Wine grapes at a San Diego vineyard. Several growers and business groups have joined to challenge state pandemic emergency standards.

A coalition of agricultural and business employers have filed a legal action challenging the coronavirus-related temporary standard recently approved by the Cal/OSHA Board.

They called the emergency measure “unprecedented and sweeping” and adopted with little public input.

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 filed the petition in Los Angeles Superior Court.

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 aims to prevent occupational injuries and illnesses, could not be immediately reached.

The petition also alleges the board lacks statutory authority to impose many of the sweeping measures on state employers.

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 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.”

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 already-struggling businesses, 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.”

– City News Service

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