With new guidelines in place for essential workers, there’s an important question about fairness. Workers are classified as essential due to their important contribution to society. Grocery store workers are essential because they market and sell food; medical workers are essential because they provide healthcare; farm workers are essential because they grow and harvest food. It is necessary to ensure the safety of all the essential worker groups.
Last week Governor Inslee added several new requirements that farm workers will need to follow during the pandemic. These rules are specifically targeted for farm workers to apply to their work during the upcoming harvest.
The question farmers are wondering is why only farm workers are being targeted for these enforced guidelines. Why is it that other essential businesses do not have to comply with these rules? If it’s a method of safety, isn’t it important to keep all essential workers safe in the same way?
Farmers are upset that Governor Inslee is targeting them with these rules that don’t apply to other groups. The new rules put in place by Governor Inslee require many changes to be made by farm businesses including:
- Quadrupling the hand-washing station requirements (now must be placed every 110 yards instead of the existing 440 yards)
- Requiring water at these hand-washing stations be kept between 60 and 100 degrees.
- Reducing farmworker transportation capacity
- Requiring temperature checks
- Implementing additional mandated PPE requirements even when masks, gloves, etc., remain in short supply.
Farmers already make it their priority to ensure worker safety, since they know that healthy workers lead to a healthy product, which is part of their livelihood. Not only are these additional requirements time consuming and costly for farmers, they provide the state the ability to shut down farmer over even the most minor mistakes, as well as virtually endless opportunities for the activist lawyers–who wrote the rules–to sue farms and make millions of dollars in fees and settlements.
In Washington, Yakima has been reported to have the highest number of cases. This is due to two reasons: Yakima has had the ability to do more tests in comparison to other counties in Washington; and Yakima also has an increased number of essential workers.
According to the Yakima County Development Association, there are a total of 73,000 essential workers under the categories of medical, grocery, agriculture, and other essential businesses, which encompasses nearly 63% of all employees in Yakima. Of these 73,000 essential workers of all categories, as of April 19th, only 70 farm workers had tested positive for the virus
Given the total number of essential workers who have tested positive, this number of 70 is fairly small. Multiple studies conducted by the CDC revealed that thousands of medical workers and other essential personnel working in the services industries are contracting the disease.
Farm workers face many risks while working in the field. It’s no secret that agriculture is a dangerous industry to work in with equipment, animals, and environmental risks. This is why workers are trained carefully to ensure their safety before working in the various fields. But when it comes to the coronavirus are farm workers more at risk than other essential workers?
In a study done by the World Economic Forum, agricultural workers did not even make the list of essential workers who may be at risk of the virus. Research shows that people who are most at risk are medical workers, service workers, and first responders. Farm workers may be no more at risk than someone who is going to the grocery store with a mask on.
So, the question comes up again: are farm workers really at risk? Why are they being targeted? Is this a matter of politics or safety?
If these guidelines are being put in place for one essential worker group, why not all?