Judge upholds order requiring COVID-19 testing on farms

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A federal court of appeals judge upheld an executive order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that requires COVID-19 testing at Michigan farms. 

The order requires farms, migrant housing operators and food processing facilities to provide a onetime baseline test for every migrant worker starting Aug. 24. The order said every new worker would need to be given a test within two days of arrival. It also requires additional testing and paid sick days for those who showed symptoms.

The order comes after the governor said data identified the facilities as high risk for COVID-19 contraction and outbreaks. 

A group of migrant workers, True Blue Berry Management in Grand Junction and Smeltzer Orchards in Frankfort filed a lawsuit against Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in August claiming the Aug. 3 order was discriminatory and singled out Latino people.

The lawsuit filed against the state also said migrant workers feared positive test results could affect their housing or result in job loss. Additionally, the suit claimed that the order unfairly targets farms, despite outbreaks in other workplaces, and ignores other at-risk environments like dorms and camps.

The plaintiffs asked the federal court of appeals to issue a temporary restraining order that would prevent migrant farm workers from having to be tested for coronavirus. The court refused. 

Wednesday, the court instead upheld the governor’s Aug 3. order in a unanimous decision. Court documents say the governor’s order referenced past outbreaks at migrant housing, camps and food processing centers, which would justify the state’s focus on those places. 

“In a 3-0 decision, today a federal court of appeals upheld the state’s power to require certain agricultural employers and housing providers to implement testing protocols among Michigan workers who are especially at risk to COVID-19,” said Tiffany Brown, who is Whitmer’s press secretary. “The governor welcomes this decision upholding her strategy to save lives and protect the food supply.” 

News 8 reached out to Varnum LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in this case. They were not available for an on-camera interview Thursday. 

“While we are disappointed in the Sixth Circuit’s decision, we applaud the agricultural workers and farms that came together to let their voices be heard following this unprecedented order,” wrote Tamara Bergstrom, spokesperson for Varnum LLP. 

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