Angela Bunay Labor Union Wave Worker's Rights

‘Progressive’ Food Company Amy’s Kitchen Faces Multiple Unfair Labor Practice Charges

The spirit of unionizing is in the air, from Amazon to Starbucks. Now the workers in two frozen food factories in California are getting in on the action. But they're facing serious union-busting from their employer, Amy's Kitchen, despite its progressive branding.
Workers at Amy’s Kitchen report a breakneck work pace, denial of bathroom breaks, and surveillance, threats, and firings for speaking up. Photo: Eric Rider

By Angela Bunay / LaborNotes

The spirit of unionizing is in the air, from Amazon to Starbucks. Now the workers in two frozen food factories in California are getting in on the action. 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 more than 2,000 workers, a majority of them Central American immigrants who do not 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 alleges that the company subjected workers to mandatory anti-union meetings, surveillance, threats, and interrogations, and terminated two employees for their 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

Workers are facing similar conditions at the San Jose facility, which employs around 250 people. It opened last year to meet the high demand for frozen pizzas.

Machine operator Hector Guardado was fired on May 19 after leading a group of workers to complain about poor working conditions and the treatment of a co-worker who was penalized for taking sick time. The company claimed he was fired for leaving his machine unattended; however, Guardado said he told the line leader that he was going to speak with the manager.

“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.

Prep cook Raul Vargas said he has witnessed intimidation tactics against workers engaging 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.

Last year the company received the B Corp certification, which is awarded to companies that use profits and growth to positively impact their employees, communities, 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. The workers who filed those OSHA complaints reported locked fire exits and a lack of proper training for operating 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 occured. “So why are they spending so much on these people [union busters] but not on our [health] insurance?”

Angela Bunay
Angela Bunay

Angela Bunay is the managing editor of the Cornell Daily Sun and an intern at Labor Notes.

9 comments

  1. They are all the same, these fake anti-GMO bourgeoisie . Look at their roots, and who they really are. Here, quote from an organic (sic) rag. Filthy people hate their workers and fight collective action/bargaining!

    In spite of their success, Berliner is determined to hold on to the hands-on, homey touch that is ingrained in the DNA of the brand. “I love to feed people,” says Berliner. “I’m a Jewish mother. Every single person we feed is important to us.”

    “We thought we’d be a little business,” she says. “We had no idea! Every day we get requests from big companies who want to buy us,” she continues. “But we’re a family business. And we want to stay that way.”

  2. Thank you for informing me about Amy frozen foods. I have enjoyed their frozen foods for years after becoming a vegetarian for ethical reasons. What Amy’s failure to negotiate and welcome an Union has cause me stopped buying Amy’s foods until it is Unionized.

  3. ohhh, man. I’m going to miss their enchiladas. that’s been my ‘fast food,’ the only thing I eat that I didn’t cook, myself. this info is unappetizing (in the extreme).

    1. Boycott? Liberal lites, boycotting? Is that what we do with Walmart, Home Depot, Exxon, all the grocery store gouging us? Boycott the gasoline for our cars to get to our shit jobs? Boycott our shit jobs? Boycott Starbucks and Dutch Brothers and Chipotle and, come on, boycott Chevy-Toyota-Nissan? Boycot all the GMO grains and all the foods on the shelves?

      Are you in La-La-Land. Amy’s as the worst of the worst? This country is a giant extortion racket, one of war profiteering, Covid profiteering, supply chain profiteer. Boycot the housing market that looks like a Mafia controlled system?

      Funny guy, funny guy!

      Boycott.

  4. I read your article it is very informative for me. I hope I will find more articles in the future.

  5. Sounds like Amy’s is reaping the benefits of open borders and sanctuary city / states. I am not shocked to hear about any company, green, woke or otherwise cashing in on the American system of cheap, illegal slave-wage labor. If you want a juicy corporate greed story look at ARAMARK.

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