Contained in the controversy at Amy’s Kitchen, the Bay Space’s wildly widespread natural meals firm

Contained in the controversy at Amy’s Kitchen, the Bay Space’s wildly widespread natural meals firm

Amy’s Kitchen, a Bay Space firm recognized for its natural canned and frozen meals, is grappling with public fallout over a worker-led effort to unionize and allegations of unsafe working circumstances at its Santa Rosa manufacturing facility.

Since a gaggle of Amy’s staff stated they have been injured at work and mistreated by the corporate in an NBC Information story in January, the favored Petaluma firm has confronted widespread criticism and boycotts.

The employees’ issues have thrown into query Amy’s public picture as a healthful, family-owned firm that espouses the values of native, natural meals. CEO Andy Berliner and his spouse, Rachel, began the enterprise in Petaluma in 1987, promoting natural pot pies out of their house. It’s since grown right into a nationwide model that brings in a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in income and has shut to three,000 staff. Amy’s has grown past grocery aisles lately, opening a number of drive-thru eating places within the Bay Space and a 65,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in San Jose.

Inside Amy’s, stress has been mounting not solely between staff and employer but additionally amongst employees, who don’t all agree on forming a union or advocating for boycotts. The strain has spilled over into nationwide headlines, office security investigations and, most not too long ago, an inside audit carried out on the request of a big Amy’s buyer. The findings of the audit, which Amy’s launched to The Chronicle, are detailed beneath. The dispute at Amy’s coincides with different high-profile unionization efforts within the meals business, together with at Starbucks and Tartine Bakery.

Learn on for the newest on the Amy’s controversy and what it means for the way forward for the Bay Space enterprise.

Factory workers gather ingredients to make ravioli dishes at Amy’s Kitchen in Santa Rosa.

Manufacturing unit employees collect substances to make ravioli dishes at Amy’s Kitchen in Santa Rosa.

Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle

What did the inner audit discover?

The audit, carried out by Arche Advisors throughout an unannounced go to to the Santa Rosa plant in late January, flagged two findings. There was a “lack of communication” with staff about find out how to anonymously file grievances — they have been unaware that they might use a hotline and web site to lift any points “with out concern of retaliation,” the audit report reads. Posters explaining the grievance procedures have been out there solely in English, and lots of the plant’s 624 staff are Spanish-speaking. Amy’s stated it has since created a brand new coaching course on grievances for workers and put up posters in Spanish.

The opposite compliance concern was a fireplace extinguisher that was obstructed however cleared whereas the auditor was on the plant.

The audit acknowledged that Amy’s gives satisfactory breaks and advantages to staff, and correctly investigates and addresses facility accidents.

For the audit, Arche Advisors interviewed and surveyed staff, and reviewed damage stories, payroll information and different inside firm paperwork. The corporate gave Amy’s an “intermediate efficiency” evaluation score with a grade of 86. The report didn’t assess the union effort in depth.

What are employees alleging?

Santa Rosa manufacturing facility employees have described an unsafe, high-pressure work setting that leaves them in danger for severe damage. A Cal/OSHA grievance filed by longtime Amy’s worker Cecilia Luna Ojeda in late January alleges a “hazardous and life threatening work setting” on the manufacturing facility.

Ojeda stated that Amy’s didn’t correctly reply to a number of work-related accidents. In 2008, after complaining of ache in her proper hand to supervisors, a health care provider ultimately discovered {that a} tendon in her wrist had been broken to the purpose that it required surgical procedure. (Amy’s paid for the surgical procedure in full, she stated.) She later skilled ache in her proper and left shoulders and acquired employees’ compensation to take time without work, however felt pressured to return to work earlier than she recuperated, she stated. After a pipe fell on the pinnacle of a former worker, inflicting a concussion and later seizures, Amy’s didn’t honor lodging really helpful by a health care provider, in response to the grievance.

Cecilia Luna Ojeda plays with her children, including Crystal, 5, outside her Santa Rosa home. The longtime Amy’s Kitchen worker is part of an effort to unionize the organic food company.

Cecilia Luna Ojeda performs along with her youngsters, together with Crystal, 5, outdoors her Santa Rosa house. The longtime Amy’s Kitchen employee is a part of an effort to unionize the natural meals firm.

Preston Gannaway/Particular to The Chronicle

The Cal/OSHA grievance states that the chance of damage stems from stress to satisfy “excessive quotas” on the manufacturing line. In distinction with the inner audit’s findings, she alleged staff aren’t given satisfactory rest room or stretching breaks and that “employees are ignored, shamed, and retaliated towards once they do use the restroom.”

At its peak, the Santa Rosa manufacturing facility produces 19,000 kilos of meals a day, in response to the inner audit. Staff are paid between $14 and $30 an hour.

Since Ojeda and different employees went public with their issues, she stated there have been small enhancements at work, together with the addition of an worker who screens the pace of the manufacturing line. However she fears that and not using a union contract, the adjustments received’t be everlasting.

Do Amy’s employees wish to unionize?

Some do, however not all. With the assistance of Teamsters Native Union 665, a personnel are organizing to demand stronger security provisions, higher pay and advantages.

“We wish a union contract to be protected,” Ojeda informed The Chronicle in Spanish. “We wish to defend our rights as employees.”

Workers are divided on unionization at Amy’s Kitchen.

Employees are divided on unionization at Amy’s Kitchen.

Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle

However different employees stated they’re blissful at Amy’s and don’t help the union effort — together with Margarita Vasquez, a senior manufacturing employee and single mom who’s labored at Amy’s for over 20 years. In an interview carried out in Spanish, she stated she feels secure and glad at work. She appreciates the medical advantages, the entry to a well being clinic subsequent to the plant, bonuses and annual Christmas items. She additionally opposes the boycott.

Vasquez spoke extremely of Berliner, who she stated “treats us like household.”

Amy’s and the pro-union employees disagree on how widespread help is for unionizing. Berliner stated he’s met with all hourly staff in small teams over the previous couple of weeks and “didn’t hear a lot of any curiosity within the union.”

Teamsters Native Union 665, in the meantime, stated there may be “vital curiosity in unionizing” at Amy’s however that “many employees on the facility are frightened of brazenly supporting the union due to issues concerning retaliation or harassment.”

What’s the cope with the boycott?

Nationwide meals justice nonprofit Meals Empowerment Challenge and Veggie Mijas, a vegan-focused collective, have been among the many first to name for a boycott of Amy’s merchandise.

Two Bay Space worker-owned grocery shops, Mandela Grocery Cooperative in Oakland and Different Avenues in San Francisco, have since stopped promoting the corporate’s meals. In an open letter to Amy’s, Different Avenues employees wrote that they’re “involved that almost all of affected employees are black and brown ladies, and are dissatisfied that this abuse originates from one in all our favourite native Northern California distributors.”

Adrionna Fike, a worker-owner at Mandela, stated she was shocked to learn the headlines about unsafe working circumstances at Amy’s. Mandela has since changed the roughly 25 frozen and canned Amy’s merchandise it as soon as offered with meals from different corporations.

“Amy’s has a repute of being an excellent firm,” Fike stated. “It’s unhappy however hopefully this may wake corporations up.”

Factory workers assemble Amy’s Kitchen’s popular organic food products in Santa Rosa.

Manufacturing unit employees assemble Amy’s Kitchen’s widespread natural meals merchandise in Santa Rosa.

Samantha Laurey/The Chronicle

San Francisco’s worker-owned Rainbow Grocery, which sells greater than 100 Amy’s merchandise on-line, has to this point kept away from an official boycott. Employees have, nevertheless, requested a cooperative-wide assembly for Wednesday to debate the controversy and potential subsequent steps, stated Cody Frost, a Rainbow worker-owner who oversees public relations.

“We’re making an attempt to see what’s our greatest method of truly supporting the people who find themselves affected by what’s occurring,” Frost stated.

Amy’s stated the boycotts, which don’t seem to have unfold to mainstream grocery shops, haven’t considerably impacted gross sales.

Ojeda stated she helps a boycott to attract consideration to the employee calls for.

“Lots of people like Amy’s meals. (Clients ought to) be extra aware about what they’re doing and have compassion for all the employees,” she stated.

How has Amy’s management responded?

Amy’s has denied the employees’ allegations and blamed “misguided social media posts” for sparking the boycotts. In an interview with The Chronicle, Berliner defended the corporate’s security document and therapy of staff.

Whereas a web-based Amy’s assertion says, “We’re involved a few union’s influence on our ongoing tradition of compassion, respect, equity, collaboration and private empowerment that has all the time been so key to our success.” Berliner stated he welcomes a union vote.

“We’re completely open to having an election that will give each one in all them a proper to forged a poll … and no matter they select, we’re pleased with,” Berliner stated. “However this steady making an attempt to destroy the repute of the corporate and boycotting of our merchandise is hurting the very staff the union says they wish to maintain.”

In an open letter posted to the Amy’s web site, Berliner stated the corporate plans to speculate $50 million in “safety-related initiatives” over the following 5 years, together with programs that can transfer merchandise on conveyor belts slightly than racks and hydraulic bucket lifters so employees received’t have to carry uncooked meals substances.

After studying of Ojeda’s grievance, Amy’s stated it voluntarily invited Cal/OSHA for a manufacturing facility inspection in January. Cal/OSHA declined to remark, citing an open investigation.

Has Cal/OSHA investigated office hazards at Amy’s earlier than?

Sure. Cal/OSHA discovered a number of “severe” violations in three 2019 accident investigations, in response to the state company’s information. This included an worker whose finger was amputated after it was caught in a wrapper machine and one other who was hospitalized for third diploma burns from scorching soy milk whereas making tofu.

Amy’s confronted roughly $90,000 in penalties from the 2019 Cal/OSHA citations.