Guest statements

Workers at ‘No Evil Foods’ on conditions during COVID-19 pandemic

The following is statement from the workers at No Evil Foods in Weaverville, NC on the conditions at the workplace and their demands during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With owners calling themselves “revolutionary leaders” who sell vegan meat products with names like “Comrade Cluck,” No Evil Foods has publicly created an image of being an ally to socialists, leftists, and workers around the country.

Unfortunately, as workers of No Evil Foods, we can tell you that the actions of this company suggest otherwise.

This became most abundantly clear in February of this year when our “revolutionary leaders” found out that we were attempting to unionize. With the assistance of two well-paid “union avoidance consultants” hired from the firm Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, we were subjected to a string of manipulative anti-union “captive audience” meetings where we were fed misinformation and exaggerations about the “risks” of organizing. These meetings were mandatory, they were hostile, they were biased, and they were effective; the results of the union election saw a majority of our co-workers vote down the union, fully convinced that they were better off trusting management over a “third party” union.

But that trust was clearly misplaced, evident by the actions of No Evil surrounding the recent coronavirus outbreak.

We voiced our concerns repeatedly in the weeks since the outbreak started and were met with a mostly indifferent or actually hostile attitude. We were told to wash our hands more. We were reassured that common areas would be sanitized more frequently. But as the number of infected continued rising, so did our concerns. With over 60 of us working together between two shifts in a confined production area, we knew that proper handwashing and increased sanitizing of surfaces wouldn’t be enough.

Screenshot of No Evil separation agreement. Shared by a No Evil worker.
Screenshot of No Evil separation agreement. Shared by a No Evil worker.

Finally, management concocted a response to our worries: an ultimatum and 24 hours to make a decision. We could continue working for No Evil Foods and get a temporary $1.50 raise after 90 days of perfect attendance, we could quit with the option to possibly return at a later date, or we could quit with a severance package of 3-weeks pay (after signing a gag order) with no option to ever return.

Here we have the “revolutionary” leaders telling their employees that if they don’t feel comfortable working in close quarters for 40 hours a week during a global pandemic, they can quit with a severance package that will certainly not cover the amount of time it will take to find work given the economic fallout of this crisis. Here we have our “revolutionary” leaders openly discriminating against those with pre-existing medical conditions or weakened immune systems. Here we have our “revolutionary” leaders invalidating the concerns of those with anxiety, those who are pregnant, those living with someone that may be pregnant, or those living with the elderly. Here we have our “revolutionary” leaders giving no concern to those who would – for whatever reason – simply prefer to not get sick.

Those who decided to stay with the company continue to be at risk.

Last week, we all received a company-wide email telling us that our monthly team meetings were canceled to avoid the risk of having us congregating in one space. Being together for a meeting is too dangerous, but having us all together in a warehouse for 40 hours a week is somehow safe?

Not only do we lack an adequate supply of face masks, but as we learned this weekend, coronavirus can apparently live up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel – three things we interact with on a routine basis. The nature of working with machines often requires us to be in close proximity with one another and the idea that we can maintain a safe distance apart to avoid the risk of exposure is a fantasy, as it would just take one person with the virus to enter our small, enclosed production area. This person might not even show symptoms for days and by the time it was realized they were sick, it would be too late. In fact, one of our fellow employees is already under investigation for possibly having the virus – something that management has not been transparent with us about.

Meanwhile, “non-essential” office staff were afforded the luxury of working safely from home.

On social media, management has insisted that they are staying open because they were mandated by the government: “The food industry has been deemed critical during this pandemic, and Homeland Security has requested that we continue to operate and contribute to the national food supply.” But the idea that Homeland Security “requested” they continue operations is a bit of an overstatement. The memo they’re referring to from the Department of Homeland Security even makes it clear that it is a suggestion, not a mandate: “It is not, nor should it be considered to be, a federal directive or standard in and of itself.” Moreover, the idea that a novelty food item – one that is perishable and wouldn’t survive a sustained power outage – is an “essential” food item worth putting employees and the local community at risk, is absurd.

If management is truly concerned with feeding the public, why not cut prices in half to make it more accessible?

Management also claimed on social media that they can’t afford to pay employees to stay home and quarantine. If this is true, then where did the money come from to pay the “union avoidance consultants” from Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete? The Economic Policy Institute estimates that these consultants cost around $2,500 daily; imagine if that money was available at a time like this to take care of workers and their families.

We have been reassured that management is working on ways to separate us to maximize social distancing, but again, our production facility is enclosed and figuring out how to minimize possible exposure shouldn’t be the question so much as figuring out ways to completely eliminate it. Eliminating the risk of exposure requires quarantining, and that’s something No Evil Foods isn’t willing to allow its employees to do. Instead, it would rather gamble on their lives and the lives of their families for the sake of profit. It may even be putting its customers at risk given the ever-evolving understanding of coronavirus and how it spreads.

Between the union-busting ordeal and now the response by No Evil Foods to the coronavirus outbreak, the image of this company as being on the side of workers barely survives the light of day. No Evil Foods paid union busters to destroy our organizing efforts, and then a month later has refused to temporarily shut down and show loyalty and care for the backbone of its company by paying us to stay safe and quarantine. The owners have revealed themselves to be callous pseudo-revolutionaries masquerading as allies to the working class who are more than willing to put the lives of their workers, their families and the greater Asheville community at risk for the sake of the bottom line.

This is the behavior of cutthroat, right-wing capitalists, not “revolutionary” leaders. And this is certainly not the behavior one would expect from a company calling itself “No Evil” Foods.

In the midst of a pandemic, the best our government and employers can do is stoke fear, uncertainty, and division while squabbling over the bottom line.

The best we can do is show solidarity, speak up and make our demands known: Free healthcare for ALL! Unemployment benefits at 100 percent for ALL! End all layoffs, deportations, evictions and foreclosures!

Signed,
The essential workers @ NEF

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