From Amazon to Starbucks, the spirit of unionization is strong. Now, workers at two California frozen food factories are joining the fray. But they’re facing serious union-busting from their employer, Amy’s Kitchen, despite its progressive branding.
Amy’s Kitchen is the sixth-largest maker of organic frozen meals in the United States and the top U.S. producer of organic vegetarian food, according to the North Bay Business Journal. The company employs over 2,000 people, most of them Central American immigrants who don’t speak English.
On June 1, UNITE HERE Local 19, representing the workers of Amy’s Kitchen in San Jose, filed multiple unfair labor practice charges against the food company. The union claims that the company forced workers to attend anti-union meetings, threatened them with surveillance, and interrogated them. Two employees were also fired for organizing.
Workers at another Amy’s Kitchen location in Santa Rosa, California, are also trying to unionize. Teamsters Local 665 filed a complaint to the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration alleging that the company’s hazardous understaffing forces a breakneck pace and that it fails to provide access to water and regular bathroom breaks.
“Workers are ignored, shamed, and retaliated against when they do use the restroom,” reads the union complaint. “One worker was asked by a supervisor to provide a doctor’s note if they wanted to use the bathroom during their shift.”
Fired after Speaking Out
The San Jose facility employs approximately 250 workers. It was opened in response to the high demand for frozen pizzas.
Hector Guardado, machine operator, was fired after leading workers to complain about poor working conditions at work and the treatment of a fellow worker who was penalized for taking sick leave. Guardado claimed that he told the line leader that his machine was being left unattended and that he had been fired.
“We took the initiative and tried to talk to our management about the situation to make our factory a better place, but they showed little interest in working with us,” said Guardado. “Instead, they began to retaliate against us. I am being fired for speaking out in support of my co-worker.”
Amy’s Kitchen did not respond to requests for comment.
Raul Vargas, Prep cook, stated that he has witnessed intimidation tactics used against workers participating in union activity. “There is a lot of favoritism,” said Vargas. “If you have a good relationship with the supervisors or leads, then the rule doesn’t apply to those people. But if you aren’t with them, every single rule applies to that person. They are not fair with everybody.”
After the filing of the unfair labor practice charges, he anticipates retaliation from management: “What they’re gonna do, I don’t know, but for sure it will be nothing good.”
Locked Fire Exits
Besides Santa Rosa and San Jose, Amy’s Kitchen has two other production facilities in Idaho and Oregon.
The B Corp certification was granted to the company last year. It is given to companies that use profits to positively impact their communities, employees, and the environment. UNITE HERE has filed a complaint to the B Lab Standards Advisory Council asking it to re-evaluate Amy’s Kitchen’s certification.
Amy’s Kitchen has also paid more than $100,000 in OSHA violations, of which the union asserts the company failed to report $95,750 when applying for B Corp certification. OSHA workers complained about locked fire exits and inadequate training for heavy machinery.
“The company says they’re not union-busting,” said Maria del Carmen Gonzales, a worker who was unable to get surgery for a work-related shoulder injury until a year after the injury occurred. “So why are they spending so much on these people [union busters]But not on our [health] insurance?”