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Fighting the stay at home order in Michigan

May 7, 2020 -  By

When Michigan’s stay at home order took effect on March 24, Amy Upton, executive director of the Michigan Nursery and Landscape Association (MNLA) went to work. Instead of labeling businesses as nonessential and essential as the state did, Upton says she and the team at MNLA wanted “to change the conversation to a safe workplace versus a not safe workplace.”

In subsequent executive orders, landscaping was among the industries singled out as nonessential. MNLA and Upton worked with lobbyists to advocate for the industry, and they tried to stress how landscaping companies could work safely. Instead of hearing any comments about their efforts, it was radio silence from Lansing and the statehouse.

“There weren’t any industries getting any feedback,” Upton says.

And, Upton says, on top of the uncertainty, an early April snowstorm hit the state.

“Our members didn’t know if they would be able to work,” she says.

Upton notes that MNLA tried to get some clarification and guidance because some members service hospitals and they were unsure if plowing would violate the executive order.

And, after exercising all other alternatives, Upton says MNLA, with the consultation of an attorney, filed a class-action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan to stop Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive order.

“It included damages because the financial loss that our members were seeing was adding up,” Upton says.

Upton says MNLA surveyed their members during this time to see what the financial burden of the work stoppage would be if it continued until May 1. And of the 8,000 members, 44 responded and said the losses would add up to $16.1 million.

“We haven’t had a spring like this in Michigan in a while,” she says. “It was unusually nice and dry. They could have gained a couple of weeks.”

Upton says one of the challenges during the stay at home order was that different municipalities were permitting companies to work while other municipalities were ticketing residents for their grass being too long.

“To make matters even worse, people were hiring high school kids (to mow lawns) and (the kids) were being applauded for being entrepreneurs. It hurt our members — it’s their contract,” she says.

A court date was set for an emergency hearing to seek an injunction. And then Gov. Whitmer announced on April 24 that landscape operations were able to go back to work.

Getting back to work

“We were not considered essential in the wording,” Upton says, noting that under the order, landscape companies fall under “workers who perform resumed activities” and are subject to enhanced social distancing rules.

These rules include developing a COVID-19 preparedness and response plan, maintaining social distancing, providing personal protective equipment, protocols to limit the sharing of equipment and more. MNLA has information and plan templates for landscape businesses to use on the organization’s website.

Upton says her colleagues at state organizations as well as the National Association of Landscape Professionals have helped assist companies by providing contracts and other materials they need to comply with. She says she’s also been heartened to see just how closely members are helping each other.

“We were all down and we were all out and I saw competitors working together that never would have — talking and comparing notes,” she says. “I felt like the industry in Michigan came together and even now I see them working so hard to keep their employees safe.”

And it’s something Upton says landscape companies shouldn’t take for granted.

“Working in Michigan is a privilege and we cannot take it lightly,” she says, noting the governor could change the executive order again if companies do not work safely.

MNLA has set up a peer support group to help members work with other members who may not be following the protocols.

“It’s an opportunity for the industry to show that we are professional and to prove how essential we are,” she says. “We have to be careful.”

Christina Herrick

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