Several unions filed a lawsuit in Washington’s Skagit County Thursday, calling for the Washington Department of Health as well as the Department of Labor and Industries to immediately update the health and safety standards impacting farm workers.

The groups claim the state does not protect domestic workers or seasonal workers from COVID-19. Saying current guidelines are “garbled and non-mandatory”, the farm worker union are calling for emergency rulemaking to prevent a widespread outbreak of coronavirus.

“The agencies’ failure to act and promulgate emergency rules is arbitrary and capricious and violates their duties under Washington state law,” states the emergency petition.

The unions have been expressing concern since early March.

"Thousands of women and men leave their families to work in our State’s fields so those of us at home can sustain our families," says Erik Nicholson, National Vice President of United Farm Workers.  "They're doing this essential work under the shadow of fear for their health and their families' health. Without them, our food supply is at risk. We have an obligation to do everything in our power to protect these workers and protect our food supply-- and that starts with clear guidance and enforceable protections from the State."

Farmworkers need clear, specific, enforceable protections from COVID, and they needed them weeks ago, when we first started asking the Governor for help,” said Andrea Schmitt, attorney and advocate from Columbia Legal Services. “The state has to act decisively to protect the workers who bring us our food— and the communities where they live.”

“As farmworkers were declared essential workers and joined the ranks on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis they continued working in the fields, packing sheds, dairies and orchards,” said Rosalinda Guillen, executive Director of Community to Community Development.  “C2C has received many alarming calls and complaints from farmworkers across Washington state. They express fear and confusion about what being “essential” during this crisis means; because in their workplace very little has changed and they have not received sufficiently clear guidelines from their employers.  Farmworkers must be guaranteed enforceable essential protections now, including quarantine spaces with dignity, testing and easy access to health care, or we risk a COVID-19 infection spike in the agricultural industry.”

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