Organic frozen food company Amy’s Kitchen dealt workers another blow in an ongoing series of retaliatory actions in response to workers’ demands for safer conditions, fair pay, and a union. Last month, Amy’s Kitchen announced the abrupt and unexpected closure of its San Jose, California, facility, whose workers have been organizing with Unite Here, a union representing approximately 300,000 workers in Canada and the U.S. Workers at Amy’s Kitchen have been organizing since the start of the year and say that the company has shown a pattern of retaliation, including firing a worker after he spoke to management about his concerns, a lack of bathroom breaks, and penalties for sick days. Now, the company has escalated their union-busting and shut down an entire facility, resulting in over 300 workers losing their jobs.
Alma Rosa worked at Amy’s Kitchen packaging 60 frozen pizzas a minute for a year and four months. During her time there, she said the company lacked basic materials needed to safely do her job, like appropriate gloves to handle the frozen pizzas. The extreme exposure to frozen temperatures exacerbated her arthritis, and she now needs therapy for her hands.
“It has been a lot of pain,” Rosa said. “They didn’t have a lot of adequate material for us to work with.”
Rosa made $17 an hour, without any additional benefits. In October 2021, she said she received a 24-cent raise while other colleagues’ raises varied between 3-18 cents. Rosa met with the head of production to ask why the raises were so paltry, only to be told the raise is what corresponded to each worker. Rosa was also told they would likely increase the number of pizzas she had to pack from 60 per minute to 80.
“We were producing a lot for little money,” Rosa said.
Rosa reports not having any bathroom breaks, having to wait until her lunchtime to use the bathroom, and colleagues who were injured on the job and forced to continue working. According to Rosa, her male supervisor would inappropriately engage with younger female workers, developed romantic relationships with at least one of them, and, according to Rosa, she would see him making masturbatory gestures under his white coat in plain sight on the factory floor. Rosa reported this to the human resources department and was told they were going to investigate the claims, but nothing was ever done, and his behavior continued.
“I couldn’t believe it at first,” Rosa said. “Then another coworker saw him on another occasion. I didn’t even want to see it, because I don’t know how this man can do this. He is depraved, a degenerate.”
The supervisor continued working there until July 18, when Rosa and about 300 other workers were told Amy’s Kitchen was closing its fourth factory, which opened in 2021. According to Rosa, workers were given the first week of July off without pay because the company was supposedly going to put in new machinery. On Thursday, July 7, their bosses called them and told them they would be given another week off, this time with pay, because they had not yet finished. On July 18, the workers entered the factory as they usually did. They put on their robes, shoes, and hairnets and got to work until a supervisor told them to stop working—nothing would be done until further notice.
“We stood there waiting for any news,” Rosa said. “But since I arrived there was already a lot of movement, there were people setting up many tables, I was seeing people that I had never seen before. So it became real to me.”
According to Rosa, a few weeks before the closure, Amy’s Kitchen owner Andy Berliner visited the factory to have a talk about what changes the workers wanted to see happen. He told workers that in July there was going to be a “very big party” with everyone’s family invited.
“So I thought, seeing all this movement, ‘Is this the party that the man said?’” Rosa said. “But to our surprise, it wasn’t.”
The bosses told the workers that the reason for the closure was that material was missing, and they could no longer afford to run the factory. Rosa said they have been promised continued severance pay until September 2022, but she is still left without a job and no path to find one. According to a statement from Amy’s Kitchen, the company was unable to overcome inflation, supply chain disruptions, and a decrease in product demand.
“Since its founding, Amy’s Kitchen has worked to demonstrate there is a different way to do business. We bring thoughtful deliberation and a culture of care when making business decisions,” according to a statement from Amy’s Kitchen.
Employees at the manufacturing headquarters in Santa Rosa have also experienced safety concerns. Over the last decade, the Department of Labor’s Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has fined the company more than $100,000 to settle federal health and safety violations at the California location, with additional incidents at the Oregon and Idaho locations. Complaints have detailed workers getting their fingers or pieces of their fingers amputated by machinery, and others describe an employee fracturing their hip while tripping over a forklift. Most recently, workers filed a safety complaint that was opened by Cal/OSHA on Jan. 26 of this year saying they have not been given access to the bathroom or drinking water during shifts. After multiple requests to their managers for better working conditions went unheeded, they filed the complaint.
Workers have been keen to point out the incongruity between Amy’s Kitchen’s public image as a socially responsible brand that uses organic ingredients and the inhumane treatment of their workers. Grocers and co-ops have been showing solidarity with the workers and are boycotting Amy’s Kitchen products. Rosa, likewise, said she hopes Amy’s consumers will boycott the products in support of the worker’s unionizing efforts.
According to Tho Do, Northern California Organizing Director at Unite Here, the company performed union-busting activities including requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings, disciplining employees for participation in labor activities, and firing two employees for supporting the union. Unite Here is seeking a temporary injunction to stop the alleged practices.
“I have no other choice than to believe that the decision to close was retaliation,” said Do. “In the last three or four months, I think they finally realized that the committee remained really strong. So I guess they came to the conclusion that it best is for them to just close the plant, rather than giving the workers the right to choose the union or not. Workers should have the right of fair process for them to decide to choose the union or not without any intimidation or retaliation like San Jose workers have faced in the last few months.”