Sexism and Foreign Worker Use Go Hand-in-Hand at a Mushroom Farm

By David North on August 23, 2022

It should not surprise us, but anti-female bias and a preference for foreign workers were found to be present simultaneously at a Washington State mushroom farm earlier this month.

According to Law360, state authorities hit a grower with “a lawsuit ... accusing the farm of firing most of its female, U.S.-based workforce and intentionally replacing them with male, foreign workers ... [and] of violating the Washington State Law Against Discrimination by punishing many of its female domestic workers when they spoke out against mistreatment and subsequently firing them.”

“Domestic workers” presumably are citizens and/or green card holders in this case. The grower had been using H-2A farm workers, I assume, from Mexico.

The complaint was filed against Ostrom Mushroom Farms in Yakima County Superior Court.

Ostrom’s employment practices, when you think about it, are particularly unattractive, because mushroom farming does not necessarily take place in lightly-populated rural areas; it can happen in urban and suburban neighborhoods where there is a plentiful workforce; nor is it demanding physically, as the mushrooms are relatively small and light. It is also indoor work, and one of the few jobs, like underground mining, where one routinely works in the dark.

Another interesting aspect is that this was an anti-alien employer case brought by a Democratic state political entity, the AG’s office. There should be more of these.

Memories. When I was first involved with these issues, more than 50 years ago as assistant to the U.S. secretary of Labor for farm labor, the government was undoing the bracero program which had been exploiting farm workers from Mexico for the prior quarter of a century; this was during the LBJ administration. The issues we were dealing with were the mistreatment of farm workers, and the lowering of wages in rural areas generally.

That, by law, these workers were all males was, as I recall, never mentioned.

How times have changed!