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San Francisco startup Imperfect Foods contesting union vote despite majority of workers in favor

Built in the Bay

(Sima Diab / Getty Images)

By Huey Bergstrom

(SAN FRANCISCO) Local startup Imperfect Foods, whose stated mission is in part to "build a better food system for everyone," is contesting the results of a union vote by delivery drivers.

According to organizers with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, the company is delaying the inevitable as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will review the vote, 28 to 23 in favor, to determine any inconsistencies. The company is claiming that not all drivers were able to obtain voting ballots in time.

“The company believes that the results were materially impacted by the inability of certain drivers to timely obtain ballots. Because of this possible hindrance in the voting process, the company intends to challenge the results of the election,” a company statement said.

UFCW Local 5 spokesperson Jim Araby said 70% of the 80 eligible drivers voted with a final tally in favor.

According to the company, many employees began joining the UFCW after a March 16 NLRB vote.

According to Araby, only two ballots were contested which is not enough to overturn the election. He notes that the company is delaying "the inevitable."

Until the NLRB reviews the results of the election, the 80 drivers will not be represented by the UFCW.

Araby noted that the start-up used standard tech industry practices like anti-union meetings and hiring outside consultants to discourage the union drive.

This strategy is commonplace in the tech industry where unionization efforts have repeatedly been met with a barrage of propaganda and surveillence in an attempt to combat possible collective bargaining efforts.

In a grim sense, this kind of stall tactic is nothing new.

Imperfect Foods, as a San Francisco-based startup, is also nothing new. Its recent Series D comes from Norwest Venture Partners, the Silicon Valley-based venture capital arm of banking conglomerate Wells Fargo.

The tech sector has historically low union density and, given the aggressive pushback from managers and bosses across the industry, it makes sense.

In 2019, however, union pushes by Google sub-contractors and workers at smaller tech companies like Kickstarter proved successful. In the latter case, Kickstarter fired two staffers associated with the union formation and claimed the termination was related to poor performance. The employees filed a complaint with the NLRB.

In January 2020, Communications Workers of America (CWA) launched a campaign aimed at unionizing tech and video game workers called Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE) which has successfully support unionization efforts at Glitch, Blue State Digital and Google.

In the Google unionization effort, a minority union was formed and shortly after going public, increased membership by nearly 100%. In response, Google hired IRI Consultants, a firm specializing in anti-union efforts.

All of these examples highlight a contradiction between tech companies stated intentions and their resulting responses when confronted with collective bargaining. While the vast majority of companies like Kickstarter, Google and Imperfect Foods claim to support worker's efforts to unionize, their actions indicate otherwise. Management at all of these companies and many others have shown that they are willing to take drastic steps to combat unionization drives because it will damper their profits.

Beyond just profits, unionization efforts by a variety of tech workers across the country are opposed vehemently because of the possibility one has to spark others. While one specific union in one specific delivery or tech company doesn't serve to massively disrupt the profits of a behemoth like Google, they serve as an example to other tech workers of what they could have. Of what could be.

Tech companies accurately view unionization efforts as a threat to, not just one individual business, but their model as a whole. A model that makes trillions of dollars annually by exploiting the labor of hourly workers. Their entire business strategy is one driven by the steady access to cheap labor they've carved out and any unionzation effort, no matter how small, threatens to undermine that. The dream of a more equitable or fair workplace has no place in tech.

To put it bluntly, that is a dream that tech cannot afford to allow. The tech industry has built a sector in which union power is weak and they aim to keep it that way by any means necessary, whether it be through surveillance, termination or propaganda.

Imperfect Foods, and other union drives throughout the tech industry, serve as a reminder of the potential that collective bargaining has to undermine the power of the world's wealthiest corporations and the extent to which those corporate giants will go to avoid a reckoning on their labor practices.

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