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Hello Fresh

Final days for HelloFresh in Richmond, more than 600 workers face layoffs

on October 23, 2022

On Wednesday, HelloFresh will close the Richmond facility it opened in 2015, putting 611 people out of work.

For Julio de Leon, a HelloFresh driver for the past three years, the closure means losing income his family needs and having to start over. 

“I depend on my HelloFresh check. And now, that check will no longer be on my table,” he said, in Spanish. “Starting over. Starting from zero, yet again, with new friends, with a new job. That’s the way it is.”

Berlin-based HelloFresh has grown its meal kit delivery service to more than 14,000 workers globally since opening in 2011. The company said the Richmond facility does not meet its needs and that it will be shifting production of meal kits to other HelloFresh distribution centers.

“Richmond is one of the oldest buildings in the US network and has one of the smallest footprints, an inefficient layout, and outdated refrigeration systems,” the company said in a written statement. 

HelloFresh leases the building from Prologis, which said it only acquired the property a few weeks ago. 

The company is offering laid-off employees who finish their jobs full pay and benefits through mid-December. It also is giving them an opportunity to relocate.  

“For all employees, we are offering financial support, search time, outplacement support, and relocation assistance,” said Robyn Schweitzer, HelloFresh spokesperson. “Specifically, employees in good standing may be accepted into an open position at another site, and those accepted will be assisted with stipends and/or paid time to move.”

News of the closure broke last weekend, but de Leon said on Thursday that the company hadn’t yet told workers why it was shutting down. The company has no other facilities in the Bay Area, and relocation is not an option for de Leon and many others. 

“I have my family here. I understand there’s HelloFresh in Phoenix, Arizona, and Los Angeles. But no, my family is here. My children are all in school here, so I can’t move,” de Leon said.

City and county agencies are working to help the hundreds of people losing jobs. The workers will be invited to a virtual Manufacturing Job Fair on Wednesday, hosted by the Association of Manufacturers Bay Area, and efforts are also underway to coordinate a career fair in Richmond specifically for the laid-off workers in the next few weeks. Additionally, Workforce Development Board of Contra Costa County is partnering with other agencies to provide in-person sessions at the HelloFresh facility to orient workers to unemployment and other benefits they may have coming.

“We need to first and foremost help these workers find new jobs,” Contra Costa Supervisor John Gioia said. “And that should be our priority.”

HelloFresh has had a troubled relationship with its Richmond workers. In 2020, it was fined $8,995 by the state for pandemic protocol violations, including inadequately enforcing mask rules and not providing hand sanitizer. The facility had the county’s largest workplace COVID-19 outbreaks with 171 documented infections and one death. The company cooperated with Contra Costa Health Services to establish new protocols and COVID-19 tests, which allowed the business to stay open. 

In October 2021, HelloFresh workers launched a campaign to join the hospitality union UNITE HERE, seeking better pay and benefits and better safety and injury prevention protocols.

Ultimately, unionization efforts failed. HelloFresh’s location in Aurora, Colorado, simultaneously  attempted unionization and also failed. That facility remains open.

Richmond City Council passed a resolution at the time, supporting HelloFresh workers’ attempt to unionize. Mayor Tom Butt said last week that the council should not have taken sides between the company and its workers. 

“I think there’s an anti-business bias on the Richmond City Council these days that certainly doesn’t encourage businesses to either locate in Richmond or stay in Richmond,” he said. 

Shiva Mishek, communications chair of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, disagreed, saying, “Any effort by elected officials or community members to ask for worker protections or for labor protections is seen as being business unfriendly. But we don’t see those things as mutually exclusive. A city can be business friendly and also friendly with residents.” 

HelloFresh said the reason for the Richmond facility’s closure was “solely a strategic business decision” and did not have to do with previous or potential unionization efforts. 

Gioia said HelloFresh had “an anti-worker culture and was clearly looking to cut costs in an era where their stability has been challenged as a company and the market has changed.”

HelloFresh, like many other meal kit delivery services, saw an increase in profits early in the pandemic, reaching its peak share price last November. In the year since then, however, share prices have dropped by over 70%, from $80 to about $21 on Friday. 

As Richmond seeks to attract business, what is key, Gioia said, is luring companies that pay good wages and support the Richmond and broader Contra Costa County communities. 

“I think we are going to have to come together to attract businesses that will feel more invested in our communities and our workers,” Gioia said. 

Mishek agrees and believes what’s needed is an approach that emphasizes the city’s advantages.

 “We’re in the Bay Area and so Richmond is prime real estate. It’s an incredibly dense and diverse city and people are absolutely dying for things to do and places to spend their money,” she said. Richmond is a quality place to be, Mishek added, and the city should help businesses see that. 

For de Leon, the only thing that matters now is finding a new job so that he can provide for his family. 

“HelloFresh, for me, will be the past, and I will continue moving forward,” he said. “Find work and continue moving forward — that’s it for me. There’s no other option.”

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