A federal judge has declined a request for a temporary restraining order to stop the state from requiring all farm and food processing workers be tested for COVID-19.
U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney on Aug. 14 denied the motion sought in a lawsuit filed by two Michigan farms and some employees against state officials.
The plaintiffs, True Blue Berry Management, LLC, Smeltzer Orchards Co., LLC and six farm workers allege civil rights violations in the lawsuit, accusing the Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Resources of targeting the Latino community in its Aug. 3 order setting new requirements for coronavirus testing and other precautionary measures involving migrant and agricultural laborers.
Related: Emergency order mandates employers test migrant, agricultural workers for coronavirus
MDHHS Director Robert Gordon applauded the court’s denial, saying the required testing is meant to protect farm and food processing workers from COVID-19.
“The department’s goal is to save lives during a pandemic that has killed more than 6,300 people in Michigan,” said Gordon. “At a time when farms, food processing plants and migrant worker camps face 21 outbreaks, the best way to save lives is to support and test these hard-working employees.”
The state’s Aug. 3 emergency order requires employers of migrant or seasonal workers with more than 20 employees on site at a time to test all workers. Employers must conduct a one-time baseline testing on all workers, then test all new employees prior to any in-person work, and finally test any worker with symptoms or exposure.
Migrant housing camps must also conduct a baseline test of all residents age 18 and over, test all new residents within 48 hours of arrival and quarantine new arrivals for 14 days.
Related: Michigan farmers challenge emergency order requiring COVID-19 testing
The lawsuit opposing Gordon’s emergency order points out that migrant/seasonal workers and workers in the meat, poultry and egg processing industries are predominantly Latino.
“The order clearly targets the Latino community, and the state has been really clear that they’ve singled out this minority class,” said Allison Eicher, an attorney for the Michigan Farm Bureau in a statement. “No other group in the state is subject to mandatory testing for work except for nursing home workers.”
The groups United Farm Workers, Farmworker Legal Service and Michigan Immigrant Right Center said the lawsuit is “meritless, dishonest, and disturbing in its misuse of civil rights protections and false racial justice rhetoric.”
The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center is a statewide legal resource organization for Michigan’s immigrant communities. United Farm Workers is the nation’s largest farm workers union. And Farmworker Legal Service of Michigan offers workers assistance through the statewide Farmworker and Immigrant Worker Hotline.
In a joint statement, United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero, Farmworker Legal Serice Managing Attorney Kara Mober and Michigan Immigrant Rights Center Managing Attorney Susan Reed said requiring migrant/seasonal workers to be tested is “imperative to the health of these essential workers.”
“Many of us can safely stay home during a global pandemic. Farm workers cannot,” they said in the statement issued Aug. 17. “They face disproportionate risks of being infected with the novel coronavirus and have not enjoyed the protections other essential workers have received. Farm workers are essential. We need more protections for farm workers, not less.”
Farm workers who have questions about how the emergency order may impact them can call the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center’s confidential farm worker and immigrant worker hotline at 800-968-4046.
Employers of migrant or seasonal workers, meat, poultry and egg processing facilities have until Aug. 24 to comply with the emergency order. Anyone who needs help with compliance can email MDHHS-Migrant-Affairs@michigan.gov. More information about the emergency order can be found here.
COVID-19 PREVENTION TIPS:
In addition to washing hands regularly and not touching your face, officials recommend practicing social distancing, assuming anyone may be carrying the virus.
Health officials say you should be staying at least 6 feet away from others and working from home, if possible.
Use disinfecting wipes or disinfecting spray cleaners on frequently-touched surfaces in your home (door handles, faucets, countertops) and carry hand sanitizer with you when you go into places like stores.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also issued executive orders requiring people to wear face coverings over their mouth and nosewhile in public indoor and crowded outdoor spaces. See an explanation of what that means here.
Additional information is available at Michigan.gov/Coronavirus and CDC.gov/Coronavirus.
For more data on COVID-19 in Michigan, visit https://www.mlive.com/coronavirus/data/.
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