Groups that represent agricultural employers are appealing Washington’s extension of emergency rules designed to protect workers from the spread of the coronavirus.
In a news release, the Washington Farm Bureau and wafla contend the rules, extended by the state health and workplace safety regulators for the second time on Jan. 8, don’t take into account updated science about the virus or the prospects of vaccinating workers. They are appealing to Gov. Jay Inslee.
In May, the state Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries issued emergency farming rules that allow bunk beds in housing units only for cohorts of 15 or fewer employees who live, travel and work together in otherwise isolation. The rules also mandate social distancing on buses and increase the level of sanitation requirements in housing and in fields. The agencies extended the rules in September and again last week, with only minor changes.
The extensions don’t allow employers an off-ramp from the rules after their workers receive vaccinations, which will decrease the risk to employees and their communities, the appealing groups said.
Wafla aids growers in hiring visiting H-2A workers from Mexico and other countries. Its members have agreed to test those workers upon arrival if the state would prioritize all of them for receiving vaccines, which are still in limited supply, the release said.
Under the state’s current vaccine priorities, all farmworkers living and working in congregate settings fall under Phase 1b, though those 50 and older hold a place in line weeks ahead of their younger colleagues. To see the state’s estimated Phases 1a and 1b vaccination timeline, visit: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Portals/1/Documents/1600/coronavirus/VaccinationPhasesInfographic.pdf.
For the state’s overall vaccine information page, go to: https://www.doh.wa.gov/Emergencies/COVID19/Vaccine.
—by Ross Courtney