Farm Groups Fear L&I Proposal Would Devastate Washington Ag

Photo: April Clayton

Last week, Washington Labor & Industries proposed a draft of emergency rules for temporary agriculture worker housing when it comes to combating the spread of Coronavirus. A variety of farm groups across the state fear this will be a detrimental hit to the state’s agriculture industry, with cherry harvest starting in just a few weeks.

According to Save Family Farming, if L&I’s new rules go into effect, half of the state’s 50,000 season farm workers would be prohibited from working which could leave millions, if not billions of dollars of fruit to rot. Gerald Baron, Executive Director of Save Family Farming, said it’s still not clear why as the pandemic continues, the state of Washington is singling out temporary farm workers.

“Why not all farm workers?  Why not go into the homes of all farm workers?  Or for that matter, all essential workers, such as health care workers, and food supply workers, and military, and police officers.  Why are they signaling out only temporary workers?”

Several commodity groups, as well as WAFLA, fear the loss of these workers, and the overall health of the economy, could forces many smaller operations to shutdown permanently. Baron added employers have been proactive, working to ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

“Farmers have been doing a great job complying with all the guidelines and regulations that they’ve been asked to comply with, and in many cases well beyond that.  They are prepared to quarantine any farm workers who are ill, they are proactively testing, they are doing everything that the need to do.  So, this action is totally unnecessary, totally harmful, and very politically motivated.”

Baron noted the state’s proposal would make it nearly impossible for producers to use their federally OKed H2-A housing.

Comments on L&I’s proposed rule will be accepted through the end of Monday, to make your thoughts known contact the Governor’s office On-line, or by calling (360) 902-4111.

If you have a story idea for the Washington Ag Network, call (509) 547-1618, or e-mail [email protected]

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