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‘We want a labor law that protects all farm workers’

Windmill Farms mushroom workers and UFW President Teresa Romero come to Seattle to share their struggle to fight exploitation and unionize.



SEATTLE (May 30, 2024) — Farm workers at Windmill Mushroom traveled to Seattle on Wednesday to shed light on their years-long struggle for dignity and respect – and to urge lawmakers to pass legislation to ensure farmworker labor rights. Accompanied by United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero and joined by state legislators, farm workers spoke passionately about their fight to unionize and the need for labor laws that protect all farm workers, organized or not.  

The workers have been organizing together for more than two years at Windmill Farms – formerly Ostrom – fighting back against intense pressure and retaliation from the boss. But because farm workers are excluded from many federal and state labor laws, farm workers in Washington currently cannot organize a union and collectively bargain like most workers. 


These exclusions from labor law protections create a perfect storm for worker exploitation. There are approximately 200 workers at Windmill Farms, mostly immigrants, many undocumented, according to Romero. Most workers do not speak English, and many have family members also working in agriculture. These factors add a level of precarity, with bosses able to weaponize immigration status, language barriers, and the jobs of family members to scare workers out of organizing. 

Despite the very real fears of retaliation, the workers at Windmill are fighting back – because the conditions they work under are unlivable. Workers shared their stories of protesting against dehumanizing treatment and retaliation from managers. Workers spoke of dangerous, highly pressurized working conditions, of zero respect for their rights as human beings, and experiences of violence and harassment, including sexual assault.  

And the workers have no recourse.

“The retaliation is there, and the harassment as well,” said current Windmill Farms worker Fredi Quispe, speaking through a translator. “We can go to HR  but they won’t do anything about it. It’s like they’re laughing at us, saying ‘don’t you want to keep your jobs?’ There are a lot of my coworkers that want to join the union, but they feel threatened.”  

“The problem is [the boss] fires people any time they want,” said UFW President Teresa Romero (pictured above). “Farm workers do not have labor rights. They do not have the right to organize, or the right to a union. They ignore us.”  

This is the reality that former mushroom worker Isela Cabrera has lived. Speaking through a translator, Cabrera shared the anguish and hardship the company has put her through. Along with over a hundred of her fellow workers, Cabrera was retaliated against for standing up for herself, and the women she worked with. Cabrera and her female coworkers lost their jobs, and the company hired male H2A workers in their place, while harassment and poor treatment from management continued.  

After a successful lawsuit won the women back their jobs, Ostrom sold to the current owner, Windmill Farms.  

“Once Windmill got there, we thought things would get better,” said Cabrera, the pain in her voice unmistakable. “But they got worse. The same thing continues.”  

Currently, only California and New York have laws on the books that extend full labor protections to farm workers, including the right to join together in union and collectively bargain. Specifically, Washington law does not allow for card-check or union elections for farm workers. That means that despite majority support for a union at Windmill, the workers don’t have a pathway to a union – unless the employer decides to recognize one.  

“If we were in California, this would be a union farm,” said Romero.  

But mushroom workers are fighting to change the law here in Washington, advocating for a state law to extend collective bargaining rights to all farm workers. And these workers are doing this advocacy in public, even though they know that the company may fire them for speaking out.  

These brave mushroom workers made their case directly to state legislators in attendance, including (pictured from left) Rep. Liz Berry (D-Seattle), Rep. Mary Fosse (D-Everett), Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Des Moines), Sen. Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle), and Rep. Bill Ramos (D-Issaquah).   

“The reality is that I want to go back to work and extend support to others in the fields,” said Gloria Solis through a translator. Solis is another former worker impacted by harassment at the company. “We want to be able to collect signatures so we can have a union at the mushroom plant, but we also want a labor law that protects all farm workers.”  

Lawmakers asked questions about working conditions and the current state of the organizing drive, and shared their gratitude for the workers for speaking out despite the real fear of retaliation, along with their concern over the retaliation these workers are facing.  

“Of course we’re afraid they will fire us.” said a current Windmill worker in response to a legislator’s question on retaliation. But the worker shared that the support they were hearing from lawmakers and labor leaders all the way in Seattle made him feel strong, and less afraid.  

Even in the midst of real fear, there is tremendous hope.

Workers who have left Windmill are still involved in the fight, refusing to leave their former coworkers to fight exploitation alone. ILWU members, echoing their solidarity in the Delano Grape Boycott, have recently refused to load Windmill mushrooms. And with a long-awaited hearing in their court case scheduled for early June, the workers have momentum at their backs.  

MLK Labor President Katie Garrow shared that message of hope in her remarks to attendees.

“This is our opportunity to create a different vision for what it means to do agriculture in the United States. A future where prosperity is shared and where the land is respected,” said Garrow in her opening remarks. “Welcome to Seattle where we are hungry for justice and we are hungry for workers’ victories.  

“We thank you for all that you have fed us.” 

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!