Foods & Culinary

Dandelion chocolate workers say management has glossed over safety and wage concerns. Now they are unionized.

In June 2020, employees at Dandelion Chocolate, a boutique chocolate company selling chocolates from a single source and having locations in San Francisco, Tokyo and Las Vegas, said that “anti-blackness cultural issues are not being treated seriously. “According to a Report in Mission LocalBlack employees were reportedly more likely to be punished for being “aggressive” and a manager texted an employee with a photo of an orangutan that said “met your distant cousin.” Todd Masonis, CEO of Dandelion, said at the time that the “incidents were from the past” and that the company was changing its approach to these issues.

However, according to the current employees, the company is still having issues dealing with its employees. There are issues related to low wages, worker safety in chocolate making and packaging, and management not listening to and resolving workers concerns. So, Dandelion people have done what more people in independent food production companies and more people in all industries are doing to address these issues. You are unionized.

On March 19, workers officially announced their intention to form the Dandelion Chocolate Union and join the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6 Petition for supportThe workers asked Dandelion Chocolate to voluntarily recognize the union, demanding living wages, an end to arbitrary employment and “an equal, respected and protected voice at work”. This is because employees describe an environment where concerns about working conditions have led management to take revenge on some employees rather than addressing the issues raised. “We have a feeling that this is how a union will bring our voices together [has not been possible]“Says Christine Keating, who has been with Dandelion for seven years. “So we can actually start working on these problems instead of pushing them down further.”

Keating, who teaches classes and organizes events for Dandelion, says she was initially drawn to how passionate everyone at Dandelion was about their job (and the chocolate, of course). “[My coworkers] I always want to get better at what they’re doing, and they’re always looking for more things and projects that are about chocolate and can learn about chocolate, ”she tells Eater. But the pandemic exacerbated the problems it had already noticed at the company, mostly related to the breakneck pace at which workers were supposed to be producing and packaging chocolate, which in some cases resulted in injuries, and a pattern of decisions dated by the Management apparently contradicted what the workers were asking for.

Chyler Barraca, a dandelion chocolate maker, worked at the company’s Valencia site until recently. They love the job, but it’s tough, repetitive physical labor that can easily lead to stress injuries – they say chocolate makers regularly look for physical exertion on their hands and wrists. There were also layoffs last year. “We only had five chocolate makers when we typically had nine to eleven people on the floor.” The work took a physical and emotional toll on the employees, and despite trying to work with management to adjust production goals, “they stayed Workload and strenuous activity and stress alike. ”Finally, Barraca and her staff reached out to HR and said Dandelion needed to hire more people. “We’re there, we do the work, we obviously need it. If we tell you we need this, we need this, ”they said.

According to Barraca, Human Resources offered to pursue concerns, but she and her staff felt they had made themselves clear in a letter they sent. Eventually they met up with Masonis and “his suggestion was to stop production in Valencia. And we didn’t ask for that at all. ”

Barraca also say that Masonis specifically said “budget wasn’t an issue”. Masonis comes from the technology world and has sold his startup. Plaxo, In 2008 to Comcast for $ 200 million. He started out with dandelion chocolate after roasting beans in a garage for a few years and grew it into a venture capital company. Dandelions too received a $ 1.35 million paycheck protection program Loan in 2020, and reported it would use $ 1,099,800 of that on payroll for its 95 employees.

According to Barraca, Masonis has decided to close a manufacturing facility instead of hiring more staff to keep it running smoothly. The workers in Valencia then had two options: apply for work on 16th Street or buyout. Masonis confirmed some of what is in one Comment he left on a mission Local story about the Dandelion Chocolate Union, although it does imply the Valencia location is only temporarily closed. “With the interruption of chocolate production on Valencia Street, we have offered the six chocolate makers in Valencia one of two options: Join us in our neighboring 16th Street factory in equivalent roles and pay or voluntarily lay off with additional severance pay.” , he wrote. In a comment to Eater, he went on to explain that budget was indeed an issue and that “we decided to put the teams together and support the factory on 16th St because the machines would be more efficient and the work could be more evenly distributed . “In a statement on the establishment of the union, Masonis said:” On Friday we received a representative petition from the NLRB. We are currently learning more about what it would mean for dandelions to be in a union and how we can support our team members. We look forward to productive discussions in the coming weeks when we learn more. “

While the story of the Valencia facility (which has ceased production of chocolate but is still open for takeout) has two sides, the communication regarding the decision seems to confirm an ongoing problem that Keating noted with the Dandelion operation: The “top-down” management decisions are made without much consideration for the employees concerned. “Even if they are decisions that workers ultimately agree to,” They are usually introduced in very dangerous, very hasty ways that … make us feel that we are not being taken into account. “

It wasn’t just about this group of chocolate manufacturers at the Valencia location. “A lot of us come by. We don’t earn enough to live in the Bay Area, ”says Barraca. And in a comment on the same Mission Local story, former deputy manager Dave Mertzig claims that the racist behavior that was covered in the news last year has persisted. “I have seen a pattern of racism in the distribution of power within the company,” he wrote, in which most of the black people who worked for the company were in underpaid, arbitrary positions while the paid executive positions were mostly held by whites. “This strict and racist approach by the leadership team fosters a workplace culture where competing for some lead roles means that those who hold the lead are trying to validate their position by pressuring their teams into higher and higher levels of efficiency and productivity to reach . ”

The Dandelion Chocolate Union is the latest in what feels like a labor movement in many industries, but also food production specifically. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Local 6, also represents the Anchor Brewery and Tartine Bakery, the latter of which have been heavily unionized by management, including the need to attend anti-union workshops. “Seeing how they supported Tartine as they went through this process, which was a much bigger and more difficult process for them than they expected, definitely solidified the decision we had made to see how with ILWU it went to support this team in their endeavors, ”says Keating.

Both Keating and Barraca emphasize that they want a management collaboration and that the continued success of Dandelion Chocolate is very important to them. “I really want to make the work more enjoyable and sustainable, not just for management and the corporate image, but for everyone on site who kick it out and work it out,” says Barraca. “I want to be proud because I love what I do. Everyone just wants to come in and feel welcome and safe and feel like they have a healthy work-life balance.”

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