing a letter informing employees they are expected to continue working through such orders, screening workers daily for symptoms and a number of other tips. Stokes Law, a Yakima, Washington, firm that often represents agricultural employers, has been posting coronavirus tips, including a template of the suggested letter. (Go to: https://www.stokeslaw.com/news-and-insights/stokes-law-briefs/ready-work-force-for-continued-operations-in-the-face-of-covid19.)
The Washington Growers League, based in Yakima, has issued its members a list of tips for setting up employee housing. That list includes moving beds to keep them 6 feet apart, disinfecting all surfaces daily and posting coronavirus prevention notices in kitchens and bathrooms. For printable resources, in English, Spanish and multiple other languages, from the Centers for Disease Control, go to: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html
In its newsletters, the Growers League also urges employers to instruct sick workers to stay home, provide nonpunitive leave for their employees and ask labor contractors to do the same, and to call local health clinics if a worker shows flu-like or coronavirus-like symptoms.
Wafla, a Lacey, Washington-based human resources organization that facilitates most of Washington’s H-2A contracts, is working with the state Department of Health to draft “best practices” advice specific to agricultural labor housing facilities and has requested cleaning supplies from the state government’s coronavirus response budget. Click here to see the letter.
In a webinar last week, doctors with the Migrant Clinicians Network of Austin, Texas, recommended changing housing layouts to allow social distance and bussing workers to job sites in several trips, giving workers on each trip more room to spread out inside the vehicle.
The Clinician’s Network officials also instructed employers to immediately isolate all sick workers, even if it is unclear what illness they have, and to monitor them for tell-tale signs of coronavirus: fever, coughing and shortness of breath. If they have those symptoms, employers should call a hospital or clinic. If health officials at the facility ask employers to bring in workers, they advise transporting them in a private car that can be wiped down afterward.
The United Farm Workers has asked employers in an open letter to remove caps and waiting periods for sick pay, stop requiring doctor’s notes for sick time, place workers who are infected, or have infected family members, on paid administrative leave and help employees find childcare while schools are closed. The Growers League echoed many of these suggestions.
In Washington, Michigan and Oregon, paid sick leave is mandated by state law. Washington and Oregon have put together web pages with frequently asked questions regarding how coronavirus affects sick leave requirements.
For Washington, go to: https://lni.wa.gov/agency/outreach/paid-sick-leave-and-coronavirus-covid-19-common-questions
For Oregon, go to: https://www.oregon.gov/BOLI/WHD/OST/Pages/index.aspx
Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo mandated paid sick leave for workers in his state affected by coronavirus. Go to: https://www.governor.ny.gov/programs/paid-sick-leave-covid-19-impacted-new-yorkers
Michigan is summing up its coronavirus response here: https://www.michigan.gov/coronavirus
Pennsylvania has these websites:
Here is a brief list of other online resources for agricultural workplaces and coronavirus.
From the Centers for Disease Control:
—Workplace posters: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/communication/factsheets.html
—General business and employer guides: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/organizations/businesses-employers.html
—How to respond to an outbreak: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/fs-CERC-Infectious-Disease.pdf
From the U.S. Department of Agriculture: https://www.usda.gov/coronavirus
These Spanish materials are available from the Mexican Secretary of Health: https://www.gob.mx/salud/documentos/covid-19-materiales-de-consulta
From Cornell University: http://agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu/2020/03/12/novel-coronavirus-prevention-control-for-farms/
—by Ross Courtney