U.S. Farmworkers, Fired by H-2A Employer, Get $20,000 Each in Settlement

By David North on May 23, 2023

Often U.S. workers fired by employers wanting illegal or legal foreign workers get only one or two thousand dollars each in court settlements, if that, but in one recent case in the state of Washington, involving a pro-H-2A employer, they appear to be receiving $20,000 each. This was a dispute handled by the state’s Democratic Attorney, General Bob Ferguson, not by the feds. The offending employer, Ostrom Mushroom Farms LLC, was accused of firing long-term, female, citizen employees so that it could replace them with male H-2As.

According to the Law360 report: “The $3.4 million will be doled out to the domestic workers who[m] the farm fired between January 2021 and December 2022, the order said. The attorney general believes that there are upward of 170 workers who qualify for a piece of the fund.”

Ostrom Mushrooms
This Google Earth satellite image of the Ostrom Mushrooms operation in Sunnyfield, Wash., gives a sense of its size.

And $3.4 million divided by 170 equals $20,000.

As often happens in discrimination cases, the employer shows signs of at least two different kinds of bias — the firm was both anti-U.S. workers and anti-female.

Mushroom farms are quite different from other farms, and often look like factories. They can be close to, or in, an urban center, and thus near to an urban supply of workers. Mushrooms are grown in buildings, not outdoors, and they grow in the dark. The product is picked by hand by a labor force often wearing hats with lights, just like coal miners. It is a dirty job, likely little changed from the description in a late nineteenth century bulletin from the U.S. Department of Agriculture: “One-fourth cow manure and three-fourths horse manure mixed and heated together from the first has given the writer fine mushrooms.”

The satellite image on the right, as well as an aerial photo at the firm’s Facebook page, show what looks like a huge operation, spread over a site large enough to be a small airport. It is located in Sunnyfield, Wash., and was recently sold to a Canadian firm, Windmill Farms, which has accepted the terms of the consent degree. The United Farm Workers union is seeking to represent the labor force.

An interesting coincidence is that about the time that the Washington State settlement was announced, so was (in the other Washington) the appointment of the granddaughter of UFW co-founder Cesar Chavez, Julia Chavez Rodriquez, as chairwoman of Biden’s reelection committee.