What do Ping Pong tables have to do with Migrant Worker Safety?

  • May 12, 2020

Here’s a bizarre twist on the Migrant Worker Safety Proposal. With new policy demands amidst the hazards of Covid-19, what started out as a lawsuit emphasizing a need for safety of farm workers turned into a requirement for internet bandwidth for all members of the household to simultaneously stream and use internet capabilities, maximum number of cable TV channels, and ping pong tables.

It almost sounds like a joke. What do ping pong tables and cable TV have to do with worker safety?

This week on his radio show, Dillon Honcoop is joined by Pam Lewison, director of Washington Policy Center’s Initiative on Agriculture. While this semi-manipulative activist proposal claims that their focus is on worker safety, Lewison was surprised that during the hearing, housing concerns in regards to safety were not even mentioned. The top priority of the lawsuit held in early May was ping pong tables and cable TV.

When asked what the connection is between these entertainment platforms and worker safety, Lewison said she doesn’t see any. “I don’t think there is a connection. It goes from demanding and saying publicly that this whole lawsuit is meant to be about safety [of] the workers and of the larger farm worker community. They jump from that to entertainment requirements for off hours.”

Honcoop and Lewison don’t mean to say that entertainment in the off-hours is irrational. Everyone should be able to enjoy a cold drink in front of the TV after a long work day. Yet, this should remain a separate discussion. The initial focus of worker safety has been completely forgotten amidst this demand for full internet access and pool tables.

The truth is, as Lewison points out, is that worker safety has always been a top priority for farmers. The root of this lawsuit is the assumption that farmers aren’t  doing anything to protect workers. Yet, farms were already using masks, gloves, and other PPE even before Covid; they do this out of the need to keep their business and farm safe. To demand that worker safety must include entertainment is laughable.

Taking away migrant worker homes until this concern is resolved is also a danger, as this lawsuit is suggesting that workers shouldn’t be housed until they have provided entertainment. Yet, as Lewison emphasizes, the Department of Health and Department of Labor & Industries are continually working on this concept of farms functioning safely, because farms are essential. At the end of the day, if farms can’t survive, the economy can’t survive, not to mention the food supply.

All of these things like pool tables, internet, and ping pong are meaningless in the scheme of making sure that workers have a place to live during harvest seasons. And now, as harvest begins to draw closer, action needs to happen.

This “frivolous” requirement of pool tables being part of worker safety should not be the priority right now, when the concern of worker safety is already at the forefront of the farming community’s foundation. You can learn more about the initial lawsuit by the activist groups here, and listen to the full interview below.