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Latina employees denounce that Amy's Kitchen pushes them to work until they get injured: "I will never live without pain again"

2022-01-17T16:48:25.511Z

A group of women recounts how the company that specializes in frozen food denies its workers medical attention when they get hurt in the factories. "I'm the one who suffers from the pain and the one who has problems with my work," laments one.



By Amy

Martyn

When Inés De La Luz came to work in July 2020 at the Amy's Kitchen factory in Santa Rosa, California, wearing a brace on her arm after injuring herself on a rush shift making frozen burritos, a supervisor ordered her to stay remove it and return to his post as if nothing happened.

Thus began a year and a half ordeal that would send her again and again to a doctor, who, according to the complaint, hesitated to recommend work restrictions for more serious injuries.

His odyssey ended up giving him a new job disinfecting the cafeteria along with other workers who had also been injured. 

Maricruz Meza, left, and María del Carmen González are among the Amy's Kitchen workers who describe a relentless workplace at Amy's Kitchen that pushes them to the point of injury. Marissa Leshnov for NBC News

The cafeteria is known as "el corral", according to De La Luz and a colleague who was also injured.

Although they do not know the origin of this nickname, they say that it conveys their relationship with this family business of preparing frozen vegetarian food: that their well-being does not matter.

De La Luz recounts that in the fall of 2021 she learned that she could have surgery to solve her arm problem, but Amy's Kitchen told her that it was eliminating her position in the cafeteria and fired her. 

"There are many days when I think that I am useless, that my life will never be the same and that I will never live without pain again," he laments. 

Amy's Kitchen declined to comment on the claims made by De La Luz and four other workers interviewed by NBC News, citing the company's privacy policy.

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"We are saddened to hear that some of our employees may be having a bad experience with us," chief personnel officer Mike Resch said in a statement. 

With an estimated $600 million in sales in 2020, Amy's Kitchen is part of a select group of companies that have a reputation for being socially responsible.

The base of its products are organic and it is still run by its founders Andy and Rachel Berliner, who named it in 1987 after their newborn daughter, Amy.

His motto is: "We always cook our food with love."

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"At Amy's, our heroes are our frontline employees who come to work each day so we can continue to make food for people to eat," the company proudly stated in a Facebook post as the pandemic began. 

But one former worker and four current employees say that this image does not match the painful reality they live.

According to her testimony, Amy's Kitchen's growth has been made possible by production lines speeding up and workers getting injured as they struggle to maintain performance levels.

Working conditions, they say, leave them especially vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries as they gradually worsen over time.

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Amy's Kitchen employs 2,700 people nationwide, and cooks and packages its food products at facilities located in Idaho, Oregon and Northern California.

In addition to having four fast food restaurants on the West Coast, he plans to open more establishments throughout 2022.

The employees who spoke to NBC News work at the Santa Rosa factory, which is the oldest and serves as a command center for all operations.

They report that production lines have steadily increased their pace over the years without corresponding wage increases or better resources to prevent injuries.

Following the onset of the pandemic, Amy's Kitchen executives boasted in several interviews that they increased production to meet "unprecedented" consumer demand for prepared foods.

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"At the beginning we made 21,000 dishes in 8 hours. Then they saw that more could be done," says Cecilia Luna Ojeda, who has worked at the Santa Rosa factory for 17 years.

Currently, each production line makes 25,716 plates of food during an 8 1/2-hour shift, he says.

Resch, the company's personnel director, did not want to specify how many dishes each worker prepares per shift.

"We routinely reduce or increase line speeds depending on a variety of reasons, including the number of jobs, the use of different equipment, and upline/downline limitations," he said. 

Ojeda reveals that she first felt pain in her hand in 2006, but was told by a supervisor that it was probably due to pregnancy hormones.

When he finally had surgery two years later, the tendon in his wrist was hanging by a thread.

"A lot of the workers don't even call it human resources. They call it inhuman resources because they don't really care," he says.  

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In 2019, his right arm suffered, but they required him to present a medical report to assign him a position weighing tamales with his left arm.

In the end she sustained injuries to both arms, but only managed to get her days off paid when she brought in a new report and was seen wearing braces.

Amy's Kitchen denies that it mistreats workers who are injured or injured on the job.

"If a work or personal injury occurs, we are committed to finding safe and reasonable accommodations for everyone and do everything we can to ensure that employees feel supported from the onset of injury or illness through recovery," said the director of personal.

"We make sure they get the medical care they need as soon as they ask for it, and when an employee returns to work, our Integrated Disabilities team works with them and their manager to make any necessary accommodations," Resch added.

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But the workers say they must prove any injury by submitting a report to Human Resources, usually written by a doctor at Concentra, a for-profit health care company with branches across the country.

However, they also report that the doctors at the Concentra dispensary near the Santa Rosa factory downplay their injuries.

De La Luz, who shared her medical history with NBC News, says that when she complained to her first Concentra doctor that his medical recommendations didn't protect her from her health problems, the doctor told her "I was afraid of Amy and Amy didn't He wanted us to stop working." 

Select Medical, Concentra's parent company, says it can't comment on its patients' ailments under privacy laws.

However, it defends that these are evaluated and treated individually by an expert in work injuries.

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María del Carmen González has been unable to work on her right arm after tearing a tendon in her shoulder while on the production line in April 2021.

After months of physical therapy and working only on his left arm, his doctor recommended surgery, according to medical records reviewed by NBC News. But Amy's Kitchen's contracted company that oversees its staff's severance claims objected in October to that opinion, saying the surgery was "not medically necessary."

A spokesman for the insurance company handling these claims declined to comment.

"I am the one who suffers with the pain and the one who has problems with my work. They say they are going to send me to another person (...) but they never do," González complains.

His last job was in "el corral", cleaning tables with his left hand.

He wishes he could go back to his old job, but he needs both arms.

"I feel like I'm in a cage because they are always monitoring us and there are cameras," he says.

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At the end of last year, he took a medical leave.

He is currently waiting for the decision not to operate it to be revoked and to collect compensation for a work accident. 

After working in the factory for 28 years, and surviving cancer in 2004, Janet Bárcenas suffers from chronic pain in one shoulder and one leg, and her doctor has told her she will never fully recover.

The specialist wrote in 2020 requesting that he be allowed to use a chair while on the production line.

But a supervisor initially rejected the request: "We're not just going to do what the doctor says. We're going to do what we think is best," he told her.

After protesting several times, Human Resources finally agreed to put in chairs, he says, but they didn't set up enough for everyone.

Some days, you don't have an available chair.

"They act like we don't need these things," he laments.

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Workers interviewed by NBC News earn between $18 and $22 an hour.

In the fall of 2021, they received a $2-an-hour raise thanks to an organized walkout for the morning shift.

However, they later learned that their health insurance would also increase.

The idea of ​​creating a union flies over the Santa Rosa factory, although the company is not in favor.

"We prefer to continue working and communicating with our employees directly than through a union or third party" agent, the personnel director said in an email.

Source: telemundo

All news articles on 2022-01-17

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