Busy family on the go? Long hours at work with no time to cook healthy meals? You may have heard of meal kits, and you may have even tried them for yourself. While meal kits are a great solution for today’s modern families on the move, the people manufacturing your ready-made meals may be facing pay issues such as missing paychecks and low wages.
UC Berkeley’s Center for Labor research and Education conducted a study that shows many of these employees, responsible for stuffing the packages with cooking directions and pre-measured food portions, not only have pay issues but may also have unaffordable, low-quality benefits, as well as unpredictable hours, worked and a high risk of injury.
Berkeley’s study covered a group of workers on the frontlines of a California refrigerated fulfillment center who work for one of the meal kit companies. Researchers interviewed workers and formed focus groups to discuss their working conditions, and found some startling information surrounding these tech food jobs.
Sarah Thompson, co-author of the report, explains that while the meal kits give the average consumer tech to make cooking easier for those who can afford it, the business model used to produce the kits is a dead end for all workers, especially those of color.
There is no room for advancement, and workers are stuck in these jobs for years with no hope of bettering their circumstances, Sarah reports, and while the food economy is embracing the new tech, the quality of the jobs provided by these companies is extremely poor.
The report finds many issues with these jobs, including:
- Benefits, when offered, are so unaffordable that the majority of workers still have to utilize Medi-Cal.
- Workers are subjected to many safety issues including ammonia leaks from refrigeration units, strain and other injuries, and cold related illnesses. Additionally, an alarming number of workers cite sexual assault as a real possibility at these warehouses.
- Employees are not guaranteed a forty-hour work week and are subjected to cancelled shifts depending on the number of kits needed that day. There is no warning that hours are being cut or that the shift is cancelled prior to the worker showing up at the plant. This makes predicting potential earnings and covering living expenses nearly impossible for many workers. To make it worse, many employees report that they do not always receive an accurate accounting of hours worked, holidays, and paid time off which results in significant delays in receiving pay.
- Employees enter at ground level wages of only $13.50 per hour. With this salary far below California’s low-wage threshold, workers report that they are unable to cover the state’s high cost of living. Merit-based raises may be possible for some employees, but there are no set rules governing when reviews are conducted or any standard amounts for the pay raises. Workers report that the raises were not always honored and that their paychecks remained inconsistent.
Over the past decade, ready made meal kit companies such as Blue Apron, HelloFresh, SunBasket, and Plated have expanded rapidly, attracting over one and a half billion USD in revenue and $650 million USD in capital investments.
Annette Bernhardt is the Low-Wage Work Program’s director of the Labor Center. She cautions that while these companies were intended to disrupt the American kitchen, they fail in their intention and instead have become another statistic of the low-wage food industry.
Not surprisingly, the study revealed that most of the employees of the meal-kit production center were not planning on staying on the job for long because of low pay, no advancement opportunities, and overall poor quality of jobs.