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Coronavirus

Groups: Align Calif. workplace regs with CDC guidelines

Tim Hearden Worker inspecting almonds
A worker examines almonds at a processing facility in Williams, Calif., in this file photo.
Farm groups have argued the state didn't go far enough in easing coronavirus standards.

Western Growers has teamed with a handful of business and restaurant industry groups in California to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom to align coronavirus-related workplace regulations with current guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The groups urge Newsom to issue an executive order which aligns physical distancing guidelines with a planned June 15 "reopening," provides safe harbor from fines and penalties for employers who act in good faith, and removes a requirement for stockpiling N-95 respirators.

The CDC now discourages use of the respirators for non-health care personnel.

“As long as the ETS (Emergency Temporary Standard) remains in place as written, the economy will not fully reopen on June 15," the groups wrote in the letter. "Businesses will not bring employees back with the level of confusion and uncertainty created by the ETS and the mixed messages coming from state and local leaders. The business community is extremely compliance driven, but even you yourself stated that the ETS created a lot of ‘open-ended questions."

Western Growers was joined in the letter by the California Business Roundtable, California Retailers Association, California Restaurant Association and eight other groups.

The letter comes after the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board on June 3 revised its COVID-19 prevention emergency temporary standards for the first time since they were adopted in November 2020.

The previous standards did not consider vaccinations and required testing, quarantining, masking and more to protect workers from COVID-19, explained the state Department of Industrial Relations.

Physical distancing phased out

The changes adopted by the board phase out physical distancing and make other adjustments to better align with the state’s June 15 reopening goal, according to the DIR. Without these changes, the original standards would have been in place until at least Oct. 2.

These restrictions are no longer needed given today’s record-low case rates and the fact that health workers have administered 37 million vaccines, officials said.

However, Western Growers and other farm groups argue that while the revised standards are preferable to the previous requirements, they perpetuate a misuse of statutory emergency rulemaking and should be rescinded. California Citrus Mutual also submitted written comments urging the board to withdraw the revised ETS, according to the organization's website.

Western Growers is suing the state over the standard. The expedited appeal of the denial of a preliminary injunction in that case is awaiting a hearing date by the California Court of Appeal, which is expected to take place this summer, noted Jason Resnick, the organization's senior vice president and general counsel.

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