Federal Judge Upholds COVID Test Plan for Ag & Food Workers, Farm Bureau Responds

Another federal court decision has given support to the Whitmer Administration’s safety plan in Michigan. This time in the case of COVID testing for agricultural and food processing workers.

Late Friday, United States District Court Judge Paul Maloney issued an order denying a motion for a preliminary injunction in the case of Castillo v Whitmer, a case challenging an order issued by Michigan Department of Health & Human Services Director Robert Gordon that concerns testing among certain agricultural and food processing workers. Gordon released the following statement after Maloney’s ruling was issued:

“The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services required testing for COVID-19 among certain workers as part of a carefully considered plan to protect a segment of Michigan’s workforce that is at an exceptionally high risk of COVID-19. The department welcomes today’s ruling by a federal court rejecting an attempt to undermine this critical program to save lives.”

The farming community was not pleased with the decision, however, as Rob Anderson, Manager of Government Relations for the Michigan Farm Bureau says, “Obviously farmworkers and their employers are disappointed with the judge’s ruling,” adding, “The MDHHS emergency order has the potential to completely uproot the lives of many Latino agricultural workers and threatens their livelihoods.”

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Anderson went on to say, “We’re also hearing, anecdotally, that farmworkers are making the decision that they’re not going to submit to the testing, and that they will seek work in other industries or in other states where this testing mandate isn’t in place to keep their jobs.”

Anderson contends that Michigan agriculture has taken COVID-19 very seriously, and has adopted best practices to protect all farmerworkers since the inception of the pandemic, long before the MDHHS emergency order was issued on August 3rd.

Judge Paul Maloney’s ruling late Friday denied a request from farmworkers and their employers for an injunction against the emergency order. He ruled the testing mandate of farmworkers on operations with 20 or more employees called for in the MDHHS order was not discriminatory against Latino farmworkers.

As a result of Maloney’s ruling, the MDHHS order is still in effect, meaning an estimated 75,000 Latino farmworkers are required to be tested by next Monday, August 24th, under the MDHHS mandate.

Following the ruling, The Michigan Departments of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) and Agriculture and Rural Development issued reminders to employers that the Public Health Order mandating baseline testing for agricultural and food processing workers has that deadline of Monday, August 24th.

Employers who are in the MDHHS queue for testing will be considered on track for compliance.

Following August 24th, agricultural and food processing employers subject to the Public Health Order are still required to provide testing for workers regardless of race or ethnicity including but not limited to:

  • All newly arriving workers.
  • All symptomatic workers.

The order requires migrant housing camp operators to provide COVID-19 testing as follows:

  • One-time baseline testing of all residents ages 18 and over.
  • Testing of all new residents with 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 over 20 employees on-site at a time to provide COVID-19 testing as follows:

  • 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.

Authorities report that state and federal resources for testing, isolation housing and other essential needs will remain available throughout the growing season. To access state and federal resources, employers must make their request by emailing mdhhs-migrant-affairs@michigan.gov.

Additional information is available on the COVID-19 website, including a guidance document for employers providing step-by-step information on how employers can complete testing and highlighting resources including grant funding and insurance coverage through Medicaid that can provide financial support for testing.

Failure to comply with the order may result in the issuance of a civil monetary penalty under the authority of MCL 333.2262.