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Farm groups disappointed over court ruling on virus regs

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A California judge has upheld the state's emergency regulations for employers to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A San Francisco judge upheld California's emergency workplace standards to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Farm groups including the California Farm Bureau Federation, the California Association of Winegrape Growers and Western Growers expressed disappointment after a San Francisco judge on Feb. 25 upheld California's emergency workplace standards to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

As the Sacramento Bee reports, the ruling heads off a challenge to the regulations by small business and trade groups that argued the state's rules are too burdensome. The state's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or CalOSHA, requires employers to regularly test workers during outbreaks and pay them while in quarantine.

“The balance of interim harms and the public interest in curbing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting worker and community health weigh heavily in favor of the continued implementation and enforcement of the (Emergency Temporary Standard) Regulations,” Judge Ethan Schulman said in his ruling, according to the Bee. “Lives are at stake.”

The plaintiffs, which also include the California Business Roundtable, the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California and the Ventura County Agricultural Association, issued the following statement:

“The health and safety of farm and ranch employees is the top priority for agricultural employers. Throughout California, farmers and ranchers have adapted their operations to minimize the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition, agricultural organizations have advocated with local, state and federal elected officials and agencies to prioritize access to vaccines for farm and ranch employees; individual farms and agricultural businesses have sponsored vaccination clinics, with more already scheduled. 

“The court’s decision only complicates the ongoing work by family farms and other essential businesses to maintain safe, plentiful food supplies in the wake of COVID-19. The Cal/OSHA Board failed to justify the need for emergency intervention, despite their own staff report that the emergency standards were not necessary to protect employee health.

“With this decision, the court failed to properly exercise its oversight on this critically important issue, and we are now exploring our legal options to ensure the safe and timely delivery of food and essential services to all Californians. In the meantime, we will work with Cal/OSHA to assure the agency better understands the essential businesses and agricultural operations it regulates, and to inject practicality into the Emergency Temporary Standards as it develops forthcoming policies and guidance.”

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