By Clint Thompson
Count the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (GFVGA) as one organization pleased with a federal appeals court ruling, granting an emergency stay against the new requirement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that businesses with 100 or more workers be vaccinated.
The Biden Administration attempted to curtail the COVID pandemic’s impact by implementing a mandate that would significantly bring more change and uncertainty to Georgia’s largest fruit and vegetable growers. But the court’s decision halts the mandate for now.
Chris Butts, GFVGA director of legislative affairs, discussed the potential legislation that would impact a large percentage of his state’s growers.
“What concerns me most is it just introduces more uncertainty into our world where there’s already as much uncertainty as we can handle with everything from pricing to input costs and everything else. It’s just one more thing our guys have to deal with,” Butts said. “We’re still advising them to learn about it or talk to their farm labor contractor or H-2A provider and figure out what we’ve got to do. But yes, we’re very pleased to see the stay come in, if for no other reason, it can give us more time to prepare if it does come to fruition.”
Initially, business owners had until Jan. 4 to be compliant with the mandate which was meant to protect more than 84 million workers from the spread of the coronavirus while on the job. The emergency temporary standard would cover two-thirds of the nation’s private-sector workforce.
Butts insists that a one-size-fits-all mandate does not work for all sectors; especially to the vegetable and specialty crop industry that is so reliant on H-2A labor.
“We’ve been hearing about it for weeks and weeks, but when it came out, there still seemed like there was so much that hadn’t been taken into consideration; between essential workers and non-essential workers and people traveling in and out of the country. There’s a lot to iron out there,” Butts said. “If you look at what OSHA put out, the guidance is a little lacking on how all that would work. I’m sure all of our guys are just throwing their hands up and saying, ‘How do we even begin to be compliant.’ It was definitely rushed through and without a lot of thought to the uniqueness of seasonal labor.”