Capitalists Exploit Workers — Even When They’re “Socialists”

After the “socialist”-branded No Evil Foods busted its workers’ union last year, the company settled with two former employees for $40,000. But those workers still aren’t satisfied — and the private-equity backed company is as fiercely opposed to worker organizing as ever.

Cofounders of No Evil Foods Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky. (Source: No Evil Foods via WRAL TechWire)

After No Evil Foods settled with Jon Reynolds and Cortne Roche, the money went quickly.

The two workers say that the socialist-branded, vegan food producer fired them last year for organizing on the job. They filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), alleging illegal retaliation, and in September of 2020, the board found the allegations had merit, issuing a federal complaint against the company for its violations of the law.

In October 2020, Reynolds and Roche settled with No Evil rather than take the company to court. The terms of the settlement are that neither Reynolds nor Roche can return to the company, no one admits fault, and No Evil pays $20,000 to Reynolds and $22,500 to Roche.

“It didn’t last very long,” says Roche of the payment. “I had to buy a car, I had to pay rent.”

When I spoke to Reynolds and Roche last year, not long after No Evil had fired them both, they were adamant that, while the company claimed it had let them go for social-distancing violations and dress-code violations, respectively, their termination in fact constituted illegal retaliation for organizing. They have not wavered in that belief.

“What, they paid us over $40,000 because they’re just handing out money now?” jokes Reynolds. The situation still smarts, they explain, because the company continues to deny it broke the law or busted the union. (No Evil did not respond to a request for comment.)

Workers at No Evil sought to organize the company’s Weaverville, North Carolina, facility with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). In response, No Evil ran an anti-union campaign, with workers at the production plant subjected to captive-audience meetings, mandatory sessions in which employees listen to managers argue why they should oppose the union. No Evil employees said that the meetings lasted hours and took place as frequently as three times a week in the lead-up to the February union election. The result was a 43-15 vote against unionizing.

Acompany that describes itself as “revolutionary” engaging in union-busting is galling. No Evil sells items with names like “Comrade Cluck” (a vegan chicken product) and “El Zapatista” (a vegan chorizo product), so its opposition to unions surprised and outraged workers, including Reynolds and Roche. Reynolds, after all, is vegan himself, and he moved to the state to build a career at No Evil, a company he believed shared his values.

In the aftermath of the settlement, the argument has continued: No Evil still publicly denies that it did anything wrong, leading Reynolds and Roche, among others, to continue discussing the events of last year.

“No one was fired for their interest in unions or hazard pay,” reads a recent reply posted by No Evil’s Twitter account. “The NLRB cannot determine whether allegations are true without a hearing where witness and evidence are presented. No such hearing happened,” reads another tweet.

In an interview with VegNews last August, shortly before the NLRB found merit in the workers’ claims, No Evil founders Sadrah Schadel and Mike Woliansky say, “Everyone makes mistakes. Learning from them is essential. Striving to do better is what ‘No Evil’ is all about.”

No Evil has gone to unusual lengths to keep these workers’ claims quiet. The company got audio and video of captive-audience meetings removed from websites and podcasts by filing takedown requests on copyright and privacy grounds. The recordings were captured by workers present at the meetings and, as an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) wrote in a letter to No Evil last October, the company’s takedown notices appear to be “motivated not by genuine concern” for copyright but rather by a “desire to shut down criticism.” Workers say that after EFF warned the company against continuing to abuse copyright law, No Evil toned down its efforts to drown out criticism on social media and ceased issuing takedown requests.

When asked how they feel about their decision to settle rather than going to trial, Reynolds and Roche are ambivalent.

“I have mixed feelings, because that’s their argument now: that it never went to court and they were never proven guilty of any wrongdoing,” says Reynolds. Roche agrees, noting that the decision was not made because they felt they would lose a trial — both say there is strong evidence of retaliation and believe they would’ve won — but because the process is both time- and resource-intensive. (After leaving No Evil, both workers moved on to other low-wage jobs, though Roche is currently unemployed after a stint first at Whole Foods, where she was a temporary hire, and then Chipotle, where she says the $11-an-hour pay couldn’t justify the time and money spent on the commute.)

For workers experiencing employer retaliation, Roches advises they take their bosses to trial. “Even if you lose, it’s still an experience that very few people get to have, which is a company being put on trial for violating workers’ rights. That doesn’t happen very often,” she says.

In the VegNews interview, No Evil’s founders also accuse workers like Reynolds and Roche of encouraging others to “endanger their lives and the safety of their young children.”

“It’s crazy, because none of it’s true,” says Meagan Sullivan, who quit her job at No Evil in June 2020. Of the founders’ description of a “campaign of harassment and extortion” by former No Evil workers like herself — who are described as union “operatives” — Sullivan says, “We’re just telling people what happened in our own experience working for the company.”

As for what the future holds for No Evil, workers describe the plant’s rapid transformation, with the installation of new machines and a reorganization of production. The company is backed by venture-capital firm Blue Horizon and is quickly expanding. No Evil products are now available in more than five thousand stores nationwide, including Walmart.

“My speculation is that they plan to sell the company in a few years,” says Sullivan. This is part of the reason the union drive happened when it did, she explains. “I worry about the people who work there, because now it’s up in the air, and they don’t have any control over it.”

While Reynolds, Roche, and Sullivan are long gone from the company, instability remains.

“When anybody sticks up for themselves, they get fired,” says Jordon Hoffman, who worked as a production tech at No Evil until last month, when he quit. Hoffman believes three people were fired the day he quit, and that firings are a frequent occurrence. Even some of the managers who led the company’s anti-union campaign have since been fired.

“Imagine I was a totally different person, and I’d said, ‘I’m going to stick by management, I want to be a company man,’” says Reynolds of the termination of No Evil’s most loyal employees. “I’d have still gotten screwed over. They don’t have loyalty to anything except the bottom line and their investors. That speaks volumes about what kind of a company this is, and about how it would go with any other company, too. Loyalty doesn’t pay off to a company that busts unions.”

Or, as Hoffman bluntly puts it, “They really don’t give a fuck about us.”