SUNNYSIDE — It’s been almost four months since a committee of workers at Ostrom Mushroom Farms voted to unionize, and workers say the company has not responded.
About 50 workers rallied outside Ostrom’s facility on Midvale Road in Sunnyside on Friday. They waved flags, carried posters and called for change from their employers, just as they did in June and September.
“We’re trying to work with them,” said José Martínez in Spanish. “They’re ignoring us.”
Martínez, who has worked at the company for three years, has been a leader on the workers’ committee and has consistently advocated for a union.
Workers rallied publicly in June and submitted a petition calling for more respect in the workplace, including an end to threats, mandatory extended shifts and excessive stress. After voting to unionize, workers rallied outside Ostrom again in September.
“We have the support of the community,” Martínez said. “This is the third time and we have never received a reply.”
Officials from Ostrom had not replied to emails and phone calls as of press time.
Workers acknowledged that conditions inside Ostrom have improved since June but said a union would ensure that workers are respected. Martínez added that a union would help workers get more holidays and better medical care.
Medical care is important, given the work at Ostrom, the employees said.
Carmen Ruiz, who worked at Ostrom, said she has pain in her wrists and back from picking up heavy loads and moving them into high spaces. She said it wasn’t work she anticipated doing when she was hired and that expectations for work output were the same for all workers, regardless of age or ability.
She said she spends a lot of time in pain. Ruiz is not working for the time being and said she is still being compensated but hopes others will not go through the same ordeal.
“We’re here to ask for the union and for justice,” Ruiz said to the assembled crowd.
Ramón Gonzalez has attended every rally thus far, even though he injured his knee while working at Ostrom. He said he hasn’t been able to return to work. He hopes he’ll be able to, but said he isn’t sure if the opportunities were still there.
Gonzalez smiled as he carried a red United Farm Workers flag. UFW is working with the Ostrom workers to form the union.
The ongoing battle between Ostrom and its workers’ union made its way to Olympia in August when Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil rights lawsuit against the company alleging discrimination against women and domestic workers and retaliation against workers who spoke up.
An amended complaint filed in December reiterated those points. It also identified Asellus, an agricultural investment company that owns Ostrom, as a defendant.
The amended complaint alleged that Asellus took Ostrom in June 2021 and installed a new chief executive officer. Around the same time, the complaint alleged, Ostrom raised production quotas for workers and threatened workers with termination if they didn’t meet those quotas.
Ostrom began seeking H-2A workers in September 2021, according the amended complaint. H-2A workers are foreign seasonal workers who are brought into the U.S. to work for a single agricultural employer.
On Friday, Ruiz said the union will hopefully improve conditions for H-2A workers, too. The unionization effort will continue, Martínez said.