Comment by Monday on Emergency rules for farm worker safety in Washington State
Join us and submit comments NOW via email to the Department of Health and Labor and Industries demanding that the content of their new emergency orders truly protects and helps save the lives of farm workers and those in rural communities where they live and work. Key changes are needed to their recently proposed guidelines released April 23rd.

Community to Community (C2C) in Bellingham, WA has been sounding the alarm about substandard and often nonexistent health and safety protections for farm workers, most notably with regard to the dangers of pesticide exposure, for 15 years. For the last month, they have been urging the state to implement emergency rules to protect farm workers so that this historical negligence would not result in preventable farm worker deaths during today's pandemic.

On March 19, they co-authored a letter to Governor Inslee demanding that he enact emergency orders to ensure that farm workers have access to medical treatment, adequate quarantine facilities, and implementation of social distancing and sanitization protocols. C2C leadership participated in calls with state agencies, the Governor's staff, and the Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services Advisory Committee attempting to convey the urgency of enforceable rules in agriculture, as thousands of farm workers were already at work and thousands more were scheduled to arrive in Washington State for the harvest season.

Washington State Representatives and Senators co-authored this letter with demands for equitable treatment for farm workers who are at extreme risk of contracting COVID-19. Latino Civic Alliance submitted this letter to the Governor's office, echoing the call for justice in agriculture, where 99.5% of the agricultural workforce in WA is Latino. All the while, farm workers, dairy workers, and processing and packaging workers continued on the front lines, risking their lives to feed us.

Seeing no significant response from Washington State, Familias Unidas por la Justicia and UFW filed a lawsuit against these agencies on April 15, 2020. The lawsuit demanded that the emergency safety regulations be issued immediately. The lawsuit remains set for a hearing at 10:30 a.m. on International Workers' Day, May 1, 2020.

On Thursday April 23, the Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industries finally published proposed emergency regulations regarding farm workers' housing (critically leaving out transportation and work sites), scheduled to take effect May 1st. While it is a relief that the State of Washington has decided to take action, on careful review of these "new" orders, frustration grew upon seeing there is very little change from the current, inadequate regulations.

It is appalling that it took the threat of a lawsuit to force Governor Inslee to force the State Agencies to issue these orders. It is even more appalling that the State's actions came too late to prevent 70 farm workers from becoming ill in Yakima
(Note: C2C says that contrary to the Stemilt press release stating there were 37 ill workers, there are actually 42 workers who have tested positive.)

It adds insult to injury to issue rules that allow the use of dangerous tent housing, which will lead to more illness and put more farm workers at risk.

Comments on the draft emergency rules will only be accepted through this Monday, April 27, 2020. Submit your comments to both the Department of Health at [email protected] and Labor and Industries at [email protected] demanding these changes proposed by C2C. Read C2Cs full comments here.

A summary of the changes needed:
  • Prohibit use of bunkbeds entirely, as well as the use of plastic sheeting as barriers; instead of barriers, current spacing ratios for housing, showering, sinks, cooking, and food storage facilities must be revised to reflect current CDC social distancing recommendations
  • Prohibit expanded use of tent housing
  • Require education about COVID-19 cleaning protocols and general health and safety precautions in line with CDC recommendations, as well as what to do if you suspect you are sick and what will happen if you test positive, in a language or languages understood by the contracted farm workers
  • Require farms to continue providing regular pay for workers in isolation in addition to adequate food and water; and require contract tracing and consequent isolation of anyone who has come into contact with any worker (including management) who has tested positive for COVID-19
  • Department of Health must re-inspect all temporary housing and only issue licenses and/or certifications of compliance with state standards with facilities that fully comply with these regulations

Please take action today!