Two agricultural groups will appeal to Gov. Jay Inslee to repeal or loosen up emergency rules for farmworker housing.
Earlier this month, the state Department of Health and Department of Labor & Industries revised emergency rules to replace a version that was about to expire. The current version of the emergency rules will remain in place until September unless the state acts sooner.
The revision included easing some regulations, such as ones related to medical monitoring of those under isolation due to exposure to COVID-19. The revision also addresses vaccinated workers for the first time, allowing vaccinated workers to share common areas if they maintain physical distancing and mask use and that vaccinated workers could be transported in the same vehicle as long as they wear a face covering.
However, other restrictions have remained in the rules, which date back to last year. They include 50% capacity for housing and the prohibition of bunk beds except for those in cohort groups that work and live together.
The Washington Farm Bureau, a statewide trade organization, and Wafla, a nonprofit that assists agricultural employers with labor issues, has taken issue with the rules for several months. Earlier this year, the two groups sued the state agencies in Yakima County Superior Court, arguing that rules issued in January were a rollover of policies established at the start of the pandemic and disregard industry feedback, improved understanding of COVID-19 transmission and best safety practices.
In a news release Friday, the two organizations contend that now that the state is easing restrictions for businesses in the coming weeks, a similar measure should be done for farmworker housing.
“We applaud the governor’s move to reopen the state and lift the COVID-19 restrictions by June 30,” said Dan Fazio, executive director of Wafla, in a news release issued Friday. “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.”
The groups contend that the restrictions have limited growers’ ability to house workers and will have continued financial impacts as the industry enters the peak summer and fall harvest of several commodities, including cherries and apples.
Much of farmworker housing is used by guest workers under the H-2A program. About 25,000 guest workers are expected to arrive in Washington state in the coming months.