Lawsuit filed seeking greater protections for farmworkers

KENNEWICK — Advocates for farm workers in Washington state have filed a lawsuit against the state seeking safer working conditions as the harvest season begins amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of workers are already pruning grapevines and fruit trees and getting ready to cut asparagus, while thousands more will soon be arriving to pick other crops.

The Tri-City Herald reported Friday that two unions, the United Farm Workers of America and Familias Unidas Por La Justicia AFL-CIO, filed a lawsuit Thursday in Skagit County Superior Court demanding the state set specific safety guidelines.

Agricultural workers contend they are often in situations where they can’t practice social distancing. They are loaded on buses heading out to the fields and sleeping in tight quarters, said Erik Nicholson, the national vice president for the United Farm Workers.

“Without them, our food supply is at risk,” Nicholson said.

The state Department of Labor and Industries issued some guidelines late Thursday spelling out what they expect farms to do to make it safe for migrant laborers. The rules said farm workers need to stay 6 feet apart and have hand-washing stations at key locations.

But Nicholson said the rules were more like suggestions, with no penalties attached.

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