By Edward Ongweso, Jr.
On Friday, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5 announced that around 80 food delivery workers at Imperfect Foods, a grocery delivery startup, voted to unionize.
The victory is the latest in a campaign by the UFCW to unionize grocery delivery workers nationwide who’ve been exploited by gig companies. In February 2020, UFCW helped Instacart delivery drivers in Illinois form the company’s first union. In January, Instacart laid off all of its unionized workers.
The victory at Imperfect Foods was a narrow one, with 28 workers voting yes and 23 voting no. In a statement to Bloomberg, the startup said it “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.”
Imperfect Foods is a grocery delivery subscription box service that serves ugly looking food that would be discarded for no reason other than aesthetics. And unlike most tech startups in the delivery industry, their drivers are classified as employees.
The passing of Proposition 22, a ballot measure written by app-based gig companies that codifies worker misclassification and exploitation, in California last year has added to the urgency for employed workers to unionize. Shortly after Prop 22 went into effect, grocery chain Albertsons announced it was laying off its employed delivery workers and replacing them with gig and contractor workers, primarily DoorDash delivery drivers. UFCW Local 5 (which represents food and retail workers in the Bay Area, including Imperfect Foods workers) was able to unionize 250 grocery delivery drivers at one Albertsons’ Safeway that same month, the first such union at a major grocery chain.
In a statement at the time, UFCW Local 5 President John Nunes said “With this week’s news that Safeway and Albertsons are exploiting the passage of Prop. 22 to fire thousands of their non-union grocery drivers, there has never been a more important time for these essential workers to have the power of a union behind them.”
The UFCW told Bloomberg that Imperfect Food carried out an anti-union campaign that featured “daily mandatory meetings” for two weeks of March, with some meetings stretching past two hours. Workers also said that the company warned “organizing could lead to employees being replaced by outside contract staff” in a move that might resemble Albertson’s post-Prop 22 move to replace drivers with DoorDash workers.
“We organized with UFCW Local 5 because we know companies that profess to do good, like Imperfect Foods, will pursue bottom line profits over the health and safety of their workers unless they are held accountable,” said Chris Jasinski, a Imperfect Foods delivery worker, in a statement to the press. “For essential workers like us helping families get the food they need during COVID-19, this is a major victory as we continue to speak out to ensure these are good-paying union jobs our community needs.”