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Workers for Frozen Food Giant Amy’s Kitchen Allege Unsafe Conditions at Bay Area Factory

A whistleblower is asking Cal/OSHA to take immediate action to protect employees

Frozen burritos from Amy’s Kitchen. Amy’s Kitchen
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

Earlier this month an employee filed a formal complaint with the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health alleging workers have not been given access to the bathroom or drinking water during shifts at a Santa Rosa production facility for Amy’s Kitchen, the Bay Area-based frozen food giant known for its vegetarian meals. The complaint comes on the heels of an NBC News investigation during which several employees shared stories of being told to continue wrapping burritos and filling frozen meal plates despite suffering painful injuries caused by repetitive motions. Cecilia Luna Ojeda, who filed the Cal/OSHA complaint on behalf of all workers at the plant, told NBC News she was laid off after she told the company she needed surgery to address an injury that began when she was working on the company’s frozen burrito production line.

The Cal/OSHA complaint alleges that lack of restroom and water breaks is due to “pressure to maintain line speeds,” NBC News reports. Ojeda, who’s worked for the company for 17 years, previously told the outlet that production speeds at the factory have ramped up from about 21,000 plates completed by a production kilne in an eight-hour shift to 25,716 plates during an 8 1/2-hour shift. Amy’s Kitchen chief people officer Mike Resch declined to tell NBC News how many plates workers produce during a single shift, but acknowledged that the company “routinely lower[s] or increase[s] line speeds depending on a variety of reasons.” The Cal/OSHA complaint also describes “locked fire exits, worn-out floor mats and a lack of proper training for tasks like heavy lifting and operating heavy machinery.”

The complaint, which was prepared for Ojeda by a representative from of the local chapter of the Teamsters union, also comes as some workers at the Bay Area factory are making moves toward unionizing. In the complaint, Ojeda asks regulators to take “immediate action” to protect workers from suffering injuries, saying prior action has not been enough to keep employees safe. According to SFGate, in just the past five years Amy’s Kitchen has been cited by Cal/OSHA for eight “serious” labor violations to the tune of some $90,000 in fines, though the company contested all the violations.

Resch disputed many of the claims in the complaint during an interview with NBC News, adding that the company encourages employees to raise any safety complaints so they can be remedies. In a statement on the Amy’s Kitchen website, co-founders Andy and Rachel Berliner say the company is “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.” The Berliners started the privately held company, which is based in Petaluma, in 1987 and named it after their daughter. In the years since, it’s become one of the biggest players in the frozen food game, with a line of 250 products all of which are organic and vegetarian and many of which are vegan or gluten-free. Amy’s also operates four fast-food restaurants called Amy’s Drive-Thru, including one location at San Francisco International Airport.