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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Feb. 21, 2024

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Workers and United Farm Workers of America sue Sunnyside mushroom farm over labor disputes


YAKIMA — Several workers and the United Farm Workers of America have sued a Sunnyside mushroom farm, alleging they faced retaliation for unionizing.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday morning in Yakima County Superior Court accuses Windmill Farms — formerly Ostrom Mushroom Farm — of intimidating, harassing and firing workers who supported efforts to unionize. Workers voted to unionize in September 2022 but Ostrom wouldn’t recognize the move.

The lawsuit said Canadian-owned Windmill Farms began initiating unfair worker policies immediately after it acquired the company in February.

Ostrom Farms fired all workers when it sold, and Windmill Farms immediately handed those workers new employment agreements preventing them from taking any time off for 90 days, including sick time. The agreements also reassigned workers to unfamiliar duties, reduced pay and some workers were fired for not meeting productivity standards, the lawsuit said.

Workers began efforts to unionize in the summer of 2022, citing discrimination and a need for a safer workplace among other issues.

“Over and over again these workers have organized and fought for a union. And over and over again, they have been ignored, retaliated against, or fired for doing so. Today, this lawsuit makes clear that workers will not stand for this anymore. To Windmill we say: Ya basta (enough is enough) — it is past time to recognize their workers desire to join the union,” UFW President Teresa Romero said in a news release from Columbia Legal Services.

A company official didn’t immediately respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

The effort to unionize came after Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Ostrom, alleging the company discriminated against domestic workers and women and deceived workers when it came to job requirements and wages.

Ostrom agreed to a $3.4 million settlement.

Tuesday’s lawsuit said some workers were reassigned to unfamiliar positions and later fired for not meeting production standards. A janitor and a box-maker were reassigned as pickers, duties in which they had no experience, the lawsuit said.

Both men were visibly active in efforts to unionize, and both were fired for failing to meet production standards, the lawsuit said.

Another worker said she was denied requested time off for being sick and to attend a union rally and was later fired, the lawsuit said.

In May, the company entered an Assurance of Discontinuance with the state, agreeing to provide a method in which employees could make anonymous complaints of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, the lawsuit said.

The company placed a box in the employee breakroom for such complaints but installed surveillance cameras facing the complaint box, the lawsuit said.

In addition to complaints of retaliation, the lawsuit also accuses the company of operating without a farm labor contractor’s license and failing to disclose the amount of any bond and any claims against the bond and terms and conditions of employment to workers as required by the Farm Labor Contractors Act.

Complainants seek an injunction barring the company from using production standards or use of leave to intimidate, retaliate or interfere with workers’ efforts to organize as well as surveilling employees engaged union or other organized activity.

The lawsuit also seeks actual damages to be determined at trial for specified workers as well as attorney fees.