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Vegetarian dinners, burritos, and bowls from Amy’s Kitchen have been staples of plant-based freezers for decades. Recently, a group of Amy’s employees has come forward with allegations of lapses in workplace safety and low wages at the facilities that produce those packaged foods – and now some vegan organizations are calling on supporters to join a boycott of the brand.
In January, workers from the company’s Santa Rosa, California plant spoke with NBC News, claiming that line speeds in the factories increased in an attempt to meet pandemic demand. Those heightened speeds, they say, were linked to employees being injured on the job. Some of the workers say they were asked to work without accommodations for their injuries and have had difficulty affording expensive health insurance.
“There are a lot of days that I think that I’m good for nothing, that my life will never be the same and that I’ll never live without pain again,” Ines De La Cruz, a former employee at Amy’s, told NBC News.
De La Cruz told the network she injured her hand during a fast-paced shift and, when she returned to work wearing a brace prescribed by her doctor, supervisors told her to remove it. De La Cruz reports that, after the incident, she was reassigned to work disinfecting the plant’s cafeteria and that, months later, just as she was informed she would be a candidate for a surgery to address her arm injury, her job was eliminated entirely.
Amy’s Kitchen declined NBC requests to speak directly to the allegations, but denies that workers are mistreated. “It saddens us to hear that a few of our employees may be having a poor experience with us,” the company’s chief people officer, Mike Resch, wrote in a statement. “If an occupational or personal injury does occur, we are committed to finding safe, reasonable accommodation for everyone and do all that we can to make employees feel supported from the onset of injury or illness to and through recovery.”
Another worker at the Santa Rosa facility, Cecilia Luna Ojeda, filed a formal complaint with California’s workplace safety authority, Cal/OSHA, on behalf of herself and her colleagues, the North Bay Business Journal reported in late January. Employees at Amy’s Kitchen are not currently unionized but have been working with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters to file the Cal/OSHA complaint and bring attention to their cause.
On February 26, the workers were joined by union and community leaders and vegan activists for a press conference near the company’s corporate headquarters in Petaluma, California to raise awareness about the allegations and call for a boycott of Amy’s Kitchen products. Organizations supporting the boycott include Veggie Mijas, a vegan collective for women and nonbinary people of color, and Food Empowerment Project, a vegan food justice organization.
Leaders from Veggie Mijas and Food Empowerment Project argue that standing with workers for the boycott is both the right thing to do and aligns with their missions as vegan organizations. Although veganism is, in its most narrow sense about not eating animal products, many activists also consider worker justice and fair food practices part of their mission.
“There can’t be food justice without worker justice,” says Alejandra Tolley, a Los Angeles-based organizer and editorial content manager at Veggie Mijas. “We need to see how our food purchases, our food choices, impact other human beings.”
Workers at Amy’s Kitchen are primarily Spanish-speaking Latina women, which, Tolley points out, may add another layer to the dynamic between them and Amy’s management.
“Black and brown individuals who do work in factory farms, poultry farms, different food factories, they are disproportionately affected when it comes to policy and workplace safety, just because they’re so vulnerable,” Tolley says. “A lot of founders and CEOs take advantage of that. It’s very profit-over-people.”
Lauren Ornelas, founder and president of Food Empowerment Project, described the situation at Amy’s as disappointing and not what people would expect from the brand. The company often professes that its products are “made with love.”
“A lot of us are shocked and sad because I know for myself I’ve bought Amy’s products for decades and it’s hard to wrap our heads around the fact that the company is behaving this way,” Ornelas says. “As an individual who went vegan because I didn’t want to contribute to the suffering of non-human animals, I feel the same way about all of my food. I don’t just direct it towards non-human animals, I also include human animals.”
A representative for Amy’s Kitchen responded to the safety complaint and the call for a boycott in an email sent to Vegetarian Times this week.
“We reviewed the allegations within the Cal/OSHA complaint, which contains misstatements about the conditions and processes at Amy’s Kitchen,” the email reads. “Since then, we have completed a robust third-party audit that looked closely at our safety record, disability program, and employee experience. This included a three-day onsite audit, conversations with over 50 workers, and an extensive review of our safety record. The audit did not find that any of the allegations made were an accurate representation of our workplace.”
The representative asserts that the company has “invested significantly in new equipment, practices, and cultural changes to provide safe working conditions and reduce the risk of injury at work,” conducts regular safety checks, and has a “recordable rate” of safety issues that is lower than the industry average.
“We are disappointed the union is calling to boycott the very products that our employees cook with such care,” the email notes. “We value individual rights and freedoms. We believe it important that our leaders and employees have access to information and be fully informed about their personal rights and freedoms. We deeply respect our employees’ choices and their rights regarding union representation. [Amy’s Kitchen CEO Andy Berliner] would be happy to meet with any union representative once they earned the right to speak for our employees.”