May 17, 2021Washington ag groups asking governor to repeal COVID rules
Washington state’s leading agricultural groups are appealing to Gov. Jay Inslee to repeal recently renewed COVID-19 emergency rules for farm workers using temporary housing following his announcement that the state will loosen restrictions for fully vaccinated people.
Farmers across the state have been leading a comprehensive worker safety program focused on widespread testing and vaccination. As a result, the CDC has recognized that farm worker facilities in Washington state are three times safer than local communities, achieving a nearly 100% vaccination rate. Despite this, on May 9 the DOH and L&I automatically renewed restrictive emergency farm worker rules for the third time.
“We applaud the governor’s move to reopen the state and lift the COVID-19 restrictions by June 30,” Dan Fazio, executive director of wafla, said in a May 14 news release. “Now that the state is returning to normal for vaccinated people, the governor must follow the law and put our farmers on the same path to economic recovery by repealing the latest emergency regulations.”
Farm leaders say the ongoing restrictions are placing the state’s billion-dollar agricultural industry at unnecessary risk by creating uncertainty and limiting labor contracts that will have devastating financial impacts on farmers during the season ahead. The emergency regulations will be in place through September unless the governor acts.
“Farmers have always made safety a top priority,” said John Stuhlmiller, chief executive officer of Washington Farm Bureau. “We’ve done the right thing by enhancing worker safety through testing and vaccinations. We need these economically crippling restrictions lifted like the governor is doing for the rest of the state.”
Due to a chronic labor shortage, each year approximately 25,000 guest workers are temporarily employed by hundreds of farms throughout the state for the growing season and then return to their home countries as part of the H2-A guest worker program. Farmers pay prevailing wages and provide licensed and inspected housing, transportation and personal protective equipment for these vital workers.