Earlier this year, the vegan meat company No Evil Foods—which sells socialist-branded products at 5,500 grocery stores nationwide, including Whole Foods—fired two production workers at its Weaverville, North Carolina production plant who led a union drive at the company and circulated a petition asking for hazard pay during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The workers say the company told them they were being terminated for violating social distancing and dress code policies.
This week, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found merit that the company illegally terminated the two workers, an NLRB spokesperson confirmed to Motherboard. According to a federal complaint issued Wednesday and obtained by Motherboard, the company violated the law by firing workers because they "assisted a union" and "circulat[ed] a petition seeking hazard pay…for the purposes of mutual aid and protection."
Under the 1935 National Labor Relations Act, it is illegal for employers to discriminate or retaliate against workers for organizing coworkers to improve their working conditions or for attempting to form unions.
"There was very strong evidence in our favor," said Cortne Roche, one of the fired No Evil Foods employees. "This was a cut and dry case of retaliatory firing for union organizing."
On Wednesday, the NLRB issued a federal complaint against No Evil Foods, alleging the company violated the NLRA by "interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed." According to the complaint, on April 1, 2020, a No Evil Foods HR manager interrogated employees about their union organizing and the petition for hazard pay, creating the impression management was "surveilling employees" by telling them they knew who had circulated the petition in the parking lot outside the production plant.
No Evil Foods did not respond to a request for comment, but in June, a spokesperson for No Evil Foods told Motherboard, “No Evil Foods absolutely did not terminate any employees in response to union-related or other protected activities."
No Evil Foods, which relies on venture capitalist funding, sells $8 packages of plant-based meat products with leftist names like "Comrade Cluck" (a mock chicken) and "El Zapatista" (a chorizo substitute), referencing Mexico's anti-capitalist guerilla movement. In job listings online for production workers, the company says, “we do good no evil. We care about doing good through the products we make.”
The firing of the two union organizers fits within an ongoing trend of ostensibly progressive companies like Kickstarter and Whole Foods taking anti-union stances when employees seek to improve their working conditions.
Jon Reynolds, the other fired No Evil Foods production worker, told Motherboard, "part of what helped us is that we kept notes, and documented and recorded everything. Throughout the unionization process, we amassed as much evidence as possible [that No Evil Foods was against our union]."
"I moved to North Carolina to take that job," he continued. "In the future, it will be hard for me to look the same way at a company that advertises itself as 'progressive.'"
In June, Motherboard published video footage from January of the company's founders imploring workers to vote "no" in a union election, and comparing paying union dues to a "shitty gym membership." “I sincerely believe that right now a union would be a terrible thing for you and for No Evil Foods,” founder Mike 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."
Following a series of compulsory anti-union meetings led by management, workers voted against joining the United Food and Commercial Workers union in a landslide 43-15 vote in February.
In August, Motherboard reported that someone claiming to represent No Evil Foods appeared to be trying to scrub the internet of audio and video recordings of the anti-union meetings given by the company's founders by filing takedown requests on copyright and privacy grounds. As of August 28, one video, four audio recordings, and the entire website of a freelance journalist—including audio and video published by Motherboard—had been removed from the internet.
A spokesperson for the National Labor Relations Board says that a trial for No Evil Foods has been scheduled for December 7.
"The finding that our case had merit is a cause for any worker anywhere to see that there is an actual law that allows people to organize without fear of retaliation," said Roche, the fired No Evil Foods worker. "Companies that fire people who organize aren't on the right side of history. "