AG Bob Ferguson’s announcement comes as Ostrom (now Windmill Farms) workers continue to demand recognition of their union with UFW
SEATTLE (May 18, 2023) — Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Wednesday that Ostrom Mushroom Farms, a former mushroom producer based in Sunnyside, Wash., would pay former workers $3.4 million to resolve the state’s lawsuit in response to discrimination based on gender and immigration status, which displaced the local female workforce in favor of nearly all-male H2A guest workers.
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Ferguson said all of the money will be used to pay farmworkers affected by Ostrom’s illegal conduct. The Attorney General’s Office estimates more than 170 farmworkers are eligible for compensation. (If you worked at Ostrom and believe you should be part of this claims process, contact the Civil Rights Division by emailing email@example.com or calling 1-833-660-4877, and selecting Option 5.)
Ferguson’s announcement also establishes a framework for close monitoring of the current and future management of Windmill Farms (also known as Greenwood Mushrooms Sunnyside, formerly known as Ostrom Mushroom Farms) to prevent future violations. The resolution of this lawsuit in no way functions as an indication of approval of Windmill Farms, its management, or current working conditions by the Attorney General or the United Farm Workers (UFW).
“The facts of gender discrimination and illegal workplace retaliation including physical violence established in this case are just the tip of the iceberg,” said UFW President Teresa Romero. “Workers at Windmill Farms in Sunnyside continue to suffer some of the harshest working conditions and most hostile workplace cultures in the industry. We commend the proactive work of the Attorney General in robustly defending the rights of these workers. The UFW will continue to support these workers and their fight for union representation until the workers win the union contract they deserve.”
In September 2022, Ostrom Mushroom workers chose to unionize with the UFW after becoming fed up with unsafe production standards, discriminatory firings, and wage cuts. The company refused to recognize their union and was sold to Windmill Farms in February. Workers reported that they were then given a letter offering “new” employment under the new management — but at lower wages, in less preferable jobs, and all under an arbitration agreement for any labor disputes. Like Ostrom, Windmill Farms has so far refused to recognize the workers’ union despite community pressure to do so.
“We are in this fight, and we are not going to stop until we get a union contract,” said current Windmill Farms worker Isela Cabrera. “I am very happy for my coworkers who experienced humiliations and retaliations by Ostrom management. I hope this announcement will help begin to improve conditions at Windmill Farms – as this new management continues to commit favoritism and retaliation. We want our fired friends to get their jobs back and for Windmill Farms to recognize our union.”
Ferguson filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court in August 2022, after an investigation by his office revealed that Ostrom had been discriminating against its workers for over a year based on their sex and immigration status. Ostrom fired its largely female and Washington-based workforce and replaced them with male foreign guest workers hired through the H-2A Temporary Agricultural Program, in violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination.
Ostrom invented pretextual reasons to discipline, terminate and refuse employment to these workers. Ostrom also placed job advertisements that misrepresented work requirements and wages, in violation of the Washington Consumer Protection Act. When workers complained about the unlawful treatment, Ostrom retaliated against the employees who spoke up.
“Ostrom’s systematic discrimination was calculated to force out female and Washington-based employees,” Ferguson said. “I want to thank the workers who spoke out against this discrimination in the face of so much danger and stood up for their rights. My team fought for them and today we secured an important victory.”
The court order requires Windmill Farms to take measures designed to protect employees from any future misconduct, including prohibiting the company from:
- Misrepresenting to current and prospective employees the terms and conditions of employment;
- Applying more stringent requirements to domestic employees than to workers hired through the H-2A system;
- Failing to hire, discriminating against or terminating employees on the basis of sex, citizenship, immigration status or other protected categories under the Washington Law Against Discrimination; and
- Retaliating against employees who make claims about discrimination.
For more details, see Wednesday’s press release from the Attorney General’s office.