On the Picket Line

Seattle rally backs mushroom workers fight for union rights

By Michele Smith
April 24, 2023

SEATTLE — Over 100 students and unionists rallied together at the University of Washington here March 31 in support of mushroom workers in Sunnyside fighting to win recognition of the United Farm Workers at Greenwood Mushrooms, formerly known as Ostrom. Workers there had voted the UFW in as their union last year, but the bosses refused to recognize it. 

The workers renewed their fight for a union contract after bosses fired 140 workers, most of whom were women with years of experience. 

On Feb. 14, as Canadian-based Windmill Farms took control of the company, all Ostrom workers were called into a Valentine’s Day meeting and fired. They were given a letter offering “new” employment, but at lower wages, in worse jobs, and saddled with a mandatory arbitration program to settle any labor disputes. Additionally, workers were required to sign new I-9 forms, which a UFW statement explains was “a transparent attempt to use documentation status to intimidate workers who had been involved in labor organizing.” 

The UFW built the rally, explaining the mushroom workers are fighting for a contract with better wages and safe working conditions, and free of threats, discrimination and unjust firings and need support. Some 20 workers and youth from the Sunnyside area caravanned to Seattle for the rally. High school students from both Sunnyside and Seattle joined the action. 

The rally and march were organized on Cesar Chavez Day by Students For Farm Workers, a UFW support group at the university. “Thanks to the youth for showing your support,” Isela Cabrera, who works at the mushroom farm, told the rally. “The new bosses are worse than Ostrom. Starting April 1, if you don’t pick 50 pounds of mushrooms an hour, you will lose your job.” Cabrera told the Militant  the new bosses have also imposed a harsher attendance policy and a new 90-day probation. 

“We need your support,” said Greenwood farmworker Ramon Castillo. “We want no discrimination, especially against women. Farmworkers feed the nation. We need to feed our families. We need better conditions, treatment and justice. The union is our strength.” 

“We call on Greenwood to recognize the union,” Diana Paula from campus MEChA told the rally. Student Advocates for Immigrant Justice, Progressive Student Union and the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies were among the campus groups that spoke. 

In August 2022, Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Ostrom Farms after an investigation found the company had systematically fired 80% of its workers and replaced them with “guest workers” with H-2A visas that offer little protection against the bosses.

Martin Rios, speaking for the UFW, told the rally the union was in solidarity with the H-2A visa workers, fighting for better conditions for all workers. 

“After decades of retreat, we are seeing stronger labor resistance in recent years,” Socialist Workers Party member Jacob Perasso told the rally. “Strikes and battles by BCTGM, UMWA and rail workers show you aren’t alone. We need to build broad union solidarity for this fight.” 

“The owners may be different, but it is the same farm, the same mushrooms, the same workers and the same struggle for justice,” Teresa Romero, president of the United Farm Workers, said. The union has called a rally April 18 at Greenwood Mushrooms in Sunnyside.