Washington AG Files Suit Against Sunnyside Farm
Earlier this month, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a civil rights lawsuit against Sunnyside-based Ostrom Mushroom Farm, claiming discrimination against female workers. Ferguson claimed that Ostrom fired 79% of their female pickers, replacing them with H2-A male pickers. The AG’s office also accused Ostrom of paying those H2-A workers higher wages, up to $3 more an hour compared to local workers.
In 2020, Ostrom began with 140 employees, the majority of them women. Ferguson says between January 2021 to May 2022, the company fired 85% of its U.S.-based, female workers, and 72% of U.S.-based, male workers. Ostrom then hired 65 temporary workers, most of whom were men from outside the United States. He pointed out that Ostrom posted a job ad on Facebook looking specifically for men, with no agricultural experience needed. Meanwhile female applicants were asked to have at least three months of agricultural experience.
Sunnyside agricultural worker Jose Martinez recalled how Ostrom changed after their new supervisors came in.
"After they brought the H-2A workers, they lacked the necessary experience to be able to fulfill the amount of pounds per hour.”
Ferguson added Ostrom rejected more than a dozen qualified applicants from the U.S. The AG’s Office also claims that Ostrom disciplined their female workers disproportionately compared to their male coworkers. The company is accused of pressuring their employees by raising production goals and punishing those who failed to meet their quotas, while simultaneously hiding production numbers from them. Ferguson’s lawsuit asserts the minimum production rate was used as a pretext to fire U.S.-based pickers. Their managers have been accused of retaliating against the female workers who spoke out against their own mistreatment.
Maria Toscano is a worker who spoke out against her employer. She claimed that she witnessed one of her female coworkers getting hit by a manager.
“Basically they don't want us there only because of the simple fact that we are women,” Toscano said. “They use any excuse to fire us.”
A harvesting room manager was accused of physically assaulting a female worker with a metal cart immediately after speaking out on the company’s work conditions. Another manager is accused of falsely claiming an employee brought a weapon to work.
Martinez said that he and his workers had had enough after nearly two years of discrimination.
“After noticing what was going on about a year and a half ago, I started pulling together people to be able to organize ourselves and to defend our rights as workers,” Martinez said.
Ferguson is looking to issue penalties against Ostrom and seeks compensation for fired employees, including front and back pay for wages lost.
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