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Manufacturing Industry Updates

Michigan Farmers Say State’s New COVID-19 Testing Targets Latino Community

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The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issues new emergency orders, requiring COVID-19 testing for agricultural and food processing employees before they can work. (iStock/branex)

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says it wants to keep agricultural and food processing workers safe with its recent COVID-19 testing order, but Michigan farmers aren’t having any of it.

The state’s new emergency orders require COVID-19 testing for agricultural and food processing employees before they can work. The Department of Health and Human Services cited 11 outbreaks at farms and food processing plants in the state.

Local farm employees and employers, as well as True Blue Berry Management LLC and Smeltzer Orchards Co. LLC filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan in response, according to MLive. Michigan farmers say the emergency order violates the civil rights of the Latino community.

“The order clearly targets the Latino community, and the state has been really clear that they’ve singled out this minority class,” said Allison Eicher, an attorney for the Michigan Farm Bureau. “No other group in the state is subject to mandatory testing for work except for nursing home workers.”

The order requires migrant housing camp operators to provide:

  • One-time baseline testing of all residents ages 18 and over.
  • Testing of all new residents within 48 hours of arrival, with separate housing for newly arriving residents for 14 days and a second test 10-14 days after arrival.
  • Testing of any resident with symptoms or exposure.

Employers of migrant or seasonal workers, meat, poultry and egg processing facilities and greenhouses with more than 20 employees on site at a time must also provide:

  • One-time baseline testing of all workers.
  • Testing of all new workers prior to any in-person work.
  • Testing of any worker with symptoms or exposure.

“The men and women who work in our fields and food processing plants are at particular risk for COVID-19, and they need and deserve protection,” said Robert Gordon, director of the Department of Health and Human Services. “Today’s order will help reduce the spread of COVID in communities across Michigan and reduce the pandemic’s disparate impact on Latinos.”

Eicher said the new order is a “blatant targeting of migrant farmworkers.” She added that if nursing home workers choose to not be tested, they can still work, but not around patients. However, if a farmworker doesn’t get tested, he or she can’t work until they provide a negative test.

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