A coalition of agricultural and business employers filed a legal action in Los Angeles challenging the coronavirus-related emergency temporary standard recently approved by the Cal/OSHA Board, calling it “unprecedented and sweeping” and adopted with little public input.

The Los Angeles Superior Court petition was brought Thursday by the Western Growers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation, California Business Roundtable, Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, California Association of Winegrape Growers and the Ventura County Agricultural Association.

The emergency standard “does not solve a crisis as much as it creates one,” the petition alleges.

A representative of Cal/OSHA, the state agency that provides employers with free safety and health assistance aimed at preventing occupational injuries and illnesses, could not be immediately reached.

The petition alleges the board lacks statutory authority to impose many of the sweeping measures of the emergency standard on state employers and that the standard is “unprecedented and sweeping” and was adopted with little public notice or opportunity for comment.

The emergency standard also was based on a purported finding of emergency and a declared need for immediate action, even though it took the board nine months to enact the rules, according to the petition.

Furthermore, Cal/OSHA staff had insisted the emergency standard was not even needed for the agency to enforce the continually evolving guidelines for the prevention of COVID-19, the petition states.

California’s agricultural regions have some of the highest coronavirus case rates in the state.

In the weeks and months following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s coronavirus emergency declaration in March, California farmers and processors moved quickly to implement dramatic new safety practices aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace, according to Dave Puglia, president and CEO of Western Growers.

“While these measures helped reduce transmission in workplaces, this virus has swept through communities large and small in spite of lockdown orders and mask mandates, and through every sector of the economy as well despite extraordinary efforts by employers and employees alike,” Puglia said. “The board imposed unrealistic, unfounded and economically harmful standards in total disregard of these realities.”

Christopher Valadez, president of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, said the group would have preferred not to go to court.

“We take this unfortunate, yet serious action because we believe there are unconsidered mitigation steps that have and would continue to better protect farm workers while allowing our farmers to continue to produce a consistent supply of fruits and vegetables,” Valadez said. “As this pandemic has shown us over the last several months, it is imperative that science and data drive policy. That is at the core of what we seek in this lawsuit.”

The emergency standard creates significant new obligations and liabilities for employers and subject well-meaning California farmers and other businesses to additional enforcement actions and substantial penalties, the petition states.

The practical effect of the emergency standard is to shift the public health and economic costs of COVID-19 monitoring, investigation, compliance and remediation onto employers, all without any consideration of the financial damage inflicted on businesses already struggling to recover from the pandemic, according to the plaintiffs.

“These regulations will disrupt food supply operations all along the line, but it will be especially hard on our 20,000 small family farming members,” said Jamie Johansson, president of the California Farm Bureau Federation. “They and their employees are the unsung heroes of the pandemic but once again, they must react to a rule handed down by fiat instead of going through a deliberate regulatory process where the voices of farmers would be heard.”

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