Farmers worry about new migrant worker testing requirements

All migrant and seasonal workers are required to be tested for COVID-19 by August 24
Posted at 4:54 PM, Aug 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-19 17:32:41-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Farmers are worried about the potential impact new testing requirements for migrant and seasonal workers will have on their ability to do business.

An order put out by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) on August 3 says that all migrant and seasonal workers must be tested for COVID-19 by the housing operators by August 24.

The order also says any worker arriving after the August 24 deadline will have to be tested as well and then housed in an area separate from where the other employees are staying.

“It's too much and too late,” said Fred Leitz, owner and operator of Leitz Farms in Solon Township.

It's that sort of sentiment, which is shared by many other farmers in the state, that prompted a lawsuit to be filed on behalf of several other farmers against the director of the MDHHS.

The lawsuit sought a temporary restraining order against the August 3 order, but a judge struck down that request earlier this week.

The case will continue on in court. But as of now, the August 24 deadline remains.

"The argument is that this this requirement that farm workers submit to a COVID test in order to be able to go to work and earn a paycheck, it violates their civil rights," said Rob Anderson, Manager of State Government Relations for the Michigan Farm Bureau.

"Because it's targeting them as a class of individuals by race, which is something that has constitutional problems for sure."

For farmers like Fred Leitz, they believe the order simply goes too far and could have dire consequences for farmers across the state.

“I believe that would shut us down,” Leitz told FOX 17.

“The only time we leave the yard is when we go to the store... so, very minimum exposure. There's no parties, no going to the beach or anything like that.”

Many of his 227 employees are migrant workers, and he is concerned that one positive test, or even a false-positive, could leave him without anyone to run the farm.

Anderson says there could also be secondary effects if the order stays in place, saying that, "without workers to help... harvest crops in and see us through, this is really the busiest time of the year for farmers, that will have a ripple effect too through the food supply.“

He says they will present their case against the order in front of a judge when they get the chance.

The director of the MDHHS, Robert Gordon, said they appreciate the judge's actions in rejecting the request for an emergency restraining order against it.

“The department’s goal is to save lives during a pandemic that has killed more than 6,300 people in Michigan. At a time when farms, food processing plants and migrant worker camps face 21 outbreaks, the best way to save lives is to support and test these hard-working employees," Gordon said in a statement.