Farmers, Workers React to Executive Order on Migrant Worker COVID-19 Testing
On August 3, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services issued an emergency order, to coincide with Governor Whitmer’s executive order released in late July, that mandates testing for migrant workers at farms and orchards.
“In my opinion and in a lot of our opinions, farmers, it is discriminatory,” said West Wind Orchards owner David Smeltzer. “This thing is geared towards Latino people, and they’re essential to the functioning of this farm and the success of this farm.”
The order states that housing camp operators must provide COVID-19 testing to all residents 18 and over, as well as new workers within 48 hours of arrival and a test ten days after that.
“What about all the folks that come up north out of the big city on the weekends?” said Smeltzer. “Are we stopping them at Clare, the gateway to the north, and testing them? Of course not.”
Smeltzer believes his workers are essential to his farm.
“These folks are as professional at what they do as dentists, lawyers, and doctors,” said Smeltzer. “Now granted, they didn’t have an apprenticeship, they don’t have a four year degree in apple harvesting, but like I said it’s been handed down through generations the discipline, the knowledge, the skills that they have developed.
A federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of about 170 farms and orchards against Governor Whitmer’s office and the MDHHS claiming the order was discriminatory.
“We found out about [the lawsuit] and we were glad to join it,” said Smeltzer. “This voice has to be heard.”
His workers feel the same, as well.
Leo Magana, who has been a West Wind Orchard worker for 16 years.
“I understand the rules they want to do. They want to get everybody safe, but I don’t know why they concentrate only on us.,” said Leo Magana, who has been a West Wind Orchard worker for 16 years.”We always do all the rules when we go to the store we wear a mask we wash our hands and everything. I think that if we don’t do this job who’s going to do it?”
In a statement released on August 12, MDHHS stated the lawsuit against their emergency order is “meritless”. They say the purpose of requiring testing is to save lives, and the order applies regardless of race.