HelloFresh SE, headquartered in Berlin, is a meal-kit retailer that is traded on public markets.
It’s not only the most popular meal-kit service in the USA, but also in Canada, New Zealand, Europe (Great Britain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, France, Italy, and the Scandinavian countries), and Japan.
Despite a Covid Outbreak, Low Wages, and A High Injury Rate, Hello Fresh Workers Voted Against Unionising
Despite high injury rates, low wages, and a major COVID-19 outbreak, workers who pack and ship food for HelloFresh in California voted against unionising at the end of last year, a loss for the labour movement that reflects the ongoing challenges facing organisers two years into the pandemic.
During the summer of 2020, 171 employees at a HelloFresh food-packing facility in Richmond, just north of Oakland, were infected with the COVID-19 virus, making it the largest outbreak in one of the state’s most populous counties.
Following the death of a worker at the facility from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), state health and safety officials launched an investigation and filed “serious” charges against the company in April 2021.
In response to concerns raised by its members, the food and hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE conducted an investigation into working conditions at HelloFresh and released government data showing that in 2020,
the Richmond facility had an injury rate three times higher than the average for the warehousing industry and an injury rate nearly twice as high as the average for workers in prepared food manufacturing.
Workers were exposed to hazards while earning less than a living wage in the Bay Area ($18/hour, according to MIT researchers’ calculations).
The risk of working through the pandemic seemed to have sparked a turning point in the American labour movement as workers demanded higher pay, pushed for safer working conditions, and walked out of the door in record numbers, all of which made HelloFresh a prime target for unionising, according to organisers at UNITE HERE.
According to Bloomberg, unions are “having a moment” as the number of strikes and walkouts doubled between autumns of 2020 and 2021. This wave of strikes has been called “historic” by the Washington Post. For NBC, 2021 is “the year of the worker.”
To the contrary, in November and December, HelloFresh workers in both Aurora, Colorado, and Richmond, California, voted overwhelmingly against the union. Of 763 eligible workers in Richmond, only 198 voted to join UNITE HERE, while 289 voted against.
Unions enjoyed growing public support and the labour movement was gaining steam, but convincing workers to organise into new unions remained a significant obstacle.
Some workers in Richmond, who make around $18 per hour, were opposed to the initiative because they feared union dues would strain their already limited finances.
HelloFresh worker Candy Hatcher said, “If we applied for the union, they’re going to take our extra money.” This was in reference to the union dues that would be required if the union were successful. I’m in debt. I’m paying my bills and everything,”
Hello Fresh Employees Accuse Management of Retaliation for Union Activity
As The Guardian reported on Thursday, amid coverage of unsafe and “brutal” working conditions on the assembly lines at HelloFresh, employees claim the company has retaliated against them for their recent unionisation campaigning.
A worker at HelloFresh’s Richmond, California, location told The Guardian that security guards tried to take her employee badge because she handed out pro-union leaflets outside on her lunch break.
Two other employees also claimed that they were told by supervisors that they couldn’t distribute union leaflets during their lunch breaks in the parking lot.
One of them told The Guardian that he was demoted because he did not speak English well enough; however, he believed this was “camouflage” because he was simply exercising his right to unionise.
HelloFresh employees in Colorado and California have reportedly been organising in recent months, and the Unite Here union has filed multiple unfair labour practise charges against the company with the National Labor Relations Board.
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