New Rules are Workable!
In an attempt to push their own political agendas, labor union activists filed a lawsuit against the Department of Labor and Industries to force the agency to adopt unworkable and damaging farmworker protection standards. Prior to the lawsuit hearing, L&I along with the Department of Health proposed emergency rules.
With tensions high and COVID-19 impacting agriculture nationwide, the proposed rules would have been crippling to our industry, eliminating up to half of our essential workers just weeks before peak harvesting times.
To ensure that your voice was heard, Washington Farm Bureau took action and entered the lawsuit as an intervenor, while at the same time we asked you to comment on the damaging emergency rules. Thanks to your enthusiastic response to our “Action Alert,” over 500 comments were submitted to the agency in opposition of the proposed rules.
The lawsuit was heard in Skagit County Superior Court on April 31, 2020. Judge Dave Needy did not grant any of labor’s requests.
The unions had requested 13 relief requirements and received none.
The labor activists lawsuit did not prevail.
Instead, the court issued direction for L&I to work with all parties to come up with a workable solution.
At the invitation of the Governor, we went to the table with the farm worker activists and the agencies. After a rigorous full day of negotiations, we succeeded in making the case that agriculture will protect farmworkers, and that the rules must be reasonable and flexible.
The proposed rules that were heard during today’s follow-up court hearing prove that when we sit at a table and work together, we move forward with solutions that ensure safety and food productivity.
The newly released emergency rules do just that – they provide a balance between safety needs and an industry struggling to address the unpredictability of COVID-19 impacts.
Additionally, the rules acknowledge that many farmworkers work in groups or cohorts of 15 people or less. When you eat, sleep and work side by side on a daily basis, you’re essentially a family. Those workers will be able to continue their daily tasks without implementing stringent restrictions.
In the end, logic prevailed. Even the Governor’s office, L&I and DOH understood that the demands of labor activists were unrealistic.
We are pro-safety and pro-feeding the world. We believe the rules put forth reflect this position.
In closing the case today, Judge Needy deemed that L&I did their due diligence to provide safety guidelines for farm workers.
The aspects of the case pertaining to workplace conditions and transportation will remain open to reflect the upcoming release of guidelines from the Governor’s office.
We are delighted to report that the voice of agriculture (and reason) was heard and prevailed.