He said the court’s ruling is “not imposing upon Foster Farms anything in addition to what it’s already agreed to do.”
The judge referenced direction on COVID-19 safety in meat and poultry plants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA).
Foster Farms’ attorney argued the Merced County Department of Public Health and state and federal agencies are the primary authority on workplace safety issues.
“The reality is, your honor, they’re asking you to kind of insert yourself into this process,” said Christian Rowley, Foster Farms’ attorney.
“This is going to open a huge can of worms for the court in terms of determining what is going to happen with regard to operation of the plant. Is there a violation? Is there not a violation? But you can see where the lack of technical expertise in this area with respect to the court is becoming even more problematic,” Rowley said.
Judge Proietti wrote in his ruling that guidance from regulatory agencies does not preclude a court from enforcing those rules.
At the hearing, Proietti said Foster Farms would have to actively monitor employees and supervisors to ensure they are following the guidelines in the court’s order.
“That means you have to resupply the masks, that means you have to discipline workers who refuse to follow the guidelines,” the judge said. “That’s something the employer has to take into consideration to make sure that their environment remains safe for the workplace and the public.”
In a statement, Foster Farms said the company “does not comment on active litigation in detail but believes that further adjudication will demonstrate that the company is already in compliance with required protective measures for its workforce and that the United Farm Workers lawsuit is without merit.”
The statement also said Foster Farms is working with state and county health authorities to ensure that its workforce receives priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.