Earlier this year, the company No Evil Foods, which sells a variety of socialist-themed vegan meats, fought a union drive at its Weaverville, North Carolina plant that included numerous “captive audience” meetings where management told workers to vote against a union.
Motherboard obtained a 23 minute video of No Evil Food’s CEO and co-founder Mike Woliansky repeatedly imploring workers to vote “no” in the union election, and telling workers that a union could hamper the company’s ability to “save lives” and “change the world.”
In his speech, Woliansky compared joining the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union, which represents tens of thousands of meatpacking workers in the US to “hitching your wagon to a huge organization with high paid executives and a history of scandal and supporting slaughterhouses,” he said. “I don’t think that’s an organization you want to support with your dues money.”
No Evil Foods brands itself with a socialist messaging and sells $8 packages of vegan products with leftist names like “Comrade Cluck” (a chicken substitute seasoned with garlic and onion), and “El Zapatista” (a mock chorizo), a reference to Mexico’s anti-capitalist indigenous movement. It sells its product at 5,500 stores nationwide, and, in online listings for jobs in its Weaverville production facility, the company says “we do good no evil. We care about doing good through the products we make.”
In recent weeks, the company fired several workers who led the union drive at its manufacturing plant (known as “the Axis”), according to a report in the Appeal. Four employees told Motherboard that the company has fired five workers active in labor organizing since April.
“I sincerely believe that right now a union would be a terrible thing for you and for No Evil Foods,” Woliansky told workers at the mandatory meeting in January. “A union contact would only serve to lessen our impact at a time when it’s so important in the world…If there’s an election here, I ask you to vote ‘no’ on a union.”
After a series of mandatory meetings led by management, workers voted against joining the UFCW in February in a landslide 43-15 vote.
Five current and former workers told Motherboard that these meetings created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and ultimately were devastating to the union drive.
“The employees voted the union down by close to 70 percent in a fair and free election,” Charlie Stone, a spokesperson for the company told Motherboard. “The employees did this because they trust the vegan founders, who provide a progressive culture, verified living wages, excellent benefits and a mission to provide consumers with plant-based options to improve their health and help end corporate cruelty to animals.”
In his speech, Woliansky appears to choke up before telling workers that he and his wife borrowed money against their house and possessions to purchase processing equipment that workers use to make vegan products. Addressing the audience, he says that at the company’s founding, he and his wife “doing pretty much the exact same jobs you’re doing now, or they were even more labor intensive.”
“Just when we filed for our election, they ramped up their [anti-union] meetings,” a former No Evil Foods worker who quit in March told Motherboard. “They told us we’d have to negotiate with shareholders instead of them and made emotional appeals to us like ‘we have our house in this.’ Hey, I would love to be able to afford a house that I’d be able to risk to start a business.”
So-called “captive audience meetings” are compulsory gatherings of workers where management or hired consultants try to persuade workers that unionization is bad for a company. It’s unfortunately common for progressive employers to hold such meetings; management at the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery, and the media network The Young Turks are a few recent offenders. And the message conveyed during these gatherings is often the same: Voting to unionize is your choice, but it would damage your relationship with management and strip away your rights at work.
The hypocrisy of capitalizing on socialist messaging while using anti-union speeches to defeat a union drive was not lost on workers.
“We are not a bunch of whiny kids who would complain at any job,” a former no No Evil Foods worker who was fired in May, told Motherboard. “Personally I wouldn’t be speaking out to the media if this was a company that didn’t use socialism for its marketing. It’s the fact these people are liars.”
“In my first few months, I thought this company was great. The $13.65 I made was the highest I’d ever been paid in my life,” a former No Evil Foods worker who was involved in the union drive and quit in March, told Motherboard. “But then they started making changes that impacted people with second jobs, and their response was just so starkly like ‘we don’t give a shit.’ I realized that their socialist messaging is all branding and tricking the consumer into making them feel like they have a consciousness.”
Woliansky and his partner and co-owner Sadrah Schadel founded the company in 2014 in their home kitchen. But the company has received an infusion of cash from Blue Horizon Ventures, which invests in Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Schadel said in an article published in February that the company was “fastest growing meat alternative brand in conventional stores,” days after she told workers in a mandatory meeting that a union raised “red flags” and would “add bureaucracy and cost.”
In another anti-union speech from early this year, reviewed by Motherboard, Schadel implied that a union would not be able to handle sexual harassment complaints and might even reinstate harassers, making “things pretty uncomfortable for victims in the [union’s] membership.”
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Two of the five recently fired workers who were involved in organizing at No Evil Foods have filed unfair labor practice complaints with the National Labor Review Board (NLRB), alleging retaliatory firing.
“I have no doubt that we were targeted for union organizing,” Cortne Roche, one of the fired workers and a leader of the union campaign, told Motherboard. Roche says she was fired in late April over the length of pants she had worn for weeks without any complaints. “I’ve worked at other places that branded themselves progressive and this doesn’t surprise me.”
“No Evil Foods absolutely did not terminate any employees in response to union-related or other protected activities,” Charlie Stone, a spokesperson for No Evil Foods, told Motherboard.
Stone said the company would not discuss specifics of the firings.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.