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Agencies unite to help hundreds of laid-off HelloFresh workers: ‘I’m glad they were out there.’

on November 12, 2022

Service providers in the East Bay have a message for the 611 workers laid off by HelloFresh in Richmond at the end of October: There are people and services available to help you find work.

“You don’t have to navigate this by yourself,” said Carole “DC” Dorham-Kelly, CEO of Rubicon Programs, an anti-poverty nonprofit that is part of the Contra Costa Workforce Collaborative.

Through service providers in the Collaborative, which includes nonprofits, adult education organizations, school sites, and community colleges, former HelloFresh employees can access a range of services to help them meet basic needs, find employment, and get professional training, among other opportunities. 

The Collaborative started in 2018 to create a network that would increase access to services. One key way it does this is by reducing paperwork, which can be an obstacle for many. People are mobile, Dorham-Kelly notes, and the network allows them to access services where they are at any given time. 

Three-quarters of the HelloFresh employees who were laid off live in Richmond and San Pablo. Eve Howard is one of those workers. Howard, who also works full-time as an education paraprofessional, wasn’t aware of the service providers available to help her in her professional transition and had hoped to get job training for a new career in phlebotomy paid for by HelloFresh. Once it became clear that the company would not be providing sufficient funds for her training program and books, she attended the job fair hosted by Richmond Workforce Development Board, known as RichmondWORKS, at HelloFresh prior to the facility’s closure on Oct. 26, and got connected to the San Pablo Economic Development Corp.  

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

The EDC is focused on education and training for those who want to improve their skills in an industry or retrain for a new line of work. It also connects people with resources that meet their needs, which may include child care, food security or housing. People face different barriers to opportunities, said Leslay Choy, the EDC’s executive director, and the organization tries to help them clear those obstacles. 

The EDC will be funding Howard’s accelerated three-month training program to become a phlebotomist and will provide her with some income while she gets trained. 

“I’m glad they were out there, and I’m really excited to be a part of this,” she said. “I hope they help me in my professional endeavors because I really need their help.” 

Ideally, Howard said, she’d be able to quit her job in education and focus fully on the accelerated training course. For now, though, that’s not an option and she’s looking for a second job to replace her old one at HelloFresh in order to pay the bills.

“You should be able to devote your whole time to your education as opposed to working another job,” Howard said, “but I don’t have anything else to fall back on for money. So I have to work my other job, right? I’ve got to go and I have to get this second job quick. Otherwise, I’m going to be doomed.”

Choy encourages HelloFresh workers to accept the severance that the company is paying until mid-December and also to file for unemployment. Because the state’s unemployment system is backed up, accepting severance is essential, Choy added. 

Additionally, she says laid off workers should connect with service providers as soon as possible, to ensure they take advantage of opportunities which may have deadlines and that they don’t risk entering a cycle of debt, especially going into the holidays. 

Choy said people often think, “‘I just need to go to work right away. I’m going to go talk to these employers. And if I don’t find something that works for me, then I can come talk to you guys.’” But it’s smart, she said, to talk to the service providers either way, because sometimes workers are eligible for additional income or support. 

“All the nonprofits are centered on community and people, and we don’t want to be spinning wheels doing things that aren’t useful,”

Carole “DC” Dorham-Kelly

Typically, the Collaborative would be involved in the rapid response that kicks in when a big layoff occurs. But not all the partner organizations were aware of the layoff until it happened, said Dorham-Kelly, whose own organization was among those caught off-guard. HelloFresh filed the required Workforce Adjustment and Retraining Notification with the state on Oct. 10, stating the facility would be closed permanently, 611 workers would be laid off and layoffs would be effective Dec. 11.

That same day, the information reached RichmondWORKS, the city agency that led the response. WARN notices must be issued at least 60 days before a mass layoff or closure. While the amount of time between HelloFresh’s notice and the facility’s closure was only 16 days, the company technically was compliant as there are 60 days between the notice taking effect on Oct. 11 and workers’ pay ending Dec. 11. 

Dorham-Kelly and Choy don’t know why partner organizations were not brought into rapid response efforts until shortly before HelloFresh closed its Richmond facility. Many employees had stopped coming to work by then because they’d completed their duties. That made it difficult for service providers to meet with laid off workers. Once people are unemployed and no longer at their place of work, it’s hard to get in touch with them and get them connected to resources, Dorham-Kelly and Choy said. 

“Our teams are good together. So I’m not really sure why this has been handled differently other than maybe there just haven’t been as many WARN notices, maybe things shifted during COVID in another way,” Choy said. “But I think we have to rethink the protocol entirely, so that everybody’s working together.” 

Asked why RichmondWORKS didn’t contact Collaborative organizations sooner, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt said only that the agency did much in the time it had to help workers while the facility was still open. 

“It is not unusual for workforce boards to not receive adequate notice of layoffs or plant closures,” he said. 

RichmondWORKS worked with partners to organize five rapid response sessions for workers in the days leading up to the facility closure, Butt said. It also coordinated a mini-job fair at HelloFresh on the facility’s final day and a bigger job fair, which included 33 companies and seven community organizations, at Contra Costa College this week. 

Butt referred to an Oct. 28 email from Tamara Walker, deputy community services director of Employment and Training at RichmondWORKS, which said the agency provided rapid response services to over 300 HelloFresh employees — about half of those losing their jobs. The email said RichmondWORKS is offering $7,500 in wage reimbursement for companies that hire former HelloFresh employees. 

Dorham-Kelly said service providers want to hear from workers about what they need and what response they’d like to see. 

“All the nonprofits are centered on community and people, and we don’t want to be spinning wheels doing things that aren’t useful,” she said. 

For many, the stigma around asking for help keeps them from reaching out, said Dorham-Kelly, who stressed that service providers are just making sure people get what they are entitled to receive. 

For some, especially in immigrant populations, Choy said there is suspicion that the services being offered are not legitimate, often because they seem too good to be true. 

“They may not trust certain things and it just seems like, ‘Well, this can’t be right, don’t accept that because there’s always the carrot and the stick,’” she said. “And it’s like, no. Really, it is all carrot, and you might even get your way to a cupcake.” 

This story was updated to correct that workers’ pay, not severance, ends Dec. 11.

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