No Evil Foods manufactures vegan sausages and other meat substitutes. While their packaging and branding paint a picture of a progressive company working to combat climate change and create an egalitarian workplace, No Evil Foods came under scrutiny for running an aggressive anti-union campaign when employees tried to unionize in 2020. Lena Eckert-Erdheim spoke with three former employees who were active in the union drive — Meagan Nicole Sullivan, Josh Coit, and Jon Reynolds — about their experiences in the lead-up to the election and what happened afterwards. Since this interview, No Evil Foods has laid off their entire North Carolina-based production staff. This interview has been edited and condensed. 


Lena Eckert-Erdheim: How did you get involved in the campaign to unionize No Evil Foods?

Jon Reynolds: I came to No Evil Foods in late 2019. I am a vegan. I wanted to work with a vegan company and build a career with them. And so I took this job as something that I saw as more than a job. I wanted this to be a career move for me.

Meagan Nicole Sullivan: I started the job shortly after Jon at the very end of 2019. I went there with the same intention he did. I moved here from out of state to take the job. The organizing was already ongoing so essentially I was just handed a union card and it all just kind of took off from there as far as my involvement.

Josh Coit: I come from the food service industry and was trying to find something better than the precarious work of working in restaurants and really bought [into] the whole socially conscious, this is a company where we're trying to do good [thing]. My first day there, one of the workers was like, "Hey, would you be interested in signing a card?" And I was like, “Yup." 

When I started working there, they were already hemorrhaging a lot of people who had previously worked for the company for like five years. They went from a small place to a fairly large workspace. They were hiring people left and right and many of the people who had been with the company for years were seeing this pivot into a more corporatized structure. And at that point there had been a union campaign that was going on. Then they changed their hours of operation. They went from an AM shift to the PM shift four days a week to a five-day week with “optional” Saturday shifts. And that did it for a lot of people who had built their life around a certain schedule, be they students or caretakers or parents, and that was just too much for them. 


LEE: No Evil Foods made national news for the nastiness of their anti-union campaign. What was it like in a workplace where the anti-union campaign was as visible and constant as it was at No Evil Foods?

MNS: Oh lord, how much time do you have? These [captive audience] meetings were terrible. I was not prepared at all for how terrible it was going to be because the thing you’ve got to understand is that the majority of people, even those of us trying to unionize, didn't necessarily hate our jobs or even hate the work. We wanted to keep those jobs. That's why unionizing was so important to all of us because we wanted to stay there long term. So walking into this whole anti-union campaign, already [management has] this advantage of, "Well you guys like your jobs. Why do you need a union?" That kind of mindset just slithered its way into the consciousness of everybody throughout the drive. I think that's a really important myth to dispel right off the bat. You can like your job and still support a unionizing effort.

They exploited fears of sexual harassment, which was probably the worst part of it for me. They would really stress to everybody that “we don't think a union could handle a sexual harassment claim as well as we could.” And just arguing that a union would come in and protect any sexual harasser and make sure that they could keep their job, which — that's not how it works.

They also played on the fact that the UFCW [United Food and Commercial Workers], the union that we were trying to organize with, represents slaughterhouse workers in the area. And since No Evil Foods is a vegan company, they tried to stress that this union doesn't align with our values because they represent these slaughterhouse workers. So it was just a lot of things like that, a lot of manipulation.

And one thing that I think is really important to point out is that a lot of us fell into the trap of trying to combat the misinformation they were giving us, and what we failed to do was stick to the actual issues that affected us in the workplace. Instead of going toe to toe with management on the nonsense information they were giving us, I should have been reaching out to other people who were on the fence and been like, "Okay, well how long do you see yourself at this job? If you could pick a number, what would be ideal pay for you? What would you consider a thriving wage? What could you see more in the benefits that they offer? Do you need a pension?"

JC: While we thought about it, we didn't really implement good inoculation. We spent a lot of our time explaining ourselves instead of sticking to the same message. It was a bad look. 


LEE: What advice would you give to people who may be in a workplace like No Evil Foods or in a related industry who want to organize their workplaces?

MNS: You really need to build solidarity between all of you before it gets to that vote, before it gets to that Vote No campaign. The thing that I would suggest most, and what I wish we had done, is pick any issue at your workplace. Something that's easily fixable that could be something as simple as the boss purchasing a new piece of equipment or new gloves for the dishwasher, something like that. Pick something really simple that you know your boss could easily fix if he ran out to Home Depot. Find a handful of people there, if not everybody, and go, "Hey, I really hate this problem. Can you guys come with me? Maybe we can all talk to the boss and just get this replaced?" Then you do that. And that's going to do one of two things. It's either going to show the employees there that your boss is not going to perform the most simple of tasks to look out for you when you've politely asked for this accommodation, or the boss will go do it and it will be a perfect example to the employees that when you work together towards common interests, you can achieve them.


LEE: What successes did you have?

JR: A couple come to mind immediately. One of them was the petition that happened for hazard pay. So after we lost the election, No Evil rolled out their COVID policy which was... It was awful. The short version is they basically said, you can either stay with the company and, quote unquote, qualify for temporary hazard pay if you maintain 90 days of perfect attendance. Or you can quit, get a three-week buyout, and sign an NDA and sign another document which prevents you from suing them for any potential violations of the ADA, the Civil Rights Act, and the National Labor Relations Act.

So when this was rolled out, the people who ended up staying [were] saying, “Okay, we'll play along and we'll go with the 90 days of perfect attendance to qualify for hazard pay.” [But] we were disqualifying ourselves left and right because if you are a minute late to work or 30 seconds late to work or 10 seconds late to work and that shows up on your time card, then you're disqualified. So they made it very easy to disqualify people very quickly.

And people were getting upset. We're talking March of last year. This is right around the time that COVID was really getting big. So we got a petition together and said, okay, we're not going to wait for hazard pay; we want the hazard pay now. So we passed this petition around and got basically everybody in production to sign it. We're even talking about people who were no votes with the union, and it brought everybody together for the first time since the union. It was really incredible to see it. And the next day, they rolled out hazard pay before we could turn the petition in. 

So that was one victory. But the other one was the NLRB. Me and another organizer who was fired, we both filed with the NLRB and the NLRB basically weighed the evidence, they followed up with me multiple times, I'm sure they followed up with No Evil too, and they came back and they concluded that they wrongfully terminated us for activities related to union organizing and the petitions. And No Evil settled out of court with both of us and I feel like that was another big victory.


LEE: What's next?

JS: I'm looking into seeing what can be done in terms of organizing restaurants in my local area. I stepped away from it for a minute but I've been talking to the other organizers and seeing what can be done. 

JR: For me, I'm basically trying to stay alive at this point. The settlement money has... I mean I got to pay my car off which is cool but aside from that, I am still working. Not working anywhere fancy and basically just paying the bills at this point...The other thing that I'm working on is an inoculation workshop for organizers.

MNS: As of right now I'm just working. Obviously, I'm going to try to organize everywhere that I work in the future because this whole entire experience changed my perspective just on workplaces in general. So my intention is just to organize literally anywhere that I go. 


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