The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries released new emergency rules for temporary farm worker housing yesterday, May 13th. The rules, which go into effect on Monday May 18th, largely align with measures that farms have already been taking to protect workers during the pandemic.

The original draft rules, released in late April, proposed an outright ban on bunk beds in temporary farm worker housing. That ban would have left nearly 15,000 temporary farm workers, many of whom are already arriving in Washington, without a job or place to live. This would have created a humanitarian crisis for farm workers and resulted in billions of pounds of fruit being left to rot in fields and orchards.

The new rules require beds be spaced at least six feet apart or separated by a non-permeable barrier. Bunk beds may be used if the farms use what the rule refers to as a “group shelter.”

“Group shelters” allow for up to 15 individuals to live together in a unit or units that include “toilet facilities, bathing facilities, and if applicable, food preparation and cooking facilities,” according to the new rules. The cohort must stay together during transportation and work, and must remain separate from other cohorts.

Many farms in the state had already adopted this practice, referred to as “crew isolation,” as early as the first half of March, court documents revealed.

The rules also require farms to educate housing occupants on the dangers of COVID-19 in a language that they understand. In addition, farms must supply cloth face coverings, ensure physical distancing, frequently clean and disinfect surfaces, and isolate suspected and confirmed positive cases. The vast majority of farms in the state had already instituted these types of practices prior to the start of the emergency rule-making process.

All farms with licensed temporary farm worker housing must submit a new management plan to the Washington State Department of Health that demonstrates how they will comply with the new rules.

Farmers are encouraged by the fact that these rules recognize the practices that they had put into place to protect their workers. Although the rules do place more costs on the farms, they have sufficient flexibility to protect the farm workers while allowing the harvest to proceed.

You can view the full rule-making order below.