Workers at two HelloFresh factories in California and Colorado have announced their intention to unionize. Vice reports 1,300 workers organized with UNITE HERE, a union representing workers in the hotel, restaurant, manufacturing and other industries, and filed a petition with the NLRB to allow a workers vote of a factory in Aurora, Colorado. ; workers at a plant in Richmond, Calif., are also organizing. If they vote to unionize, it would be the first union in the meal kit industry.
Founded in Germany in 2011, HelloFresh has grown to become the largest supplier of meal kits in the United States, providing boxes of individually measured ingredients and recipes to subscribers. The company markets its service as a balm for busy white-collar families who may not have time to plan their meals or buy “healthy” ingredients. It went public in 2017 and last year had over 6,000 employees; in a space that quickly became overcrowded with similar services, it continued to dominate.
A petition from HelloFresh workers to the company alleges that even though it “took advantage of the pandemic, employees faced disrespect, an outbreak of COVID-19 and preventable injuries,” said. Workers told Vice the pressure to keep production in the face of explosive growth had been detrimental to their well-being: echoing a familiar refrain about working conditions in Amazon’s notoriously grueling warehouse, Mary Williams, a worker in the packaging line in Aurora, says she is discouraged from taking water breaks and timed for her toilet breaks. She also says her assembly line has grown from seven to four people, but they were still expected to maintain the same level of production – 600 to 1,000 boxes per day. Other workers also said they couldn’t afford rent with HelloFresh wages.
In a statement to Eater, UNITE HERE International President Dr Taylor said:
HelloFresh workers need a union and they are ready to fight for it. We expect the company to make a commitment not to interfere with the right of workers to organize, a proud tradition in the United States at a time when a recent Gallup poll shows support for unions continues to climb. We all want a speedy recovery so that workers and everyone can come back stronger to this country. We can’t achieve this if companies like HelloFresh don’t move workers forward in the recovery, especially at the rate at which this sector of the economy is growing. HelloFresh consumers will be on the side of the workers. Consumers don’t want a box touting sustainability and fresh food to mean bad conditions for workers. After everything we’ve been through during the pandemic, people are fed up with companies profiting from the COVID crisis so that a small handful can get rich. We are fed up with the profits from the pandemic.
The meal kit industry has been essentially saved by the pandemic. In 2019, as Whitney Filloon wrote for Eater, the early 2010s boom of sending prepackaged ingredients and recipes to your doorstep was falling apart, as newbies who needed these services to learn to cook, well, have learned to cook. There was also the issue of spontaneity – after the sign-up discounts ended, many people found that they preferred to make their own choices at the grocery store, or at least now had a few great recipes to include. Choose.
But in a world where going to the grocery store could be a risky business, meal kits like Blue Apron and HelloFresh seemed like a more needed service. The petition notes that HelloFresh generated record revenues thanks to the pandemic – its global revenues doubled between 2019 and 2020 to reach $ 4.4 billion, and according to GroceryDive, in March, the company “said $ 705 million of fourth quarter sales. in the United States, an increase of 99% over the previous year, according to the company’s earnings report. Its total active customer base has grown 92.9% over the past year and is forecasting a 45-55% revenue increase for 2021. HelloFresh CEO Dominik Richter said that because of this, “the company is accelerating the ramp-up of its production capacity.”
However, the second boom in meal kit services did not resolve long-standing issues with their workforce and supply chains, which had traditionally relied on mass production under tight deadlines. In a 2016 Buzzfeed News report on Blue Apron, he detailed numerous OSHA violations because inexperienced workers had to produce thousands of transmissions at absurd speeds, even when ingredients were lacking. “It was crazy. You felt like you were running all the time. Your hair is on fire and you can’t keep up,” said one employee. But in the classic Silicon Valley growth imperative, the The emphasis has always been on meeting demand rather than ensuring that workers can do their jobs sustainably and for good pay.
This surge is part of a growing wave of worker activism in the food industry. If HelloFresh does unionize, it could mean that workers at other Blue Apron and Sun Basket companies could follow suit, as the union has the opportunity to set better pay and safety standards in the industry. “It’s a cycle of poorly paid work and having to work back to back,” Williams told Vice. “We think having a union is going to make a big difference.” And as workers at other food and manufacturing companies like Amazon and Whole Foods continue to fight for their right to organize, HelloFresh could be one more place to work to give momentum to the movement.
HelloFresh workers said anti-union consultants have visited their facilities before, although HelloFresh’s own code of ethics states, “We support the principles established by the International Bill of Human Rights as well as the International Human Rights Organization. job “.
In a statement to Eater, a spokesperson for HelloFresh said, “HelloFresh is deeply committed to providing a safe and respectful work environment and follows the guidelines provided by federal, state and local laws and any suggestion or implication to the contrary is false. . We believe the job offer we offer is competitive and attractive to our current and future workforce, and we have made significant investments in employee well-being and safety to foster a workplace welcoming, collegial, empowering and secure. We also respect the right of our employees to choose whether or not to be represented by a union or not and have and will continue to comply with national labor relations law and all other federal, state and local labor laws.
Workers are calling for better worker safety arrangements, especially following a COVID-19 outbreak in Richmond, and real living wages. “We know what happens when thousands of new jobs are created overnight in new industries without much regard for dignity or safety at work,” the petition says. “The meal kit factory kitchens of today are the garment factories of yesterday.
Update: September 17, 2021, 12:36 p.m. This article has been updated with a statement from HelloFresh.