The darling of the organic-vegetarian frozen food aisle took a hit with some workplace safety allegations at their Santa Rosa plant, creating some grocer boycotts and talk of workers unionizing.
I was surprised to learn that popular organic frozen food manufacturer Amy’s Kitchen does not have an “Amy” in charge. The Santa Rosa-based maker of vegetarian pot pies, pizzas, and such was founded in 1987 by Rachel and Andy Berliner, and according to CNN, the company is named after their daughter “born the same year as the company that bears her name.”
Some Amy's Kitchen factory workers describe an unforgiving workplace that pushes them past the point of injury. https://t.co/rKHkaSGtib
But even more people were surprised when a January NBC News exposé on the Santa Rosa plant alleged that Amy’s Kitchen facility was an injury-riddled workplace, with employees saying, “We don’t want to be treated like donkeys anymore.”
That report was quickly followed by an OSHA compliant from Amy’s Kitchen employees, which according to SFGate, alleged that “workers on the production line are expected to produce more than 25,000 plates of food in a single 8-hour shift,” and that these workers “were not given time for water or bathroom breaks because of the expectation to meet these demands.”
NBC News added at the time that “The complaint also described locked fire exits,” though the company’s ‘Chief People Officer’ told NBC News that “They’re not locked, period, full stop,” and “If ever a fire exit is blocked, that is remedied immediately.”
A post shared by Nourishing Our Neighborhood (@mandelagrocery)
Either way, the grocery manufacturer was quickly losing its reputable image. Eater SF reports that Oakland’s Mandela Grocery Cooperative pulled Amy’s products off the shelves, and that multiple “vegan food justice” organizations have called for a boycott. Thrillist reports that Teamsters Local 665 is now trying to unionize the place.
Here in SF, the Chronicle reports that Rainbow Grocery is still selling Amy’s products, but that the grocer’s worker-owner employees “requested a cooperative-wide meeting for Wednesday to discuss the controversy and potential next steps.”
That same Chronicle report also obtained an internal audit (“conducted at the request of a large Amy’s customer”) wherein a surprise inspector visit seems to have found the safety issues seemingly resolved. That audit did flag a “a ‘lack of communication’ with employees about how to anonymously file grievances” because materials were mostly just in English, and “a fire extinguisher that was obstructed but cleared while the auditor was at the plant.”
Amy’s says they have since posted the grievance materials in Spanish, as the majority of workers at the plant speak Spanish as their primary language.
Otherwise, it sounds like the Amy’s Kitchen plant did clean up its act (or maybe never had major problems?) once complaints about repetitive stress injuries and lack of employee breaks hit the national news. But perception problems are harder to clean up, and Amy’s Kitchen now has a perception problem among its left-leaning customer base.
The Chron spoke to some employees at the plant who had no interest in unionizing, and one said the Berliners treat employees “like family.” Amy’s Kitchen will probably have to make more of their employees agree with that statement if they’re going to keep selling all those burritos, frozen pizzas, and ravioli bowls to a target demographic that generally supports labor in workplace disputes.
Related: Dandelion Chocolate Union Vote Wins By One Vote, But Many Union Voters Since Laid Off [SFist]
Image: Amy’s Kitchen
Four suspects have been arrested and charged for crimes relating to a late March robbery of a Canadian film crew working at SF’s Twin Peaks, and a second robbery three days later in Oakland.
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Joe Kukura is an SFist staff asst. editor / reporter who has been published in almost every San Francisco publication, including Hoodline, SF Weekly, Thrillist, and Broke Ass Stuart.
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