Why Supporting Our Farm Workers is Our Privilege and Duty
Ostrom Mushroom Workers rally for their rights. Sign their petition today.
From the President of Farm Worker Ministry Northwest, the Rev. Connie Yost:
It was an inspiring day in Seattle on Sunday, Nov 20, 2022 when 40 Ostrom mushroom workers from Sunnyside, Washington arrived by charter bus at the Metropolitan Market in Seattle (near the Space Needle). I was joined by farm worker advocates Debi Covert-Bowlds, Karen Schneider from the Washington state Poor Peoples Campaign and the Rev. Josh Stromberg-Wojcik, FWM-NW board member. The Rev. Paul Benz, retired executive director of Faith in Action was there, and Rebecca Saldana, Washington state senator and Larry Brown of the Washington State Labor Council. Union members from United Food and Commercial Workers were also there in solidarity. We all spoke and heard from many of the workers.
Workers spoke of the workplace issues they face, including multiple firings of local workers who were then replaced by H2A visa workers, gender discrimination and wage disputes. The mushroom farm workers at Ostrom Mushroom Farms in Sunnyside, WA are demanding a workplace free from threats, excessive pressure, harassment and retaliation. On August 17, 2022 Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Ostrom for wage theft, gender discrimination and illegally displacing local workers.
Rev. Josh spoke with several of the workers during the rally, and reports: "One woman said she is one of only eight non-H2A workers left at Ostrom of close to 90 non-H2A workers who were there originally. She said they fired the other 80 local workers, many of whom had worked at Ostrom for years, for what seems like unfair reasons and hired H2A workers to replace them. This seems to me like part of a very intentional strategy to create a more vulnerable and controllable workforce.
I also talked with a couple, both of whom are former Ostrom workers who were fired for unfair reasons, for not making unreasonably high quotas of production and quality. Before they were fired, the wife shared that she had injured her pinkie toe on the job and her doctor was urging her to take time to rest but she begged him not to write a note because she knew she might get fired for taking time for her toe to heal. She continued working on a very painful and injured toe but her productions numbers suffered and she was eventually fired anyway. Before she was fired she mentioned that she had gotten COVID and had been reassured by Ostrom human resources that she had 2 weeks of paid sick time which she took and tried to use, but her check only reflected the hours she worked, not any paid sick time. When she complained they refused to pay her that time. Her husband said the same thing happened to him and everyone else they had talked to who had tried to get their paid sick time as well."
Rev. Josh concludes: "It is hard to hear these kinds of stories but it just reaffirms the importance of their struggle for dignity and justice and of us showing up as allies."
Workers said that they are not calling for a boycott (despite what the Seattle Times reported!), but are asking retailers of the mushrooms, such as Metropolitan Market, to be in solidarity with them and ask Ostrom management to recognize the union. Victoria Ruddy, UFW, reports that they have had no response from Metropolitan Market.
It is our moral duty and our privilege to be in solidarity with these workers.
FWM-NW board member Roger Yockey reminds us: "The workers united will never be defeated " is a Labor Movement chant I will never forget. The Ostrom workers have the support of United Farm Workers, Farm Worker Ministry Northwest, the Washington State Labor Council, the Attorney General of Washington State and people of faith.
But it will be the workers themselves who will win la lucha, the struggle. Consumers and elected officials must hear from the workers how bad working conditions and terms of employment are at Ostrom Mushroom. What can I do? Listen to the workers, reflect on what I have heard, and act however the workers want."
What You Can Do Right Now
Be sure to sign the workers' petition. Ostrom Mushroom Farms workers want the company to know that people nationally are paying attention to this issue. Stand with them in solidarity.
We are grateful for these workers who feed us and blessed to be able to stand in solidarity with them.