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Sonoma County-based Amy’s Kitchen seeks to defuse backlash over reported claims of injured workers

The Sonoma County natural food company sought to defuse backlash Monday over a NBC News report about alleged mistreatment of injured workers at its food production sites.|

The owners of Sonoma County-based Amy’s Kitchen vowed Monday to turn critical “feedback into action” in the wake of a news report describing claims by five current and former employees who say the natural food company mistreated injured workers.

In a statement released Monday afternoon, Chief Executive Officer Andy Berliner said a core value of the company he and his wife launched 35 years ago was creating a workplace where people took care of one another ― caring for “the whole person.”

But in a NBC News story published Monday, four current employees and one former worker, all women, say the company failed to adequately accommodate their needs after they were injured on the job, including those who say they were pressured to stay on the production line despite serious medical problems.

“This report does not reflect who we are as a company and the values we uphold,” Berliner’s statement said. “When Rachel and I started Amy’s, we worked alongside our employees on the line and committed to them that Amy’s would always be a compassionate, people-first workplace. We want all Amy’s employees to feel like they are being taken care of, and we are deeply saddened to hear about the experiences these five employees have described.”

BerlinerStatement.pdf

Neither he nor the company’s personnel chief, Mike Resch, would address the accuracy of the specific claims the five women took to NBC nor whether they had tried to bring their complaints to top officials at Amy’s.

“It would be tempting for a company to do,” Resch said, “but it’s just not appropriate.”

The women described various injuries — most or all work related, and most affecting their hands and arms — that they said made it difficult or impossible to perform their usual duties, particularly amid increased production expectations. They said the company did not adapt to their needs or shifted them to other jobs that aggravated existing concerns.

One employee claimed she was told to remove an arm brace she had received for repetitive stress in her hand and was ordered to work without it. Another employee who had had cancer said she struggled to get compliance with a doctor’s request she be allowed to work in a chair.

Some also were sent to keep the employee cafeteria disinfected during the COVID pandemic, toiling in what they dubbed “the corral,” where they felt abandoned, NBC News reported.

Disputed medical assessments and work orders issued by work-injury medical personnel complicated matters, according to the story.

The Press Democrat was not able to reach the women Monday for interviews about their accounts of workplace mistreatment.

Founded in 1987, Amy’s Kitchen is the largest maker of organic vegetarian packaged foods and is the sixth largest U.S. maker of frozen dishes overall, shipping 21 million cases of food in 2020, according to the company. It makes over 180 products, all organic and vegetarian.

It operates food processing sites in California, Oregon, Idaho and New York and has a Rohnert Park drive-thru and sit-down restaurant.

Berliner and Resch said the company takes reported complaints seriously, will review their cases and learn from them. At the same time, they said their company history and larger set of employee experiences do not match with the workplace portrayed by in the NBC story.

Berliner and Resch said the company had invested heavily in the welfare of its more than 2,800 workers. That includes building health centers that offer free primary and preventive health care for workers and families at kitchens in southwest Santa Rosa, where the news stories’ five subjects worked with about 625 others, as well as Medford, Oregon, and Pocatello, Idaho.

The flagship Santa Rosa facility offers onsite, mobile mammogram and COVID vaccine clinics, and has worker injury rates “well beneath the industry standard,” Resch said.

The average employee stays with the company more than 12 years, he and Berliner said.

The NBC report stirred a wave of condemnation on social media, including Twitter and Facebook, where users vowed not to consume any more Amy’s products.

Berliner, in his own statement, said, “We understand the anger that many of you are feeling after reading the recent NBC report, and we know how disappointing it feels to hear that a company you trust is not living up to its values.”

He said in closing, “We are deeply committed to listening to all of our employees, and to turning their feedback into action. That is our personal promise to our employees and to our entire Amy’s family.”

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249 or mary.callahan@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MaryCallahanB.

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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