© 2022
1078x200-header-mic.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Unionized workers accuse Capital Roots of retaliation, toxic work environment

Supporters rally for organized workers outside the Capital Roots Urban Grow Center in Troy on Friday, August 5th, 2022
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
Supporters rally for organized workers outside the Capital Roots Urban Grow Center in Troy on Friday, August 5th, 2022

Unionized workers at Capital Roots demonstrated outside the organization’s Urban Grow Center in Troy on Friday, accusing the non-profit dedicated to food access and sustainability as fostering a toxic workplace and retaliating against employees.

Capital Roots distributes fresh produce across the tri-city region, targeting food deserts. It also oversees a network of community gardens.

Capital Roots has been a WAMC underwriter.

As cars honked in support outside the center on Friday, Volunteer Coordinator Cody Bloomfield told me she was fired two days earlier. She said she was asked to leave after refusing to assist with a program outside of her usual responsibilities.

“I was then told I was being insubordinate. I was asked to leave by CEO Amy Klein. And when I said, ‘No, I want to have a conversation, I shouldn't just be asked to leave. I work 8 to 4, it's 10 a.m. in the morning, why are you asking you to leave?’ She said, ‘Well, now you're trespassing. So I'm gonna call the police, and I'm gonna have you arrested,’” said Bloomfield.

Bloomfield said she was the second employee fired after Capital Roots voluntarily recognized the union on July 5th.

She says the organization is short-staffed and that employees don’t have a say in what’s going on with the company.

“There's no transparency within the organization. We have this new building going in next door and they haven't been giving us updates or that there's no plan of how to staff that new building, even though we're understaffed currently, as it stands. We haven't had a grant writer since November so other folks on staff are having to pick up the slack,” said Bloomfield.

Lena Faustel runs the non-profit’s Squash Hunger food distribution program. She says the organization has difficulty holding on to employees and has a second job to make ends meet, despite working at Capital Roots full-time.

“I mean, it’s been, obviously COVID has affected a lot of things in that sense. But even before COVID, there was high turnover. And that has really put a lot of pressure on everyone else. And I work a second job. So that's kind of, you know, I've been able to stay here because I work a second job,” said Faustel.

Among officials standing in support of union workers was New York State Assemblymember Phil Steck, a Colonie Democrat who often appears at picket lines and demonstrations.

“I’m strongly in support of this. I don't think that people who work in the nonprofit sector should be all about self-sacrifice. There's certainly a part of that. But it shouldn't be exclusive. Another problem in that sector, sometimes it becomes all about the executive director. And it's really the people at the at the line who…the line workers who are getting the mission accomplished of the agency,” said Steck.

SEIU Local 200 United has filed 15 unfair labor practice complaints against Capital Roots with the National Labor Relations Board.

Union organizer Sean Collins called Bloomfield’s firing “egregious” and said union members have not had the opportunity to sit with management at the bargaining table.

“Their union was voluntarily recognized a month ago and we were hopeful that we will be able to reach recognition agreement and go to the bargaining table, but in the past month instead, you know, Amy and the directors have engaged in just a pattern of retaliation and have just dug their heels in,” said Collins.

Management at Capital Roots declined to speak on tape, and offered a written statement in response to Friday’s demonstration denying allegations from employees.

The statement attributed to the non-profit’s Board of Directors reads in part:

“Capital Roots remains committed to exemplifying a fair and equitable workplace for our valued staff. When we voluntarily recognized the staff’s efforts to unionize last month, we did so with an understanding and expectation that both the nonprofit’s counsel and the union would quickly begin negotiating in good faith, and in parallel, both parties would continue to legally perform their duties to ensure the essential day-to-day operations of Capital Roots. At this time, there have been no bargaining agreements made, and it is premature to elaborate on any specifics, as negotiations are expected to commence in the fall.”

The Board also affirmed its support for Klein. It says:

“We look forward to continuing the conversation with union organizers and fully stand in support of the nonprofit’s CEO, Amy Klein, who has been with the organization for twenty-five years and demonstrated utmost leadership and compassion for not only the staff, but also the people the organization serves.”

Capital Roots' full statement is posted below:

The following is a statement from the Capital Roots Board of Directors in response to the union rally that took place Friday, August 5, 2022 at noon.

Capital Roots remains committed to exemplifying a fair and equitable workplace for our valued staff. When we voluntarily recognized the staff’s efforts to unionize last month, we did so with an understanding and expectation that both the nonprofit’s counsel and the union would quickly begin negotiating in good faith, and in parallel, both parties would continue to legally perform their duties to ensure the essential day-to-day operations of Capital Roots.

At this time, there have been no bargaining agreements made, and it is premature to elaborate on any specifics, as negotiations are expected to commence in the fall.

The Board of Directors’ decision to voluntarily recognize a union of Capital Roots employees remains the policy and intention of the Board and management of Capital Roots. Sadly, we are aware of many factually inaccurate and defamatory allegations being made against CEO Amy Klein and her management team by certain union supporters. We categorically deny them. Management has not acted illegally, and its actions, taken in support of the management of the organization during the formation of this new relationship, have been guided by the organization’s principles, our rules of workplace conduct, and law. They have nevertheless been manipulated and contorted into false assertions of unfair practices and retaliation. Those assertions are not true.

We look forward to continuing the conversation with union organizers and fully stand in support of the nonprofit’s CEO, Amy Klein, who has been with the organization for twenty-five years and demonstrated utmost leadership and compassion for not only the staff, but also the people the organization serves. We will continue to maintain a positive work environment for all Capital Roots volunteers and staff.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.