Lawsuit challenges order requiring COVID-19 tests for migrant workers

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A southwest Michigan blueberry farm is part of a group suing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the head of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services over an order requiring testing of migrant employees.

The lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday lists Whitmer, MDHHS Director Robert Gordon, and Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Director Gary McDowell as the defendants. The plaintiffs include True Blue Berry Management in Grand Junction, Smeltzer Orchards in Frankfort and six seasonal agriculture workers.

The plaintiffs argue an Aug. 3 order from Gordon requiring that migrant housing operators test everyone at their facilities starting Aug. 24 is “patently discriminatory,” saying it is focused on Latino people.

“Pandemic or not, the State cannot subject one racial class of people to a different set of rules than it applies to others,” the suit says in part.

The suit claims that many migrant workers are worried about the testing, fearing results will affect their housing or prevent them from working. True Blue, the suit says, is concerned many of its workers will quit if they have to be tested and it won’t be able to bring in its crop, which it said would be “catastrophic” for the business.

The suit also claims that the order unfairly targets farms despite outbreaks in other workplaces and ignores other at-risk environments like dorms and camps. It goes on to cast doubt on the veracity of coronavirus testing, citing false negatives, and to explain the difficulty of getting tested without displaying symptoms in rural areas like Frankfort.

The plaintiffs are asking the court to issue an injunction that would keep the state from enforcing Gordon’s order, and to say Whitmer exceeded her authority with an executive order referencing migrant housing.