Aurora-based employees of German meal kit company HelloFresh will begin voting later this month on whether to unionize, according to an election agreement the National Labor Relations Board approved on Monday.
Workers say the effort is in response to lax safety conditions and low pay.
All full-time and part-time production, maintenance and warehouse staff are eligible to vote starting Oct. 28, as long as they were employed prior to Sept. 26. Workers at the company’s facility in Richmond, Calif. will also participate.
It’s the first time HelloFresh’s U.S. workers have attempted to unionize, and it could be a milestone moment for the meal kit industry.
Since launching in Germany in 2011, HelloFresh has grown into the world's largest meal kit delivery company. The company brands itself as being focused on shipping “wholesome, homemade meals” to customers' doorsteps without the hassle of shopping. It now employs more than 15,000 people, including roughly 400 workers at its Aurora facility.
The company has packaged and distributed more than 600 million meals to customers around the world during the pandemic.
But that success has come at the expense of worker safety, said Kevin Abels, chapter president of Unite Here Local 23. The union is helping HelloFresh workers organize.
A recent survey of 329 workers showed about 33 percent of employees at the Aurora and Richmond facilities reported being injured at work in the last year, according to Unite Here.
About 80 percent said they worried about being able to pay their rent or mortgage. The survey also found 28 percent of employees contracted COVID-19 at least once.
“In addition to the COVID outbreak, there was a very serious accident in the warehouse that injured four workers, two of them very seriously,” Abels said. “I think that made it very clear to workers just how unsafe these jobs are.”
HelloFresh says it won’t interfere with the election process and that each employee has a right to choose or refuse union membership.
“Our employees are critical to everything we do, and we prioritize their health, safety and wellbeing above all else,” said Saskia Leisewitz, HelloFresh’s global communications director.
The unionization push has caught the attention of local politicians. Democratic Rep. Jason Crow and Adams County Commissioner Emma Pinter participated in a virtual town hall last month in support of the effort.
About 7.4 percent of all workers in Colorado belong to a union, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number was on the rise until last year, when Colorado lost hundreds of thousands of jobs due to the pandemic.
The upcoming HelloFresh election will take place by mail only. Workers will have until Nov. 22 to cast their votes.
An in-person rally is scheduled for Oct. 10 in Aurora.
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