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NLRB files complaint against Capital Roots for alleged labor violations

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

Capital Roots, a non-profit community garden and nutrition organization in Troy, is facing a formal complaint from the National Labor Relations Board.

In a complaint and notice of hearing filed August 1st, the NLRB accuses Capital Roots of violating the National Labor Relations Act for its interactions with employees who unionized last year.

In July 2022, Capital Roots announced it voluntarily recognized employees who unionized through SEIU Local 200. In the weeks that followed, employees accused Capital Roots of retaliation and fostering a toxic work environment.

Cody Bloomfield, one of two unionized workers fired from the organization a year ago, spoke with WAMC during a union rally outside Capital Roots’ Troy headquarters last August.

“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 me 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.

Greg Campbell-Cohen, the other terminated employee named in the NLRB’s complaint this week, told WAMC he felt targeted by the company.

He accused Capital Roots of retaliating against organized workers.

“This is a community non-profit that's like, broadly, overwhelmingly supported by individual donors and the government,” said Campbell-Cohen. “And I think it's not a great use of those funds, and not great stewardship of those funds to dedicate so much time and energy and money toward finding something that seems settled.”

According to Capital Roots CEO Amy Klein, 17 employees currently work at the non-profit. None are affiliated with SEIU or any other union. Klein said the non-profit pulled its voluntary recognition in May.

Capital Roots rejected an earlier settlement offer from the NLRB that would require the non-profit to reinstate the terminated employees and re-recognize SEIU as the bargaining representative. Klein calls that offer “one-sided.”

“Our employees indicated to us this spring, in writing, that they no longer wanted to be represented by the union. And the critical aspect of the settlement would force the reinstatement of this union. And we felt that it was very important that our employees be able to exercise their own independent judgment about what's in their best interest,” said Klein.

Referencing Campbell-Cohen, Klein says the former employee was not eligible for union protection.

“And the two employees that are referenced in the complaint, one was a director and part of the management team, he was not a member of the union's bargaining unit. And it would be a dangerous precedent to allow members of management to be covered by union bargaining. And that's what the union is trying to do here and what the NLRB is trying to do,” said Klein.

Campbell-Cohen denies he was a manager during his time at Capital Roots. Klein said the organization is readying its response to the NLRB complaint. A hearing before a judge is set for February 2024.

Sean Collins, SEIU union representative, said he expects a judgement in the union’s favor.

“We were confident that that when a when brought before the administrative law judge that that they will, that we will prevail and then hopefully it will work, hopefully begin the process of resolving these charges,” said Collins. “And this has been going on for months now. You know, at every step of the way we've tried to deescalate it to some degree but the organization's leadership just wouldn't, wasn't willing to work with us.”

In June, a Capital Roots employee contacted WAMC, accusing SEIU and Collins of using the union’s power and influence on the NLRB to “settle personal vendettas” against Klein, actions that have impacted the financial health of the non-profit.

Collins told WAMC he “didn’t know what to make” of the allegation.

“We have said publicly, what I have said as the union representative, is just to reiterate is we were protecting the rights of our members, we were protecting the rights of workers, and we always as a union defend the rights of our members,” said Collins.

Capital Roots has a deadline of August 15th to respond to the NLRB complaint. The organization has been a WAMC underwriter.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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