The Inslee administration will add to rules set a month ago by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries to keep COVID-19 from spreading among farmworkers.
The governor’s office has not released specifics. The additions, expected next week, won’t contradict or invalidate L&I’s instructions, but will “build upon it,” Gov. Jay Inslee’s spokeswoman said in an email May 15.
Inslee’s plans to augment L&I’s requirements were revealed by an assistant attorney general at a court hearing Thursday. The governor also will issue rules for transporting farmworkers, the attorney said.
Washington Tree Fruit Association President Jon DeVaney said the governor’s contributions could be useful if they clarify what L&I expects from farmers.
“All the growers I talk to want to do what’s responsible and safe,” he said. “We will wait and see what the governor does and do our best to comply when the new guidance comes out.”
L&I issued general-safety rules for agriculture and food processors on April 16. The governor’s office document will include L&I’s commands, an L&I spokesman said in an email. “Once that is finished and released, it will be the primary guidance for that industry,” he said.
Shortly before L&I issued its guidance, the United Farm Workers and Familias Unidas por la Justicia filed a suit in Skagit County, seeking a court order to force the department to issue emergency rules for field work, housing and transportation.
UFW National Vice President Erik Nicholson said the unions are seeking rules that bind growers to meet expectations. “I have no idea what (the governor’s additions) are going to contain. My hope is it goes far enough to protect our industry,” he said.
Washington Farm Bureau associate director of government relations Breanne Elsey said she hoped the governor’s additions will be in line with what L&I has presented. “We’re advocating for some consistency here,” she said.
L&I addressed field work and housing, but did not plan to write separate transportation rules.
Nicholson said additional rules on transportation are needed. Efforts to protect workers from COVID-19 in fields and sleeping quarters could be thwarted if they travel close together, he said. “You’ve just subverted everything you’ve tried to avoid.”
Some growers already are spacing workers farther apart on buses, Nicholson said. “You have several industry players going above and beyond, because they get it,” he said.
The governor’s office has developed numerous industry-specific safety rules outside normal rule-writing procedures and adding them to Inslee’s stay-at-home order. The rules regulate activities ranging from building homes to playing tennis.