FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 17, 2020
Farm labor lawsuit derails efforts to help farmworkers
LACEY, WA – A lawsuit filed this week by several farmworker labor groups has ended a critical planning and response effort to assist farmers and farmworkers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The timing of this lawsuit was purposeful and intentional,” said Mike LaPlant, president of Washington Farm Bureau. “These labor groups placed their own political interests over the needs, health and safety of the farmworkers they claim to represent.”
The lawsuit was filed against the departments of Labor & Industries and Health to compel the agencies to adopt new ag-specific emergency rules related to COVID-19.
Now that the lawsuit has been filed, the two state agencies named in the lawsuit can no longer communicate with, or answer questions posed by, members of the Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services Advisory (ASWS) Committee.
This committee, made up of agricultural, farmworker and agency representatives, was formed with the goal of creating transparent, mutual communication, and joint recommendations, to better Washington agriculture, said Bre Elsey, associate director of WFB Government Relations.
On April 16, 2020, several farmworker labor groups, who also serve on the ASWS, filed their lawsuit. This legal action now prevents the committee from working together to developing rapid COVID-19 recommendations for the governor and state legislators to consider.
“The farmworker labor groups have decided to use the pandemic to drive a wedge between farmers and their essential employees,” said LaPlant. “Agriculture will need to work together more than ever to weather the storm created by the COVID-19 crises and the unfortunate disruption of finding ways to help farmers and farmworkers created by the lawsuit.”
The Agricultural and Seasonal Workforce Services Advisory (ASWS) Committee was created by the Legislature in 2019 and is made up of eight voting members, four representing agricultural workers and four representing agricultural employers.
The voting members are:
Representing agricultural workers
- Michele Besso, Northwest Justice Project attorney
- Rosalinda Guillen, Community to Community executive director
- Erik Nicholson, United Farm Workers vice president
- Ramon Torres (farmworker), Familias Unidas por la Justicia president
Representing agricultural employers
- Jon DeVaney, Washington State Tree Fruit Association president
- Mike Gempler, Washington Growers League executive director
- Rosella Mosby (employer), Mosby Farms, owner operator
- Delia Pena, Zirkle Fruit Company, director of orchard HR and H-2A
Farm Bureau is an independent, non-governmental, voluntary organization governed by and representing farm and ranch families united for the purpose of analyzing their problems and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement and, thereby, to promote the national well-being. The Washington Farm Bureau currently has 47,000 member-families across the state of Washington.
Washington Farm Bureau, Public Relations Specialist
Washington Farm Bureau, Government Relations Associate Director