No Evil Foods Union and PLAN Line 3
Union Busting At No Evil Foods
This week on The Final Straw, we’re presenting two conversations. The first was a chat with workers from the local, plant-based protein company ‘No Evil Foods’. The company has been getting flack for using social justice imagery while working to undermine unionization efforts at it’s factory here in Asheville, NC. The workers talk about strategies they took in organizing attempts and experiences they had with disinformation about collective bargaining from the management and the union-busting consultants in their employ. In order to protect the anonymity of the workers, we’ve replaced their voices with our own. See our show notes for a script of the chat.
Although not affiliated with the unionizing effort, the fedbook page for Asheville Solidarity Network hosts some of the flyers in support of workers unionizing No Evil Foods and Mission Hospital. It’s also acting as a hub for posts about mutual aid responses to the Covid-19 and the Corona virus crises in the Asheville Area. For more resources in different places around solidarity and mutual aid in this intense time, visit ItsGoingDown.org.
To see a few pictures of the propaganda distributed to No Evil Foods workers, check our show notes. Here are also a couple of links to flyers against the union busting found on social media (1, 2) as well as a post about a Zapatista school complaining of misrepresentation by No Evil Foods in their marketing and a collection of links including audio recorded from one of the forced anti-union meetings.
PLANning for Anti-Pipeline Action
After that, you’ll hear a conversation with Garrett, an anarchist involved in Pipeline Legal Action Network, based in so-called Minnesota. PLAN has recently published a legal workbook for people planning around resisting pipeline infrastructure expansion, in particular with the Line 3 pipeline. The guide also brings together a lot of other useful resources for any crew or affinity group and is available for free at PlanLine3.com alongside a lot of other material.
Share Your Words For Our 10 Year Anniversary Show
Basically, we’re opening up the lines to hear what you have to say to us. Send us a message about the show, any memories you have, what you’d like to see or how it has affected you. Instructions for signal voice messages, voicemails or sending us mp3’s can be found here.
New Free Community Meals in Asheville
On Sundays at 4pm near 644 Haywood, just around the corner from Firestorm Books, a project calling itself Hot Potatoes is offering free, hot meals from reclaimed and donated ingredients to the community as well as free produce when available.
Grand Jury Resistance
Grand Jury resistors Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond have been ordered released from the Arlington, VA jail where they’ve been held while refusing to participate in Federal Grand Juries concerning Wikileaks and the attempted extradition of Julian Assange. This came days after Chelsea self-harm or suicide in her cell under the stress of nearly a year in prison and after only about a year after being released from an military prison. Amazingly, although the government was imposing a fine of a thousand dollars for each day of her incarceration for refusal, within a few days of her release the fines a crowd source fundraiser paid off the remaining $267,000 in fees she was facing upon release. Jeremy Hammond, meanwhile, is being transferred back to Federal prison where he will resume the last few months of his incarceration. His time was put on hold during his resistance of the grand jury. More on his Jeremy’s case and how to write him a letter of support can be found at FreeJeremy.net and more about Chelsea is up at ReleaseChelsea.com.
Prisoner Corona Virus Hotline
Starting Monday, IWOC and Fight Toxic Prisons chapters will be opening a hotline that prisoners in the so-called US can call into to report outbreaks, denial of adequate medical care and other circumstances related to Corona Virus. To allow for the calls to be free for prisoners, fundraising is happening now. You can learn more at bit.ly/covid19prison
Update on Eric King
Anarchist and antifascist prisoner Eric King is fighting a possible 20 year charge added to his remaining time. In recent disclosures he talks about his targeting by prison staff at FCI Englewood, who threatened him and his family during visiting time, including consciously sitting his partner and their two kids near to the sex offenders during visitation, rather than in the separate family section. In his statement to the court, Eric says that when he attempted to use the prisons own complaint mechanisms he was further targeted for assault and harassment by staff, including continued harassment about his family, threats that fall under the protections afforded by the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) of 2003, interferences with his ability to communicate with his family and his lawyers, removal of his personal and legal items and more. You can read the whole thing up at SupportEricKing.org, where you can also find the fundraiser for his legal defense to fight this 20 year hit he might face. The fundraiser is also up at fundrazr.com/e1cKo1. You can also find our interview from last year with Eric at our website.
Month in solidarity with Bomani Shakur
Finally, for the month of April, 2020, the Revolutionary Abolitionist Movement and others will be trying to focus attention on the Lucasville Uprising death row case of Bomani Shakur, aka Keith Lamar. He’s been held for almost 18 years for charges related to the uprising and has been denied the ability to effectively challenge his death sentence even though the state recognizes that it withheld potentially exculpatory evidence in his initial conviction. You can learn more about his case and how to get involved in the month of action for Bomani at revolutionaryabolition.org , more about his case at KeithLamar.org and our past interview with Bomani at our website.
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Script of chat with workers at No Evil Foods
TFSR: Would you care to introduce yourselves for the purposes of this conversation and what your relationship with No Evil Foods in Asheville is?
No Evil Foods Workers: All of us work in the production area of No Evil Foods. This means that we are directly responsible for measuring and mixing the ingredients, running the mixes through the machines, cooking the mixes into the product, cooling the product, portioning the product, and boxing the product so it can be shipped out.
TFSR: Can you talk about the situation? What were the working conditions like at No Evil Foods when active talk of unionization started, how was response from workers?
No Evil Foods Workers: Active talk of unionization began at least as early as the summer of 2019. At that time, one of the shift supervisors on second shift was spearheading the campaign, and was very vocal and open about it. He had even apparently gone directly to management asking them to recognize the union. At that time, employees had no health care, and there was no shift differential for second shift. Those were two major concerns that were eventually addressed, but the biggest reason for desiring a union was simply for the production team to have a seat at the table when it came to future changes. The company is going through a huge growth period right now, and the production employees that make up the vast majority of the workforce are caught up in the undertow, so to speak. In response to the initial unionization campaign, management gave a speech about how they felt unions weren’t right for the company. Mere weeks later, they changed the production schedule from a four-day work week to a five-day work week with monthly mandatory Saturdays. Dozens of production team workers quit in response, and the unionization campaign seemed forgotten. However, reps from the union reached out to workers who had signed cards, and slowly we began to seek out more signatures and discuss the ongoing need for representation. The response from workers varied of course, but there was no hostile conversation about it among employees before the union busting tactics started. Some weren’t sure what a union actually did and the protection it offers. Others had only heard negative things. But the more it was discussed between production workers, the more we felt as though we had a decent chance of bringing everyone together for this cause. The open dialogue was almost always positive, and many employees were excited and curious about the possibility of being able to have a greater say in their working conditions, pay, benefits, etc.
TFSR: How did No Evil Foods respond to talk of workers organizing themselves or joining a union. Who did they hire to bust the effort and what has that looked like? What union were you working with?
No Evil Foods Workers: We really have no way to know for sure when management found out that we were attempting to unionize, but we have theorized that it was probably around December-January. It’s likely that their first attempt to deter a “need” for a union was to find out what we wanted and attempt to give it to us. In January, they gave night shift a pay differential, they made sure night shift was getting out on time and not staying late – as had been the trend. They even added an employee award program to give us each a free gift. This was the start of what would be a serious manipulation campaign.
When management was officially informed that we had filed with the NLRB, the first poster we were handed was about union cards. The word “dues” was mentioned nearly 10 times. “Union authorization cards are LEGAL documents” it reads. “Do not sign a union card unless you are willing to accept all the possible consequences of unionization…” (“Consequences of unionization”) “Union representatives are salesmen…” “Collective bargaining involves give and take, and is a risk…” Ironically, this flyer started out by assuring us that No Evil just wanted to give us all the “facts” to help us make an “informed” decision. This theme of wanting us to make an “informed” decision was a consistent talking point throughout the entire campaign, even though what they were actually doing was trying to drastically misinform us.
It didn’t stop there.
On top of the flyers, the main response by management was to bring us into captive audience meetings. These meetings were mandatory and involved each shift being corralled into dimly lit rooms and subjected to various power point presentations about unions. The topics varied, but the information was always slanted, with a lean towards either being anti-union or being neutral – never positive. One meeting went over the legalities of the union constitution, which felt like an attempt to just confuse everyone with an hour’s worth of legal lingo. Another meeting was about the UFCW and how much those at the top make. (Curiously, nothing was mentioned about how much those at the top of the No Evil food chain make.) Another meeting was all about collective bargaining. Demonstrating just how biased these meetings were, an employee at the collective bargaining meeting asked if there were any benefits and the speaker had nothing positive to say. The very last of these meetings was about the investors of No Evil and how the owners (Mike and Sadrah) “can’t control” what they might do in response to a union. This was the meeting that essentially scared the piss out of everyone, and many of us believe that this was the meeting that really tipped the scale. People walked out of that meeting truly fearing that they would lose their jobs and the warehouse might shut down if the majority of eligible voters voted ‘yes’.
Essentially, either by design or by coincidence, these meetings were all designed to play on very specific fears of the workers. Fears about sexual harassment and how the union might make it harder to get rid of stalkers. Fears about not understanding the union constitution and its legalities. Fears about collective bargaining. (“You may get more, you may get less.”) Fears about job security and how the warehouse might close down if we end up moving forward with unionizing because the investors might not like it.
To answer the question about who they hired, the lawyers names are Leigh E. Tyson and Jonathan Martin, both from the firm Constangy Brooks, Smith, and Prophete.
From their website:
“We can help you realistically assess the employee-relations atmosphere in your workplace environment. And we can help you build and foster the kind of workplace environment in which a union is irrelevant. We know it doesn’t always pay to be the proverbial bull in the china shop. Even as we advise management on union organizing drives and decertification efforts, we have maintained professional relationships with the unions. We are not known as “union busters” – nor do we want to be. The firm has particular strength in collective bargaining and negotiation experience. 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.”
They’re not “union busters” and yet coincidentally, they specialize in “union avoidance campaigns”.
To answer the other question about which union, it was the United Food and Commercial Worker’s Union, aka, the UFCW. This was Local 1208, based out of Tar Heel, NC.
TFSR: Can you talk about some of the rumors management and the lawyers have been fostering about unions, including the weaponizing of fears of sexual harassment at the workplace?
No Evil Foods Workers: One of the very first rumors was about drug testing – specifically, about the union coming in and drug testing everyone. No Evil does a fairly noble thing and hires felons. It also doesn’t drug test. So between those two things, the fact that a rumor was started about the union deciding to randomly drug test everyone (which would not happen unless we voted for it to happen or the company pushed for it to happen) could be a coincidence – or it could be evidence of management playing on the fears of its workers.
TFSR: So, management offered to get No Evil Foods living wage certified. What does that mean? How does that measure to the cost of living index for Asheville and is there a significant difference with what a union might help with?
No Evil Foods Workers: No Evil Foods is determined to be “living wage certified” by Just Economics (a regional membership organization based in Asheville that has a voluntary certification process to determine if an employer pays what is considered a “living wage” in the area). When you look into the requirements to be living wage certified according to Just Economics, it’s very interesting what that actually means. The way this is determined is through what’s called the “Universal Living Wage Formula”. To be brief, it is based on the idea that one employee, who works 40 hours a week, should not have to spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing. While No Evil Foods pays better than most places in the area, anyone who has or currently lives paycheck to paycheck can tell you that this formula does not account for utility bills, expensive emergencies, monthly payments for necessities like a car or phone, or childcare. It’s not to say that No Evil Foods isn’t taking a step in the right direction in this regard, but it would be naive to assume their “living wage certification” accurately reflects the living cost of their lowest paid employees.
A union could have drastically changed the lives of all Production workers at No Evil. The mere opportunity to get a say in wages and benefits is something that EVERY workplace should strive to achieve. While the idea of using a formula that assumes everyone fits into the same box when it comes to living expenses isn’t a bad place to start, no arbitrary certification program or employer knows what their paycheck to paycheck employees truly need to be paid in order to thrive in today’s economy.
TFSR: This push to counter or bust unionization among the workers at No Evil Foods seems to fly in the face of the ethical image they push as not only a producer of vegan, alternative proteins and their leftist imagery. How does that feel and how have you seen this conversation happening?
No Evil Foods Workers: Being vegan means something different to everyone, but at its core definition, it should be about maximum harm reduction to all living beings – animal or human. Even the No Evil Foods mission statement reads:
“No Evil exists to empower people to make positive changes for themselves, the environment, and the welfare of animals through awesome food. Do No Evil is the crux of what we do and the center from which all good emanates. We’re family founded, majority women-led, human centered, and purpose-powered, and we’re determined to bring people closer to the origins of their food while addressing issues like food insecurity, economic justice, and climate change. At The Axis, No Evil Foods’ homebase, we cut through the noise, speak our truth, and attempt to change the world one bite at a time.”
Empowering people should include empowering their workers – and empowering their workers should be about more than monthly team meetings and a suggestion box where we leave mere suggestions. The truest way they can live up to their mission statement (and it’s still not too late to do the right thing) would be to empower their workers and allow them to unionize. It would mean allowing their workers to have a collective voice in day-to-day decisions. Back that mission statement up with radical actions to prove it.
No Evil Foods Workers: A common business model in Asheville these days, at least among breweries, seems to be to build a brand and sell it off to a bigger company once it’s out of debt and expanded. There’s been speculation about why the ownership / management might push so hard back on attempts to structurally raise standards for the workers at No Evil Foods because of a fear of spooking the investors. Speculating, does that seem like a possibility in this case and how would leveraging for working conditions differ between a locally owned versus larger employer?
A: It’s absolutely a possibility. Leveraging with employers whether they be a small, family owned company or a massive corporation will never be a simple task if the position of management is to put the bottom line above all else. Historically though, large corporations are notorious advocates for nothing but profit at the expense of their employees. Having a solidified contract in place at this stage would protect us from this if in fact this is their plan for the future. It’s worth noting that at one of the captive audience meetings we were told by Mike (one of the two owners):
“It’s a very real risk that having a union at No Evil Foods would greatly impact our ability to continue raising capital, which risks the survival of our business. To be frank, I had one of our current investors say this week, ‘I’ve seen hundreds of companies come across my desk, and I have never seen an investment in a unionized startup, especially not at this stage. If I was looking at this business for the first time, I would run the other way.'”
Why did he say this? Because if this speculation about the inevitable selling of No Evil Foods is true – if a large corporation were to buy them out – this large corporation would have to listen to it’s employees who already have a solidified contract of employment that directly benefits the workers.
TFSR: Word on the street is that workers are talking union at the local healthcare system called Mission, which is a huge employer around here and was recently purchased. What would you say to your coworkers at No Evil Foods or workers at Mission or elsewhere who might be considering a struggle for a workplace union?
No Evil Foods Workers: Do a Google search for the Union Busting Playbook and inoculate your coworkers to the tactics and talking points that they will inevitably be subjected to. Maintain solidarity with your coworkers and constantly find new ways to draw more people into the “organizing committee” – or the primary core of people responsible for the drive. Organize casual get-togethers outside of work. Strong bonds between workers are the best defense against any nonsense management decides to pull. Be resilient, be calm, and do your research. Know the ins-and-outs of the union and be able to answer questions people will inevitably have. Be ready to be yelled at. Be ready to be threatened. Be ready to be manipulated and gaslit. There is no bar too low that management won’t stoop to in order to get people to turn away from unionization, as many of us found out. Communicate to coworkers that your struggle to organize your workplace has far reaching effects for workers in the region. You aren’t just empowering yourself, you are taking part in a historical struggle that’s been waged for years; you’re fighting for our collective future.
And one more piece of advice to current/future organizers: Record your captive audience meetings!!!
It’s a safeguard, and exposing these union busters and showing the public how all of these talking points and strategies are the same in so many ways is incredibly important.
TFSR: Will you continue working and struggling at No Evil Foods even after this vote against a union? Why?
No Evil Food Workers: We said this many times during the campaign, but this is not the worst job we’ve had. There are some really awful places out there to work and while this one definitely has its problems, it’s not among the worst. Unfortunately, this was often used against us as an argument by management – i.e., “Even union organizers have said themselves that this isn’t a bad place to work, so why do we need a union?” They didn’t really understand why we wanted a union. North Carolina being Right to Work was one of them. (In the month since the election concluded, four people were fired.) It’s also fair to say that about 98% of production workers haven’t been there for more than a year, a telltale sign of a company where job security isn’t really something prominent. On top of that, management often makes decisions rather willy-nilly; the top-down approach creates a lot of problems. Yes, there are ways for us to “suggest” different ways of doing things, but suggestions are suggestions, and management always has the option to ignore us. Collective bargaining would have given us a voice that couldn’t be ignored, and management proved by hiring “union avoidance consultants” that they’re not really interested in taking what we have to say seriously.
So to answer the question, yes, I think a lot of us will stay there and continue fighting for this. But I also think that for many of us (including some “no” votes who are slowly coming around and realizing they were misled) there’s not a day we walk into work and don’t expect to be fired for something trivial.
Management has fallen back into the same patterns that brought the union in to begin with. The firings only prove that we don’t have job security. The random, day-to-day changes in new policies and procedures only prove that we need collective bargaining and ultimately a union.
For a company that markets itself like No Evil Foods does, union busting shouldn’t be the kind of problem that it was during our campaign. Either the company takes off the mask and stops pretending to be revolutionaries who care about their workers, or they step up, do the right thing, and help their workers form a union.