On the Picket Line

Washington mushroom workers rally in fight for union rights

By Vincent Auger
May 22, 2023

SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — Over a hundred workers, family members and other supporters rallied here April 18 outside the Windmill Farms plant demanding the new bosses recognize the United Farm Workers union. Last year workers at the plant, then called Ostrom Mushroom Farms, voted for the union to combat discrimination against women workers and win better job conditions. Ostrom never recognized the union.

After Windmill Farms took over bosses fired and rehired the workers, pushing them to sign individual contracts without the union.  Isela Cabrera, a leader in the workers’ committee, said bosses have been imposing backbreaking production quotas.

In the days following the rally, committee leader José Martínez and at least three other workers were fired on the pretext of failing to meet a quota of picking 50 pounds an hour. They are fighting the firings, including speaking out on Radio Cadena.

“We want equality, dignity and respect as human beings,” Martínez had told the crowd.

“We are not going anywhere,” said United Farm Workers President Teresa Romero. “We all benefit from the work that these men and women do, day in and day out.” A dozen workers from UFW-organized Chateau Ste. Michelle vineyards in eastern Washington came to show support.

Members of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers Local 9 and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 3000 who work at a Safeway supermarket in Seattle, along with Local 3000 community organizer Odalys Gonzalez, brought a card with solidarity messages from about a dozen co-workers. As a baker and member of the BCTCM at Safeway, I said, “We support any fight by workers to unionize. Your fight is our fight too.”

Windmill Farms bosses are replacing local workers with temporary workers with H-2A visas, who are often paid more, but have fewer rights. Safeway worker and UFCW member Arnoldo Alvarado told the Militant, “Whether you are an immigrant, H-2A worker or legal citizen, you deserve respect.”

Henry Dennison, a rail conductor and member of SMART-TD Local 324, read a message from his local’s president, Nathan Morris. “Rail workers understand well how corporate greed puts profits above the needs of the workers, safety, and decent pay,” Morris wrote. “To win what we need we must stand together as union members in solidarity with each other.”