HelloFresh employees aim to unionize amid claims of abuse
Workers for the largest meal-kit delivery service in the world say attempts to unionize have been met with retaliation and bullying
Thursday November 11, 2021 8:14 EST
Workers at HelloFresh, the largest meal-kit delivery service in the world, say they are facing an aggressive anti-union campaign led by the company after they tried to organize amid claims of safety issues and poor treatment of workers.
HelloFresh has operations in 14 other countries including the US, UK and Australia and employs over 11,800 people worldwide preparing ingredients for delivery for home cooked meals including brown sugar bourbon apple pork chops and kale, cranberry and walnut stuffed squash.
During the pandemic its profits soared and now workers at its production facilities in Richmond, California, and Aurora, Colorado, are trying to form unions amid claims they have faced intimidation and abuse
At the Richmond, California facility, the union Unite Here Local 2850 has filed several unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against HelloFresh, alleging the company has retaliated, intimidated, and bullied union supporting workers over the last several months.
Evelin Escobar, a production worker at the Richmond, California, facility, alleged two HelloFresh security guards approached her and requested she turn in her employee badge to them, claiming she was distributing pro-union leaflets in the workplace during work hours, after she and other co-workers handed out leaflets during their lunch break outside the facility.
“I do that during lunch and that’s my right, so, I felt very intimidated,” said Escobar.
She said co-workers came to her defense and forced the security guards to stop insisting she turn over her badge.
Escobar said the union campaign was started in response to safety issues, treatment of workers by management, and working conditions.
“One day I was running the production line, and my team lead was yelling at me, telling me to do so many things at once I couldn’t do and while yelling at me called me ‘a Mexican shit’,” said Escobar. “She doesn’t respect any of us. I heard her call someone else stupid. She yells at us. And so that’s why the most important thing for me above all else is that we can win respect on the job. We work eight hours a day and we don’t feel happy going to work, so we’re ready for a change.”
Like Amazon and other businesses now facing union drives from unhappy workers, HelloFresh experienced record sales and profits during the Covid-19 pandemic, with the company’s revenue more than doubling in 2020. As demand soared, workers have reported unsafe working conditions, which contributed to workers deciding to organize to form a union
Around 850 workers in Richmond are scheduled to receive ballots by 18 November, with their union election votes scheduled to be tallied on 15 December.
Ahead of their union election, HelloFresh workers have claimed management retaliated against them for engaging in union activity.
Shortly after Denis Guzman and Aindra Hernandez, two workers in the quality assurance department at HelloFresh, were distributing union leaflets outside during their lunch break, the workers were approached by managers and told they were not permitted to do so
Later the same day, Guzman was brought into an office room with other managers who informed him he was being demoted from quality assurance back to production.
“I asked them, ‘what is the real reason that you’re doing this?’ And they said, the real reason is because I don’t speak English well enough,” said Guzman, who claimed other workers in the department have similar English proficiency and it was never mentioned as an issue before or during his training. “I felt like they were trying to camouflage the demotion because I had been exercising my rights on my break, and I felt discriminated against when they told me that I wasn’t good enough to be in a department because I didn’t speak English.”
When Hernandez found out that afternoon Guzman was demoted, she defended Guzman to one of her managers and asked why the decision was made. Hernandez said she received no answer and the manager told her to clock out and go home without pay, two hours before her shift ended, following her until she clocked out and left.
“There have been so many problems with disrespect, with not being given the material we need to work, and injuries happening in the workplace. It’s very unjust that all of this treatment gets so normalized,” said Hernandez. “There are so many people who fear getting sent home early or the managers being upset with them, like I was sent home, and that makes workers very afraid. We need to change that.”
Workers at HelloFresh said they were also consistently forced into meetings during work hours with paid union avoidance consultants from Kulture Consulting. The company is spending thousands of dollars a day for the consultants to try to dissuade workers from voting in favor of the union.
Alec Woodard, a shipping department worker at the Richmondfacility explained how HelloFresh has responded to the union organizing campaign over the past several weeks, which has included hiring union avoidance consultants who have held several captive audience meetings with workers in an attempt to dissuade workers from voting for the union.
“They outright said you might lose money by doing this in the first meeting,” said Woodard. “An executive said they were proud the facility had the largest number of Covid-19 cases in Contra Costa county because that demonstrated the success of their Covid testing program.”
He said consultants and management have tried to characterize the union as a business, comparing union organizers to sales representatives who will “trick” workers into joining a union
In the shipping department, Woodard said the department manager has been present a lot more during the union campaign, often making promises that high workloads, understaffing and issues in the department with workers having to stack multiple pallets at a time due to organize them around different shipping carriers would be resolved.
“Richmond used to be a strong industrial center and this could be a good job, this facility doesn’t need to run this way,” added Woodard. “If we win, I think it would be a significant step for the city as a whole, not just for the workers at HelloFresh.”
A spokesperson for HelloFresh said in an email: “HelloFresh believes that the decision of whether or not to be represented by a union is an important one and we respect each employee’s right to choose or refuse union membership.” They did not provide information on how much the company is spending on union avoidance consultants.
In regards to the National Labor Relations Board charges, the spokesperson added; “We take these allegations very seriously, and all such complaints are vigorously investigated and addressed. We have comprehensive anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies and training programs, and numerous avenues for employees to raise concerns, including a 24/7 hotline for employees to report complaints anonymously. We look forward to refuting these charges with the NLRB, however because this is an ongoing investigation, we have no further information to share at this time about these specific claims.”
[original article published here]