Western Growers, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, and California Farm Bureau Federation Comment on Lawsuit Challenging COVID-19-Related Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS)
LOS ANGELES, CA - The health and safety of our industry and its essential workers continues to be a prime focus. A recent development regarding COVID-19 safety standards has garnered a response from a coalition of agricultural employers, all of whom filed a lawsuit that challenges the temporary COVID-related emergency standards (ETS) approved by the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board. This lawsuit states that the Board lacks the authority to impose many of these measures on employers in California.
“In the weeks and months following Governor Newsom’s emergency declaration in March, California farmers and processors moved quickly to implement dramatic new safety practices aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace,” said President and CEO of Western Growers Dave Puglia. “While these measures helped reduce transmission in workplaces, this virus has swept through communities large and small in spite of lockdown orders and mask mandates, and through every sector of the economy as well despite extraordinary efforts by employers and employees alike. The Board imposed unrealistic, unfounded, and economically harmful standards in total disregard of these realities. We have no choice but to seek judicial relief.”
The purpose of the ETS is to shift the costs of COVID-19 monitoring, investigation, and remediation onto employers, the Western Growers press release revealed.
In turn, the new standards lead to new obligations and liabilities for employers, subjecting California farmers and businesses to potential future penalties. Despite the intentions of the health standards, many California farms and businesses believe that the Board did not consider the financial implications the ETS would have on them.
“These regulations will disrupt food supply operations all along the line, but it will be especially hard on our 20,000 small family farming members,” said Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “They and their employees are the unsung heroes of the pandemic but once again, they must react to a rule handed down by fiat instead of going through a deliberate regulatory process where the voices of farmers would be heard. We hope the court forces government to follow the law.”
One component of these new regulations is to reduce agricultural housing during the crisis. However, a substantial reduction of already-scarce agricultural housing can have a harsh impact on farmworkers across the entire state.
The lawsuit claims that the emergency regulations were enacted without due process and that the necessity of the new rules was not justified, especially since California OSHA staff insisted that it was not necessary to impose these rules. The lawsuit was filed by lead attorney David A. Schwarz, along with Kent R. Raygor, Barbara Taylor, and Sheppard Mullin.
“We take this unfortunate yet serious action because we believe there are unconsidered mitigation steps that have and would continue to better protect farmworkers while allowing our farmers to continue to produce a consistent supply of fruits and vegetables,” said Christopher Valadez, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California. “As this pandemic has shown us over the last several months, it is imperative that science and data drive policy. That is at the core of what we seek in this lawsuit.”
AndNowUKnow will continue to report as more and more industry leaders prioritize simultaneous safety and success in the industry.