When Ines De La Luz showed up for work at the Amy’s Kitchen factory in Santa Rosa, California, wearing an arm brace, prescribed after she couldn’t move her hand at the end of a fast-paced shift making frozen burritos in July 2020, she says a supervisor ordered her to remove the brace and return to the production line.
It was the start of a 1½-year ordeal that would send her back and forth to a doctor who she says hesitated to give her tougher work restrictions, and eventually to a new job in the factory disinfecting the cafeteria, alongside other injured workers.
De La Luz and another injured worker who cleans the cafeteria say it was called “the corral,” like on a farm. Though they aren’t sure where the name originated, they say it highlighted the feeling that they were no longer important to the company, a family business that is one of the country’s top makers of vegetarian frozen and canned food. De La Luz says that in the fall of 2021, when she learned she was a candidate for surgery to treat her arm injury, Amy’s Kitchen told her it was eliminating her position in the cafeteria and laid her off.
“There are a lot of days that I think that I’m good for nothing, that my life will never be the same and that I’ll never live without pain again,” she said.
With about $600 million in sales in 2020, Amy’s Kitchen is among a select group of brands with a reputation for being socially responsible. It relies on organic ingredients and is still run by its founders Andy and Rachel Berliner, who named it after their then-newborn daughter, Amy, in 1987. In advertising, Amy’s Kitchen says that they “always cook our food with love.”
“At Amy’s, our heroes are our employees on the front lines who are coming to work every day so that we can continue to make food for people to eat,” the company said in one popular Facebook post at the start of the pandemic.
But one former and four current workers say that image is at odds with the painful reality on the factory floor. They say that the growth of Amy’s Kitchen has been made possible by increasing the speed of production lines and that workers are becoming injured in an effort to maintain the speed. They say that the conditions leave them especially vulnerable to repetitive stress injuries that gradually get worse over time.
Amy’s Kitchen employs 2,700 people…