For immediate release
September 23, 2021
Tiffany Ten Eyck
HelloFresh workers seek to unionize after injuries and COVID-19 outbreak
With celebrity spokespeople like Mindy Kaling and Antoni Porowski of Queer Eye promoting its products and demand soaring during the pandemic, workers say success of America’s #1 meal kit company came at the expense of its workforce
New York, NY—Suffering preventable injuries and a massive COVID-19 outbreak, workers at German meal kit company HelloFresh are seeking unionization with UNITE HERE at two of its US factories. HelloFresh is the most popular meal kit company in the United States and raked in billions in revenues as demand for the meal kits soared when grocery stores shelves were empty and lockdown orders were issued.
While HelloFresh profited from the pandemic, workers say management did not do enough to ensure the safety of the workers who prep, kit, and box the meals for shipment. In June of this year, a pallet fell from a high shelf in the Aurora, Colorado facility on top of four workers, two of whom were seriously injured. “HelloFresh should be doing more to guarantee our safety and make sure our bodies don’t break down with the doubled demand,” said Mary Williams, an assembly line worker in Aurora. “We are not robots; we are human beings.”
The HelloFresh factory was site of the largest COVID-19 outbreak in Contra Costa county in 2020, with 171 documented cases and one death. “I got COVID while I was only going from work to home and home to work. I passed the virus to my son, and it was very difficult and scary for my family,” said Lily Vasquez, a kitting line employee in Richmond who contracted COVID after the large outbreak. “I have pain in my shoulders, my neck and my back and it never gets better because of the repetitive motions we do. My coworkers and I switch positions as often as we can to try to make the pain better, but it never gets better. I worry about tripping and falling on discarded plastic and pallets. Every day I leave for work I wonder if I’ll leave in my car or by an ambulance.”
In a UNITE HERE survey involving 329 of the approximately 1250 workers at the Richmond and Aurora facilities, 33% reported being injured at work, while 28% reported contracting COVID in the last year. 81% of workers surveyed reported being worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage in last year and 43% of workers surveyed reported experiencing hunger in the past year because they did not have enough money to pay for food.
Demand for HelloFresh meal kits doubled in 2020, climbing to 278 million meals sold as workers raced to keep up. The company took in 4.2 billion dollars globally, with more than half of that coming for U.S. sales. “HelloFresh workers are doing the back breaking work getting meals prepped and boxes out in US factories while the company profited enormously from the crisis. HelloFresh does not seem to value workers as a key part of the enterprise and it’s clear to me that HelloFresh workers need and want a union. We expect HelloFresh to live up to its stated values and step aside so workers can exercise their right to organize,” said D Taylor, International President of UNITE HERE. “We expect HelloFresh’s customer base to come out on the side of the workers, and together we’ll make history in this booming part of our new economy.”
Workers in both facilities have petitioned the NLRB for union elections and have let management know of their intent to unionize.