The recipe and meal-kit delivery service Blue Apron has grown itself into a startup valuated at $2 billion by reinventing dinner.
But there’s one set of people who seem to have some complaints about the company: workers at one Blue Apron’s main warehouse fulfillment centres in Richmond, California, according to an investigative report by BuzzFeed’s Caroline O’Donovan.
The BuzzFeed report alleges that the fast-growth of Blue Apron led to a less-than-stringent hiring processes and a reliance on temp workers at its Richmond warehouse facility, resulting in some pretty rough working conditions.
For instance, in the 38 months since Blue Apron opened the Richmond facility, the Richmond Police responded to two complaints of weapons, three calls for bomb threats, and seven calls alleging assault, with at least four arrests made due to threats of violence, BuzzFeed reports.
Employees say the violence has included being punched, choked, groped, pushed, not to mention the bomb scares.
BuzzFeed reports that the scary conditions hit their peak in August, 2015, and by October that year, the general manager of the facility hired a safety manager for the facility and advocated slower hiring and the safety record has improved since then.
The company told Business Insider that it does screen all of its full-time warehouse employees for drugs and criminal backgrounds, but a different process applies for the temp workers, and that’s what led to problems in the past.
Nisha Devarajan, a Blue Apron spokesperson told us (emphasis ours):
“We require temporary staffing agencies to perform proper screening and background checks on their workers as well, however, Blue Apron does not receive those results since the staffing agency is the worker’s employer. In parts of 2014 and 2015, we experienced difficulty with several temporary staffing agencies in Richmond who did not meet our performance standards and sometimes provided workers who did not always abide by our policies and procedures or share our values. As a result, Blue Apron quickly ended its relationship with these agencies.”
Cold and stressful
Blue Apron employs over 4,000 people, total, and over 1,000 at the Richmond facility. All told, it delivers around 8 million meals a month, CEO Matt Salzberg told Fortune. It has raised nearly $194 million in venture funding, and was valued at $2 billion in 2015.
It prides itself on sourcing fresh, seasonal ingredients from artisan farmers, chopped and packed with all the spices and condiments needed to cook up an original recipe. This at $8-$10 a serving.
It also allows customers to change their orders fairly last minute.
And that means those employees are doing the slicing, dicing and measuring at wages starting at $12/hour, Buzzfeed reports (as does Glassdoor.)
As Blue Apron grows more successful, the stress on the employees to fill those boxes increased, employees told Buzzfeed.
“It was crazy. You felt like you were running all the time,” one employee told BuzzFeed.
Even in the best of circumstances, this job could be tough for some people because. That’s because to meet food health laws, employees are working in warehouses that are kept at a temperature below 40 degrees. They are issued a jacket, thermals, a hat, and a neck warmer.
Devarajan told Business Insider:
“As with any operation that handles perishable food, we maintain a range of temperature zones in our fulfillment centres to ensure that food is handled safely and in accordance with applicable law and industry best practice.”
The California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has been overseeing the facility and has issued some fines for violations, some of which Blue Apron has contested, appealed and had reduced, BuzzFeed reported.
Richmond is known for some sketchy neighbourhoods.
Devarajan told us that the company is “proud” that it brought so many jobs to the area and that “Blue Apron has proactively built a relationship with the Richmond Police Department and the local community.”
She further said:
“Precisely because Blue Apron takes its employee safety so seriously and has a zero tolerance policy, our local management team will call the police to help investigate any incident big or small such as a verbal threat or physical altercation, or the loss of personal items like a cell phone. Dozens of calls may be logged related to collaboration on any given incident, and many calls could be related to no specific incident at all.”
And she added:
“Blue Apron is committed to creating the best possible workplace experience for all of our employees and the safety of our employees and customers has always been our top priority. We have created thousands of jobs across the country and have always promptly addressed any issues we’ve encountered in any of our facilities. We are proud of the culture we’ve developed, and work diligently to ensure that all team members — from our corporate headquarters to our fulfillment centres — feel valued, respected and have opportunities for career growth.”
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