After years of organizing with United Farm Workers to improve their workplace, mushroom workers are faced with new intimidation and mass termination as Ostrom Mushroom is sold to Windmill Farms, an asset of Canadian private equity firm Instar
SUNNYSIDE, WA: Even while facing a civil rights and discrimination lawsuit, Ostrom Mushroom announced a change in ownership on February 14th 2023. Workers at Ostrom’s facility in the Yakima Valley were called into a Valentine’s Day all-team meeting and told that, effective at midnight, Ostrom would be taken over by Greenwood Mushrooms, as part of a ‘Windmill Farms’ label owned by the Canadian investment firm Instar Asset Management. All Ostrom employees would be terminated at that time.
Workers 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. Additionally, workers were required to sign new I-9 forms, in a transparent attempt to use documentation status to intimidate workers who had been involved in labor organizing. Ostrom Mushrooms will now be known as Greenwood Mushrooms Sunnyside, with mushrooms from the farm expected to be sold under the Windmill Farms or Greenwood label.
“The owners may be different, but it is the same farm, the same mushrooms, the same workers – and the same struggle for justice,” said Teresa Romero, President of the United Farm Workers.
Last year, Ostrom workers chose to unionize with the UFW after becoming fed up with unsafe production standards, discriminatory firings, and wage cuts. Ostrom workers have maintained their ongoing organizing efforts while facing discriminatory retaliation by management and the company’s refusal to recognize or negotiate with the union. In August of 2022, the Washington State Attorney General sued the farm, describing violations of civil rights, gender discrimination and displacement of local workforce with H-2A workers who have fewer protections. Washington AG Bob Ferguson cited clear evidence of discriminatory violations, saying “Their conduct is disturbing and unlawful.”
The sale of Ostrom during the discovery phase of a civil rights lawsuit to a foreign company which promptly fired and then rehired the workers under an oppressive arbitration agreement is just the latest calculated attempt to break the workers’ resolve to obtain a union contract. Whether under the label “Ostrom” or “Greenwood” or whether the owners are American or Canadian, the mushroom workers of Sunnyside, Washington will not be intimidated, will not be silenced, and will not be ignored. Workers at Ostrom chose to form a union, and those same workers are now the ones at Greenwood Mushrooms. The workers’ organizing committee remains active and will continue the fight for their union to be recognized.
More context: https://ufw.org/ostrom/
Windmill Farms press release: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2023/02/15/2608849/0/en/Windmill-Farms-Expands-to-the-United-States.html
Instar Asset Management: https://instarinvest.com/portfolio/