COVID-19 testing order being challenged
Farm employers and workers are challenging a new emergency order issued by Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services.
Varnum Law filed motions this week arguing the order is a violation of civil rights. The order requires all migrant housing camps, all ag employers with more than 20 employees on-site at a time of migrant and H-2A workers and seasonal ag workers as well as operators of greenhouses, and meat, poultry, and egg processing plants to conduct COVID-19 tests.
Michigan Farm Bureau Assistant General Counsel Allison Eicher says the order clearly targets the Latino community. No other group in the state is subject to mandatory testing for work except for nursing home workers but if the nursing home worker chooses not to be tested, they still get to go to work but can’t be in contact with residents. Eicher says if a farmworker chooses not to be tested, they don’t get to work until they can provide a negative test. She also questions the unrealistic timeline for implementation, which requires farm employers to develop a “Compliance Plan” by Aug. 10, with all mandated testing to be completed by Aug. 24.
The order outlines what processing facilities will need to test, but other ag processors like the Michigan Sugar Company, which also employs seasonal workers, still don’t know if they’re impacted. Executive Vice President Jim Ruhlman tells Brownfield, “We don’t know yet to be honest with you. We’re trying to get clarification on that if it applies to us or if it doesn’t apply to us, what the true guidelines are.” He says Michigan Sugar has been implementing COVID-19 prevention practices just as the plaintiffs in the case but there are also a lot of unanswered questions about how the order truly impacts processors and seasonal ag workers.
The suit is supported by Migrant Legal Aid and the Michigan Farm Bureau.