Two agricultural employer groups plan to sue the state of Washington over the extension of emergency rules designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
The Washington Farm Bureau and wafla intend to file a lawsuit today, Feb. 2, in Yakima County Superior Court asking a judge to invalidate coronavirus workplace rules that limit farmworker housing capacity, require two daily medical house calls for sick employees and other measures.
Among other complaints, the two groups argue the extension of the rules does not take into account the upcoming rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine among farmworkers and contains no clauses that will allow production companies to resume normal operations once most of the farmworkers are protected through vaccination.
The groups also singled out a few other rules as onerous. A few examples are:
—Requiring 20-minute access to emergency services and one-hour access to a ventilator in remote areas.
—Requiring two visits from medical professionals each day for workers who develop symptoms or test positive for COVID-19.
—Allowing community workers to visit farms and worker housing when the rest of the state is supposed to be minimizing contact with others.
The state first issued the emergency rules in spring 2020 and has renewed them twice with few modifications, without heeding any suggestions from agricultural employers, said Dan Fazio, wafla CEO. The two farm groups appealed the rules earlier in January and Gov. Jay Inslee declined to reconsider them.
“We feel like sometimes we’re the enemy and not COVID,” Fazio said.
Walfa, known for facilitating H-2A hires in the tree fruit industry, expects more than 500 new arrivals from Mexico each week during February.
—by Ross Courtney