No Evil Foods, a North Carolina-based company that makes vegan meat substitutes, laid off the entire production team and shuttered their production near Asheville last week. At the time, No Evil portrayed the layoffs as necessary in order to ensure the company had a future. Now, new talking points distributed throughout the company by co-founder Sadrah Schadel and obtained by Discourse Blog are trying to explain what the talking points call “one of the hardest, most painful decisions our leadership has had to make”: not providing No Evil’s newly unemployed workers with severance.
The company has built its branding around progressive and even outright socialist imagery, with products such as the chicken substitute Comrade Cluck and El Zapatista (recently rebranded as El Capitán), its vegan chorizo. But last year workers at the company attempted to form a union affiliated with the United Food and Commerical Workers International (UFCW) and were met with stiff resistance. No Evil workers voted against unionizing in February 2020, after a campaign in which former workers at the company say No Evil engaged in union-busting meetings, including hiring an anti-union law firm and holding “captive audience” meetings while workers were on their shifts.
Last week, co-founder Mike Woliansky tearfully informed No Evil’s remaining Weaverville production staff that they were being laid off and the company was moving to a “co-manufacturing facility” out of state.
“In-house manufacturing with our own team was something we built, loved, and fought for very hard,” Woliansky said in a statement following the layoffs. “Ultimately, however, for a company of our size to survive in the hyper-competitive marketplace, the co-manufacturing model will be required going forward.” An additional statement from Schadel said the company is “a brand that consumers love for our great tasting food and the company’s commitment to social and environmental justice.”
Schadel sent the talking points in an email to the company’s remaining employees Wednesday in order to give them “the tools to engage in open dialogue effectively and confidently about the difficult and painful position the company was in,” according to a copy of the email shared with Discourse Blog. She added: “We also want you to approach this with a lot of optimism for what’s coming next!”
Schadel did not respond to questions from Discourse Blog sent Friday afternoon. We’ll update if they respond.
It’s not uncommon for companies to distribute materials such as these for purposes of damage control. But No Evil’s talking points double down on their posture as a progressive company by centering their response to the backlash around how sad all of this is making them.
“The decision to close our Weaverville facility was incredibly painful. There’s a lot of sadness in letting go of our vision to create living wage, fair chance jobs, build community, and effect positive change through our own in-house manufacturing facility,” the talking points say. “We worked very hard to create a rewarding, supportive work environment, and know our team was heartbroken when they received the news — we are heartbroken too.”
The melancholy tone continues in another section on how to respond about the lack of severance.
“Not being able to provide severance was one of the hardest, most painful decisions that our leadership team has ever had to make — our founders and leadership did their best to create a rewarding, supportive work environment based on inclusivity,” the talking points say. “To not be able to show up in this moment to better support our team is something that will stay with us for the rest of of our lives.” The company says that it’s working with local businesses to find new job placement for the laid-off workers and is providing “1:1 coaching and resumé development,” and that some workers have been hired elsewhere.
The company goes on to say that “layoffs were not just concentrated in our manufacturing team,” and that both Woliansky and Schadel are taking a “50 percent paycut and have put up their life savings to provide critical financial support through this difficult transition.” It also says the company will continue with an “enthusiastic core team who will oversee business operations.”
For all of the company’s efforts, there’s little evidence the laid-off workers bought No Evil’s supposed sincerity. In audio from the June 11 meeting which was first reported by HuffPost last week, workers can be heard during the meeting yelling “Screw all of y’all” and demanding more substantial answers from the company. “You can’t tell me there’s absolutely no money,” one worker says.
“They were nervous. They were real nervous,” former No Evil worker Mike Rapier told the Asheville Citizen-Times earlier this week. “Mike Woliansky did a real good job of crying for us.”
Another of the talking points deals with the union fight. In May, the company fired leaders in the drive just a few months later for what it claimed were social distancing violations; the workers dispute those violations. Two workers involved in the drive settled with the company through the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) for more than $42,000 total in backpay and front pay, as Jacobin reported last month.
In response to a hypothetical question on whether the layoffs are related to the union drive, the company’s talking points say simply: “Not at all.”
Though the facility’s closure marks the company “letting go of its vision” in some respects, that may extend beyond its workforce.
No Evil Foods has not publicly divulged who they’re working with to produce their products now, saying only in its talking points that it’s a “co-manufacturing facility in Illinois that works with other food brands in the plant-based space.” But according to a source familiar with the move, No Evil is moving into a plant-based facility in Danville, Illinois owned by Paxton Packing—a co-packer and “artisan jerky manufacturer” which works with beef, pork, and poultry products.
This is significant because No Evil workers said last year that, as part of the company’s captive audience meetings, No Evil targeted UFCW’s representation of slaughterhouse workers. During one meeting, Woliansky described joining the UFCW as “hitching your wagon to a huge organization with high paid executives and a history of scandal and supporting slaughterhouses,” according to audio obtained by Motherboard.
“The whole implication was that [meatpacking workers] don’t deserve good wages and healthcare and stability in their lives because they work at slaughterhouses,” one worker told me last year. For No Evil to now partner with a meatpacking company would fly in the face of those professed objections.
A representative of Paxton Packing who answered a phone call from Discourse Blog Friday said the company had non-disclosure agreements with the companies it works with and couldn’t divulge their identities. Schadel did not immediately return a request for comment.