Union election postponed amid complaints against food service co.
26th December 2012 · 0 Comments
By Phil Stelly
New Orleans seemed ripe with possibilities for Revolution Foods.
The California-based food service provider, which has flourished in other cities by providing healthy meals for school children, had hoped to repeat its success in schools operated by the Recovery School District in Orleans Parish.
That effort hit a sour note earlier this week when the Service Employees International Union, Local 2, complained that Revolution Foods had engaged in unfair labor practices in an attempt to discourage its food service workers from forming a union, according to documents filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaints prompted the NLRB to indefinitely postpone the union election pending an investigation.
Revolution Foods, which began working with the RSD last July, built a production facility in Kenner where fresh, nutritious meals are prepared, then trucked to 18 schools including A.P. Tureaud, Benjamin Banneker Elementary and James Weldon Johnson Elementary.
But in a short period of time, Helene O’Brien, a union organizer, said workers have endured a “pattern of harassment, surveillance and threats” that amount to unfair labor practices.
Specifically, the union’s complaint said Revolution Foods, which employs 72 food service workers here, fired some workers who had been active in the union organizing effort. One dismissed worker, Joshua Jones, said he was let go after his picture appeared in a SEIU flyer promoting the union election. He said he was active in the union organizing effort to ensure that all workers received fair wages and benefits.
The SEIU complaint charged Revolution Foods with eliminating a 15-minute break to prevent workers from communicating with union organizers as well as conducting surveillance on employees who spoke with union organizers.
Revolution Foods also offered benefits in advance of a union election: a 25 cents an hour raise and back pay “to discourage support for the union,” the complaint said.
Another dismissed worker, Arlene Parker, was offered her job back if she would cast a vote against forming a union, according to the SEIU complaint.
O’Brien said earlier this month Revolution Foods’ top executives came to New Orleans and called a meeting of area workers. In the meeting, according to the complaint, Revolution Foods executives “made threats to employees that there would be a decrease in (the) budget” if workers joined a union. O’Brien countered that a union vote was simply for representation. “Workers were just trying to get to the table to negotiate with management,” she said.
Revolution Foods issued a statement which said the union’s allegations are unfounded. “We are confident that all of the information provided to our employees during this campaign was consistent with the requirements of the National Labor Relations Act,” the statement said.
The company also said it has “overwhelming positive support” from its New Orleans employees throughout this union election process.
In six months, Revolution Foods claims it has created close to 100 jobs locally. “We have the utmost respect for our employees and respect their rights to decide freely on whether to organize or not,” the company said.
O’Brien countered that Revolution Foods has cut back on workers at some RSD schools. In those schools, students report to a designated area to pick up the prepared lunches, eliminating the need for food service workers. O’Brien also insists that Revolution Foods’ food service workers in San Francisco are represented by a union and workers in the New Orleans area are entitled to the same right. Revolution Foods, however, denies the existence of a union. “None of the Revolution Foods workforce is unionized,” Revolution Foods said in an email statement. The email went on to say that in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), “Revolution Foods is preparing healthy meals for the district. Their employees are serving the food. It is a common arrangement for Rev Foods to complement the existing system that is in place.”
Founded in 2006, Revolution Foods says it serves fresh and healthy meals in more than 950 education programs nationwide, primarily to low-income student populations.
This article was originally published in the December 26, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper