Farmworker and Latino Advocates File Amicus Brief Supporting Michigan’s Emergency Public Health Order
Today the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), along with the Sugar Law Center for Economic Justice, United Farm Workers (UFW), UFW Foundation, Public Counsel, and partners from across Michigan and the nation, filed an amicus brief in response to a federal lawsuit backed by the Michigan Farm Bureau (Castillo v. Whitmer, W. Dist. MI, Case No. 1:20-CV-751). The lawsuit against the State of Michigan seeks to stop an emergency public health order that proactively seeks to address health disparities faced by essential farm and food processing workers during COVID-19.
Amici are worker advocates, community organizations, labor unions and public health experts that collaborate with and advocate on behalf of farmworkers and workers more generally—both in Michigan and nationwide. They are committed to the health and well-being of essential workers and through the brief filed today, provide insights into the lived realities of farmworkers during the pandemic and the need for testing to help combat the virus.
“The lawsuit backed by the agricultural lobby against the state of Michigan is dangerous to the health and well-being of farmworkers, our communities, and our food supply,” said MIRC Supervising Attorney Diana Marin. “Workers in the agricultural sector have had to continue working while the pandemic rages on. Although many people can safely stay home during this global pandemic, farmworkers cannot, exposing them to a greater risk of being infected with the novel coronavirus. To make matters worse, this case has caused confusion among farmworkers in Michigan with respect to their right to get tested free of discrimination or retaliation. If Plaintiffs in the case truly care about the rights and health of Michigan’s agricultural workers, they should help implement the state’s public health order and not undermine it.”
MIRC supports the public health order and its tailored approach to addressing barriers that block farmworker access to health services and social programs. When surveyed, MIRC’s farmworker clients also indicated their support, saying that they care about their health and the health of their families, their co-workers and the public. They need and deserve equal access to interventions like testing and quarantine housing that stop the spread of COVID-19 without intimidation, blacklisting, or unfair economic pressure. One MIRC client, a farmworker who migrates to harvest Michigan crops each summer, said the policies in the order will benefit everybody: "I think we all are equal and need just treatment."
Another Michigan farmworker told MIRC the order "will benefit employers and workers alike. When workers are put in a house in quarantine, that action could lower the risk of spreading the disease to co-workers and people in general. If one worker gets infected, the grower would have less workers to harvest and the impact would be big for the grower. I think it is good that the state can provide food to workers who are in isolation. And it is also important to receive pay while complying with the quarantine so that workers can pay their bills and send some money to their families back home."
The amicus brief reflects broad support for the public health order from farmworker advocates, including overwhelming backing from Hispanic and Latino leaders who soundly reject the lawsuit’s claims of racism and discrimination. Seventeen Michigan organizations joined in the brief, spanning from legal services to community organizations, labor unions, faith-based, and health-focused organizations. Nationally, MIRC was joined by 14 legal advocacy organizations and labor unions.
United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero said: “The agribusiness-led lawsuit attempting to block Michigan’s emergency public health order by evoking a false narrative of civil rights is outrageous and insulting. As essential workers, farm workers need protections from COVID-19 and access to testing is one. The UFW firmly supports Michigan's public health order and urges farm workers to dismiss the dishonest agribusiness plot seeking to avoid the responsibility of providing free access to testing.”
“We have lost too many farm workers to the COVID-19 pandemic – a result of the hypocrisy of deeming farm workers essential but not providing the protections they deserve,” said UFW Foundation Executive Director Diana Tellefson Torres. “We need to prevent more infections and deaths in agricultural communities – and that’s possible if employers comply with the public health order in Michigan. The UFW Foundation unmistakably supports Michigan’s public health order. The agribusiness-led lawsuit is an effort to avoid the responsibility of testing their workers and is an offensive front by the Michigan Farm Bureau to create division between farm workers.”
U.S. Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), lent his support, commenting: “Farmworkers and meatpackers put their lives at risk every day and they deserve help from the government to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. While I fought to ensure all our working families received support, our undocumented workers, including those who put food on our tables, did not qualify for federal assistance. Mandatory testing is not only the right thing to do, it is the only way we can contain the spread of COVID-19. That’s why I commend Michigan for taking this important step to protect all working families and help mitigate the disproportionate impact this public health crisis is having on Black and Brown communities.”
Michigan elected officials also supported the amicus brief and rejected the lawsuit’s backward narrative. U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib (MI-13) said: "Growing up in southwest Detroit, I learned from my Latino neighbors about how they continue to be excluded from programs and protections that other communities are afforded. The Latino community is essential to the strength of the 13th Congressional District. As a proud Congresswoman of color who cares deeply about the health threats facing Black and brown communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, I applaud the State of Michigan for the actions they took to protect our communities. Unfortunately, yet again, corporate greed is trying to ensure that my Latino neighbors are not protected. The corporate agriculture industry claims in this lawsuit are dangerous and insulting. Addressing racial health disparities is not discrimination, it’s our duty—and an important step towards breaking down systemic racism and protecting all of our community members."
Members of Michigan’s state legislature also expressed support for the public health order. The Michigan Legislative Latino Caucus -- composed of State Representatives Alex Garza, Darrin Camilleri, Vanessa Guerra, and State Senator Erika Geiss issued the following statement: “This public health order is about protecting the most vulnerable among us. Agricultural and food processing employees are, and always have been, a driving force behind our state’s growth and success, and it is absolutely crucial that we provide these essential workers the protections they need as we continue to navigate this global pandemic. The Michigan Legislative Latino Caucus stands in full support of the order, and commits to working alongside all groups involved to ensure it remains in place.”
Michigan’s non-partisan Hispanic/Latino Commission also issued a statement, saying: "The HLCOM supports the recent public health ordinance enacted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), providing our vulnerable migrant farmworker communities around the State with further protections. We firmly believe that the action taken by MDHHS will help maintain the health and safety of our migrant families, who diligently work in our state’s agricultural industry to help provide fresh produce for millions across the country. We hope the order will be quickly adopted, and that our migrant farmworker communities are able to thrive during these difficult times."
The full list of amicus brief signatories can be found below.
Amicus Brief Signatories:
Action of Greater Lansing
Adam Lauring, M.D., Ph.D.,
Alexis Handal, Ph.D., MPH
Avanti Law Group, PLLC
The Community Health and Social Services (CHASS) Center, Inc.
Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation (DHDC)
Hispanic Latino Commission of Michigan (HLCOM)
Interfaith Action of SW Michigan
Justice and Peace Advocacy Center (JPAC)
Latinos Leaders for the Enhancement of Advocacy and Development (LLEAD)
Maurice and Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice
Michigan Alianza Latina para Mejoramiento y Avance (MI ALMA)
Michigan Immigrant Rights Center
Michigan League for Public Policy (The League)
The Michigan Primary Care Association (MPCA)
Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE)
California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation (CRLAF)
Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM)
Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC)
Florida Legal Services, Inc.
National Employment Law Project
North Carolina Justice Center
Northwest Workers' Justice Project
The International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)
United Farm Workers of America (UFW)
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