Workers at Amy’s Kitchen have been demanding better working conditions at the plant-based food company since April, only to be met with silence and union-busting. In July, the company closed a San Jose, California, facility, leaving more than 300 workers unemployed in one of the most expensive areas to live in the country. Now, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has entered into settlement agreements with Amy’s Kitchen, but workers and advocates say people should continue boycotting the company to make sure it improves conditions for workers still at the factory.
“As a big employer [in the community], there is a huge responsibility to the workers of your community,” said Aura Aguilar, an organizer with North Bay Jobs with Justice and former Amy’s Kitchen employee. “Right now it’s way past time that Amy’s listens to the workers here, and the workers deserve a union.”
Workers and allies rallied outside the company’s headquarters in Petaluma, California, last month to show support for the workers and deliver a community letter to Amy’s CEO signed by about 80 organizations and leaders.
“[Amy’s Kitchen] needs to do some soul searching in order to find out how to truly live up to the reputation that they’ve created for themselves because currently, the company is not caring for their workers,” said Lauren Ornelas, founder and president of Food Empowerment Project. “They need to do a better job of listening to the workers who are having these issues and work to make changes immediately.”
For 35 years, Amy’s Kitchen has held a reputation for being a socially responsible brand that uses organic ingredients and has said they “always cook [their] food with love.” But over the last decade, the Department of Labor’s Occupational 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 detail an employee fracturing their hip while tripping over a forklift. In January, workers filed a safety complaint that triggered an investigation by Cal/OSHA on Jan. 26, saying they have not been given access to the bathroom or drinking water during shifts. After multiple attempts at asking their managers for better working conditions went unheeded, they filed the complaint. Amy’s Kitchen has retained the services of Quest Consulting, a notorious union-busting firm that has left workers feeling intimidated inside and outside the workplace.
In July, Amy’s Kitchen announced the abrupt and unexpected closure of its San Jose facility, whose workers have been organizing with Unite Here, a union representing approximately 300,000 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Workers say that the company has shown a pattern of retaliation, including firing a worker after he spoke to management about his concerns about a lack of bathroom breaks and penalties for sick days. One worker, Hector Guardado, was directly fired during the union campaign.
The NLRB settlement states that Amy’s Kitchen must pay Guardado for firing him during the campaign, must not threaten to fire workers for their support of the union, will not interrogate workers if they support the union, will not retaliate against unionizing workers, and will not coerce workers into not joining the union by telling them that Amy’s Kitchen will not accept the union.
Guardado said that he first got involved with the union because he had seen abuse and poor conditions at work and believed that things could be better, and also because he hoped the union could get workers more affordable health care.
“One person was doing the work of three people, so we had complained about it,” Guardado said. “Nothing changed after we spoke to them … I saw how my friend would cry and was really hurt by these verbal abuses, and that’s when that pushed me harder to do something.”
A week later, Amy’s Kitchen fired him. Guardado says he believes they fired him to intimidate other employees and discourage them from unionizing. Now the NLRB has forced Amy’s Kitchen’s hand. But advocates say time will tell if the company will follow through and change their ways.
“I’d like to see [Amy’s Kitchen issue] an apology to the workers,” said Ornelas. “They need to be held accountable to the workers in a real way.”
Ornelas notes that Amy’s Kitchen is not reliant on shareholders and could actually make decisions instantaneously to impact the lives of their workers, who are “currently making them rich.”
“They choose not to do so,” Ornelas said. “That’s what hurts the most.”