Post: OSHA's overreaching rules on agriculture must be scaled back or rescinded
Now that the May primary election is over, we can look forward to a robust general election in November. In this column, I'd like to write about something COVID-19 related, as is all news it seems lately, but in this case, something that isn't gaining a lot of attention outside of the agriculture world.
We all know about the governor's guidelines for how we are handling this outbreak — as well as the Oregon Health Authority guidelines — but have you heard of OSHA's "rules" for farms? This week in the House Agriculture and Land Use Committee, we will be hearing from multiple persons involved with the rules, their implementation and enforcement.
Farmers are a very large part of House District 25 and these rules could greatly jeopardize their ability to harvest in the next two to four weeks and for the rest of this summer. These rules are centered on farm workers. There are rules for housing, transportation and sanitation facilities. No farmer doesn't want to take care of their valued workers. These rules need to be scaled back extensively or rescinded completely.
Here is an example: There are inconsistencies between the restaurant reopening guidance by OHA/governor and ag temporary rules. Winery customers are allowed to drive together in vehicles, eat and taste wine in groups, but agricultural employees are not, even on the same property? The vineyard, and it's workers, is on OSHA rules; the tasting room on OHA/governor reopening guidance.
Another is: Agricultural toilets (port-a-potties) and hand washing units be cleaned and sanitized three times per day, but the public restrooms are not under the same requirements, i.e. a portable toilet at a construction site or a public toilet at a restaurant.
The rules on housing could potentially cause a "pay equity" disparity. The rules require all beds to be six feet distancing. That means a farmer who houses their workers, may have to pay for housing in a motel which means some workers would be "paid" better than others. I will be urging the governor's office to rescind or greatly scale back these rules by OSHA in a bipartisan, bicameral letter from Oregon Legislators.
From the committee meeting today, we found out that the governor's office has created the "Coronavirus Relief Fund" from the Emergency Board. It designates $30 million for farmers to pay for: housing access (hotel/motel vouchers and alternative on site housing), field sanitation (hand washing stations, porta-potties) and mitigation of COVID-19 (masks and gloves, isolation and quarantine access and communications and outreach).
We absolutely need to keep farm workers safe but must be consistent with the OHA and governor's guidelines across the board in order to not hurt our farmers who have suffered much already.
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