A coalition of Californian agricultural and business employers, including the Western Growers Association and the California Farm Bureau Federation, have filed a lawsuit to challenge the recently approved Covid-19 related emergency temporary standards (ETS). The lawsuit is aimed at the California Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board (CAL/OSHA), who recently approved the new standards and the complaint alleges, among other things, that the Board lacks statutory authority to impose many of the sweeping measures of the ETS on California employers.
The ETS create significant new obligations and liabilities for employers, and subject well-meaning California farmers and other businesses to additional enforcement actions and substantial penalties. The practical effect of these emergency standards is to shift the public health and economic costs of COVID-19 monitoring, investigation, compliance and remediation onto employers, all without any consideration of the financial damage inflicted on businesses already struggling to recover from the pandemic.
The complaint states that the ETS does not solve a crisis as much as it creates one. “We take this unfortunate yet serious action because we believe there are unconsidered mitigation steps that have and would continue to better protect farm workers while allowing our farmers to continue to produce a consistent supply of fruits and vegetables,” said Christopher Valadez, President of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California.
“These regulations will disrupt food supply operations all along the line, but it will be especially hard on our 20,000 small family farming members,” said Jamie Johansson, President of the California Farm Bureau Federation. Dave Puglia, President & CEO of Western Growers, adds: “The Board imposed unrealistic, unfounded and economically harmful standards. We have no choice but to seek judicial relief.”
It is important to note that the ETS will have a disproportionate impact on California farmers and their employees since one aspect of the regulations is to substantially reduce and eliminate vitally needed agricultural housing during a statewide housing crisis. A reduction in already-scarce housing will directly impact farmworker communities and harm rural economies across the state that depend on agriculture.
The lawsuit filed by lead attorney David A. Schwarz, Kent R. Raygor and Barbara Taylor, with Sheppard Mullin, argues that in enacting the emergency regulations without due process, the Board failed to adequately justify the necessity of the new rules. Additionally, the complaint contends that many of the regulations have nothing to do with workplace health or occupational safety but are designed to address non-work-related COVID-19 exposure risks.
The six plaintiff organizations are:
- California Association of Winegrape Growers
- California Business Roundtable
- California Farm Bureau Federation
- Grower-Shipper Association of Central California
- Ventura County Agricultural Association
- Western Growers Association