Advocates for migrant workers voiced their support on Thursday for a state order that requires farm operators to test their employees for COVID-19.
The order, which also applies to food processing facilities and migrant labor camps, has faced legal resistance from Michigan farmers.
Several farms sued Governor Gretchen Whitmer and state health department director Robert Gordon over the order. On August 21, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney in Kalamazoo upheld the order. On August 24, the plaintiffs appealed that decision.
Felipe Lopez Sustaita, executive director of the Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan, says the order protects workers, many of them Latino, who are often intimidated into silence by their employers.
“We have folks coming from Florida. We know people are coming from Texas to Michigan to work — where there are very hot spots,” he said during a press call. “And if we don’t protect the workers in our communities, then we all suffer.”
The state health department says there are 18 ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks at agricultural facilities.
The Michigan Farm Bureau, an industry group, supports the plaintiffs. In a press release, the bureau’s government relations manager Rob Anderson said they’re hearing reports of farm workers walking off the job because they don’t want to get tested.
But others insist the opposite. Diana Marin, supervising attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, said one of her clients is leaving her current job, but to join an employer who has promised to provide COVID-19 testing to its workers.
“I think what we’re gonna see is actually workers who are going to companies where they are going to be guaranteed that there will be testing,” said Marin.
MIRC says the appeals court is expected to decide on the case this week.