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Farmworkers file complaint over mandatory COVID-19 testing

According to the complaint, the mandatory testing infringes on their constitutional rights, including being racially discriminated against as Latinos.

MICHIGAN, USA — A group of Michigan farmworkers and employers are taking legal action over a state mandate that requires all farmworkers to be tested for COVID-19 by next week. 

The complaint filed late Tuesday in United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan, challenges an Aug. 3 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services emergency order. MDHHS issued the order in response to virus outbreaks within food processing facilities, farms and migrant camps. 

The plaintiffs seek to overturn the order, which they say is discriminatory toward the Latino population and unconstitutional. An emergency motion seeking a preliminary injunction while the case was argued in court was also filed Tuesday.

The farmworkers are employed at Rive Ridge Produce in Sparta and True Blue Processing in Grand Junction.

“Time is of the essence. Under the State’s Order, Latino workers must submit to the indignity of mandatory testing by August 24. If they refuse, they jeopardize their employment and housing,” the complaint reads. 

“The Equal Protection Clause is at the heart of our Constitution and it remains in force notwithstanding any declared state of emergency. While Governor Whitmer and Director Gordon may be tasked to battle COVID-19, they must do so in a racially neutral manner.”

Plaintiffs in the complaint requested that the court take action “on an expedited basis."

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services called the lawsuit "meritless" and an "unfortunate use of valuable time in a difficult period."

"In just the last week, the number of new and outstanding COVID-19 outbreaks related to farms, food processing and migrant camps nearly doubled from 11 to 21," a statement from the department read.

"The purpose of requiring testing in these places is to save lives. The order applies regardless of race. The department is covering the costs of testing and offering housing and other supports to help both workers and their employers. We appreciate that many producers and processors are working with us to save lives and secure the food supply, and we urge farm industry leaders to join us."

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