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Judge Orders Foster Farms to Comply With COVID-19 Safety Protocols

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A California state judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Livingston-based poultry processor, Foster Farms. According to the order, the poultry processor is duty-bound to follow COVID-19 safety protocols that the county health regulators have established.

Following a coronavirus outbreak in the Central California facility that infected 400 workers and caused nine deaths, the judge ruled that the poultry farm must comply with the other state safety health protocols. Said protocols include providing masks, maintaining social distancing, and undertaking necessary health screenings of workers and visitors alike.

Last month, a Mercer County judge granted a temporary restraining order against the company, a week after a lawsuit was filed by the United Farm Workers labor union (UFW).

The company also has to comply with orders requiring it to perform health screenings, temperature checks, and regulations of individuals visiting the plant. It also has to install physical dividers in areas where social distancing rules are difficult to abide. The company is required to inform its workers of outbreaks, testing requisites, and offer multilingual safety training to its employees.

UFW 3rd Vice Present, Erica Navarrete, said via public statement, “Employees at Foster Farms deserve a workplace that follows basic safety guidelines and places workers’ long-term health above short-term profits.” She added, “After months of the company’s half-measures and hundreds of infections, only court action can protect workers and Merced County residents from Foster Farms’ dangerous practices.”

UFW confirmed that the suit does not include an order for closing the plant. However, the UFW group demands the court compel Foster Farms restructure their poultry processing plant’s operations to meet CDC guidelines and comply with meatpacking industry mandates.

In response to the ruling, company officials said, “Foster Farms is working closely with the Merced County Department of Public Health and is sharing its learnings in the interest of controlling prevalence at other businesses and institutions with public health departments in the Central Valley.”

“Our ongoing effort is reflected in a consistent positivity level at the Livingston Poultry Complex of less than 1% since September 2020, even as testing positivity in Merced County has increased to 13.1% with no signs of abating.”

The counsel for the UFW and two employees of Foster Farms’ Livingston facility, through a Zoom video call, asserted the failure of the company to adhere to the directive of Merced County health officials, as well as CDC guidelines and protocols including implementing the necessary safety measures and protecting its workers from COVID-19.

Foster Farms’ counsel argued that there was no requirement for a TRO since the facility’s employee infection rate dropped lower than 1%, and the company had complied with the guidelines.

Judge Donald J. Proietti of the Merced County Superior Court showed his support to the workers and cited his concerns for the health and safety of Foster Farms employees during the pandemic and statewide lockdown. He said, “It’s an extraordinary time. This is not a case involving a good driver discount. This is a case involving the life and safety of citizens, residents, people who work and live in our community.”

He stated that the TRO constitutes the “least restrictive” court order calling for the agreed health requisites and compliance by Foster Farms.

Another outbreak occurred two weeks ago at a second facility of Foster Farms in Fresno County. At least 193 workers tested positive for the coronavirus. The plant was shut down for the weekend for a complete “deep cleaning” process following the outbreak.

The restraining order expires on January 29, 2020, followed by a scheduled court hearing.