The Troubling Claims Amy's Kitchen Workers Are Making

In 2020, Food Business News categorized the privately-owned Amy's Kitchen as a "titan of the natural food industry." Founded in 1987 by Andy and Rachel Berliner, Amy's is known for its canned and frozen foods including pizzas, bowls, soups, and burritos, mostly said to be crafted by hand, and at manufacturing facilities which the company itself compares to "a big restaurant kitchen, with bigger pots."

The coronavirus pandemic appeared to be very good for Amy's, which Food Business News says had reported sales of $600 million annually until COVID-19 came along. Its chief customer and consumer officer Karen Jobb told Food Navigator-USA in 2021, "[the company has] explosive, unprecedented growth; we're talking in the hundreds of millions in terms of growth that was realized but also hundreds of millions of what could have been, so it's also been the year of what could have been. But in 2022, we are poised for significant growth."

Amy' Kitchen workers were told they were like family

At least to outsiders, the brand appeared to see itself as being more than just another food processing company. As Andy Berliner told Food Business News, "Our secret sauce, so to speak, is to do something old-fashioned, which is to make food just the way you make it in your home, and do it in large quantities." That approach was also made clear to workers who were looking to join the company. Workers like Ruby Luna told Eater, "They [management] said, 'We are like family here,' and when they said that, they made me feel like I was going to be part of a family work environment."

But the illusion was shattered for Luna not long after she joined the production facility in San Jose, California, where she saw the supervisor acting strange. "He hangs around with all the younger girls in the group," she said, adding that the supervisor often had his hands in his pockets. "It just kind of looked like inappropriate behavior," Luna says, while another worker claimed it was clear he was touching himself.

Amy's Kitchen has been accused of workplace violations

Eater says it conducted interviews with six workers from the same plant, all of whom reported what was described as a "pattern of sexually inappropriate behavior" which they purport HR didn't address. And that wasn't all — NBC News says workers at Amy's plants in San Jose, and at its sister production facility in Santa Rosa had claimed that their working conditions were unsafe, they were given what they categorized as "unsafe production quotas" and were vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries. Other accusations leveled against Amy's and its production line practices include the fact that workers were not only denied bathroom breaks, and that they didn't have access to drinking water.

It wouldn't be the first time that Amy's Kitchen would be in the spotlight for safety violations. Earlier this month, KQED reported that a worker complaint in Santa Rosa led to investigations that ultimately saw the company pay out a $25,000 fine for no less than 13 health and safety violations. Retired inspector Garrett Brown had said, "The fact that there were no reported worker injuries from these safety hazards at the time of the inspection indicates the employer was lucky, not safe."

Amy's Kitchen is being accused of union busting

The workers were in the midst of trying to unionize when Amy's Kitchen decided it would close down its San Jose plant, which it had opened to deal with pandemic-driven customer demand. The shutdown may be set to take place in September, but positions were being terminated much earlier than that. Per NBC News, a letter to workers said, "We regret to inform you that your position will be eliminated on September 16, 2022, however you are being relieved of your duties effective July 19, 2022." The closure came after claims that the company fired workers who tried organizing a union.

In response to the allegations, Amy's Kitchen told Bon Appétit that the company plans to have its HR department and procedures evaluated by an outside firm. "While we believe our processes have been followed, the allegations that have been raised are deeply concerning and do not reflect the safe, supportive work environment we intend to create." Management also denies the San Jose plant's closure has anything to do with union busting. "While Amy's Kitchen's three other food processing facilities have been able to meet production and revenue goals, the San Jose plant was losing $1 million per month, which could not be offset by the company's other facilities. We therefore made the difficult decision to cease operations at our San Jose food processing facility."