Editor’s Note: As of this publishing, the number of workers laid off has risen from 3 to 4.
A small vegan “meat” company in Asheville, NC serves up an excellent example of Orwellian new-speak, calling itself No Evil Foods while taking arguably evil actions against its own workers. This included drop of the hat shift changes, regular policy changes, and once a union drive became public, mandatory high stress, “captive-audience”, anti-union meetings.
No Evil Foods is known for its marketing as a “radical” and “revolutionary” company that stole the “do no evil” mission statement made famous by Google, using imagery such as Comrade Cluck to sell their plant-based “chicken” and El Zapatista as the name for their “chorizo”.
From their website, the No Evil Foods mission statement explains: “Sure, No Evil Foods is hellbent on creating delicious Plant Meats. But our intention to ‘Do No Evil’ extends beyond the kitchen to actually doing good every day. When we started No Evil Foods, it wasn’t because we wanted to sell something, it was because we wanted to DO something. So, we put our money where our mouth is. We support humans every step of the way.”
If that statement is true, it apparently doesn’t extend to those humans who work for No Evil Foods.
As news passed around social media about the union busting efforts of No Evil Foods, a Twitter battle ensued with the group Schools for Chiapas, direct supporters of the actual revolutionary Zapatistas. Upon learning that this company co-opted their pro-worker, anti-capitalist cause to sell sausage, the Schools for Chiapas organization publicly disavowed any connection to No Evil Foods.
“We do not condone the exploitation of the Zapatista cause for marketing,” a Tweet from @ChiapasSchools said, “and were unaware that we had been listed as allies.”
We can assume that the same won’t occur with Google, who surely has a similar interpretation of “do no evil” that No Evil Foods do.
So how did capital turn this six-year-old, self-proclaimed lefty company into the enemy of the working class? Multiple workers reached out to the IWW to discuss the situation, all asking to remain anonymous under fear of losing their jobs; ahead of either another union push or finding other employment. According to one of those workers, the disrespect had been a growing issue but really took off when Blue Horizon Venture Capital Group, along with other private equity groups, invested in No Evil Foods.
“The thing is that I really like the company for the most part. I’m proud of what we produce, and I know there are much worse places to work,” the first worker interviewed stated. “I believe in the intersectionality of veganism and human rights, and worker rights. I thought this company did too. I want a union to protect all those good things, and seeing how [management] reacted, I feel like I need a union to just protect my job.”
A second worker agreed, saying, “I’ve been vegetarian for a decade and vegan more recently and when I saw this pop up and wanted to be a part of it because I’m passionate about animal and social justice. If there had been any company I’d work for, who I thought would be union busting, this would have been the last one I’d have guessed. I didn’t sign up to be dealing with this kind of treatment.”
Yet another of the workers explained that they’d worked in the actual meatpacking industry in the past, regretfully, and were really excited to work for what they believed was an ethical company trying to do the right thing.
“I mean, I know that there’s no truly ethical capitalist company, but at least it didn’t feel like I was part of the problem like if I were working for Walmart or Whole Foods or something,” the worker said.
“This is not a horrible company to work for, I do like it here and there are a lot of things to really love about this company, but now we know that everything can change the next day,” the first worker added. “So, if you like the work and the organization why not put it in a contract.”
The financial investment lead to an exponential increase in product distribution and thus higher demand on the production line workers. The company chose not to increase the number of workers or invest in higher capacity equipment–which were two of the main causes that sparked the union drive in the first place. Instead, one of the first changes put in force by No Evil Foods under these new investors was to implement a shift change, which forced out many long-term employees.
For years No Evil Foods had operated a Monday through Thursday, nine-hour day, production schedule. Many employees had specifically taken their positions with the company because of this. They were instead given one month’s notice of the change, one worker commenting that wasn’t nearly enough time to adjust arrangements. According to one of the workers interviewed for this article, a long-time employee relied upon this schedule to facilitate taking their spouse to cancer treatments every Friday.
“They had to drive their spouse an hour or so away to Greenville for the treatments, and when they changed the schedule it was done immediately, like one week it was a four-day schedule and then quickly went to a five the next week,” explained this worker. “The production manager just replied that they [management] know the schedule won’t work for everyone; like anyone was being given a choice or even a chance to change plans.
“I hadn’t been with the company very long when this happened and really would’ve expected that this should have been something they would have mentioned when I interviewed, but nope, they didn’t say anything.”
Another worker stated that day to day operations and policies have been unevenly enforced or change daily. “Management plays approachable, but ultimately are passive aggressive, dismissive, or arrogant,” they said.
“The mere threat of workers organizing caused management to concede some demands. Wages were raised to the bare minimum ‘living wage’ in Buncombe County. Workers continued to organize though, unsatisfied with the favoritism, lack of communication from management, feet dragging on improving workplace conditions, and general disempowerment.”
All of the workers interviewed explained that the equipment being used was fine for the small production runs the company used to have but kept breaking under the strain of the increased demand.
“One machine was spitting out this black goo all over the product and the production supervisor told us just to ignore it, not to worry about it,” the worker said. “I want to put out a product I feel good about, not this. So, having broken equipment is a problem, obviously, and it adds to our stress of getting production out.” (Editor’s Update: As of this writing, the black goo machine is still in operation though working on being phased out, but they have hired more people and been investing in new machines.)
After a worker tipped off management to the union drive, the company focused all available resources on union busting, including hiring Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, a labor relations firm who claim not to be union busters even though they offer nothing to suggest that they have ever encouraged a union being implemented. According to the firm’s website, “We know it doesn’t always pay to be the proverbial bull in the china shop … We are not known as ‘union busters’ – nor do we want to be … We take pride in knowing the subtle differences, like when to be tough – and we can be extremely tough – and knowing when a non-adversarial approach is in the best interests of clients.”
The tip-off gave management several weeks’ notice that they would not have had otherwise. Up until then, according to everyone interviewed for this story, the vote appeared to be in the bag for the workers to unionize.
In audio recordings leaked to the IWW from the captive-audience meetings, management speaks specifically to the worker concerns that lead to the union drive decision. Of course, instead of remaining neutral about a union, or further attempting appeasement, management told the workers: “Unemployment is only at three percent, so if you aren’t happy working here you can easily go work someplace else.”
Throughout, No Evil Foods continued to suggest that they care about their workers and that is why they want them to have, “all the facts”, even though they only presented anti-union materials to the workers and destroyed pro-union fliers and handouts.
“During the meetings, Becky [the Plant Manager] would often provide her opinion even saying, ‘in my opinion’, even though they kept telling us that we’re only hearing fact-based information,” a worker stated. “We heard time and again pro-union workers being sworn at and talked over by management during the meetings, and then management would say those of us asking questions were the ones being hostile.”
No Evil Foods proclaims on their website that: “Creating awesome Plant Meat demands a human touch, so we begin by creating an environment that supports health in all forms. Because let’s be real, work is where the majority of us spend the bulk of our lives and it shouldn’t suck.”
However, actions speak louder than words, and according to everyone interviewed No Evil Foods was acting in an incredibly unhealthy way.
“These meetings were held in this tiny room that couldn’t have been rated for as many of us as they crammed in there. For that matter, management still hasn’t even provided a fire escape plan to us,” explained another worker. “One person even had a panic attack, but management wouldn’t let him sit out the meeting without getting a doctor’s note. They belittled anyone who asked questions about the information they were providing, it was abusive.”
For all of the mandatory meetings full of anti-union rhetoric, shaming of pro-union workers, and destruction of pro-union handouts; somehow, management at No Evil Foods continued to have the gall to put up fliers around the facility claiming that they will not use “high-pressure tactics”, or “discriminate” and “retaliate” against pro-union workers, and that workers are “free to express” their own thoughts about unionization.
Listening to the audio of these captive-audience meetings is like taking a refresher course from the IWW Organizer Training 101 about inoculation. There is talk from management about how this isn’t really a company so much as it is a family, about how the union can’t promise anything to the workers except that they’ll take their dues, about how much freedom each worker will lose by being under the thumb of a union, and so on and so forth.
“Throughout the six or seven hours that we were stuck in these meetings there was almost nothing factual put forward, even though they kept telling us it was all facts,” one worker said. “The whole thing was just emotionally manipulative and threatening. It obviously worked though because all the way up to the last of these meetings, which took place just before the vote, we’d been keeping a tally of who was pro-union and who wasn’t. We thought we’d only lost three of four people up until then, but the final tally was a blowout.”
The vote for unionizing failed drastically by a margin of 15 to 43; leaving organizers stunned and vulnerable to retaliation from management. During the two weeks following the vote, three workers have been fired for trumped-up causes.
“Once [management] got the election results they immediately fostered the environment of pushing out the remaining pro-union people. One person was fired just because he was calling out issues with broken equipment,” explained one worker. “We’re all just trying to watch our backs right now. It seems like the only thing they care about is their investors.”
In one of the last audio clips, the CEO, Mike Woliansky, tells the workers that if they unionize the investors might pull out and cause layoffs. Additionally, as a final push for “no” votes, some workers reported that management was suggesting that unionizing would somehow harm their kids – managements’ kids – they certainly weren’t talking about the workers’ kids or families.
For the workers interviewed, this is not the end. They have all stated that they are now more committed than ever to fight for their right to organize, whether at No Evil Foods or elsewhere. The workers say there were many lessons learned, and if nothing directly comes of this organizing effort, hopefully, other workers can learn from them.
“Definitely make sure you have constant communication between all the shift teams and keep it tight, you don’t want to let it slip that you’re organizing until the last minute,” one of the workers advised. “If you have lower to mid-management types working closely with your production crew try and get them on your side so that you have someone on the inside letting you know [management’s] tactics. Solidarity with your coworkers is really important, my shift had a lot less union-friendly people and I really counted on the few workers I could trust to be there as the pressure increased.”
Another worker hopes to get across the point that everything they were told in the captive-audience meetings may sound specific to No Evil Foods but are really just formulaic arguments that all union busting firms utilize.
“There’s another union drive going on right now [locally] and the workers I’ve talked to are hearing all the same arguments that we heard, just slightly changed to fit their bosses,” the worker said. “I hope that the next time we do a union drive we are better prepared for these meetings and we are on the offense instead of the defense.”
If you’d like to let No Evil Foods know how you feel about their union busting tactics and use of leftist iconography and terminology to capitalize on product sales, you can find them at noevilfoods.com and across the various social media platforms.
Editor’s note: We are looking for help creating an annotated transcription of the union busting meeting. You can find it on Soundcloud here.