Surging demand led to lax hiring and safety practices.
A new report from Buzzfeed News details a litany of workplace-safety offenses and violent incidents at a three-year-old Blue Apron packing facility in Richmond, California. In its rapid expansion to meet surging demand, it seems, the meal-delivery startup was, at least for a time, cutting corners on facilities and hiring, while low-paid line workers put in tough days in a chaotic environment. The situation was so bad that, as of about a year ago, the company voluntarily scaled back marketing and customer acquisition efforts so that it could improve its practices.
The apex of the problems came in August of last year. On a single day, the facility experienced two threats of violence from employees, while at the same time management met with Occupational Safety and Health Administration investigators regarding what would become nine workplace safety citations.
According to BuzzFeed, Blue Apron now has more OSHA violations than any other food-packing operation in the area. In addition to shortcomings like missing eye-wash stations, one employee suffered serious injuries after crashing a forklift she was not licensed to operate.
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The report also outlines repeated threats of violence by employees, including four separate bomb threats to the Richmond facility, fighting in the parking lot, and at least one incident of sexual groping. The root cause of the problems, according to local police who spoke with Buzzfeed, was a history of violence, much of it gang-related, in Richmond as a whole.
Blue Apron, which could IPO soon at a valuation of as much as $3 billion, has hired rapidly since its 2012 founding. The Richmond facility grew from 50 employees in 2014 to over 1,000 today, and made substantial use of temp agencies. Lax hiring practices at various levels apparently let Richmond’s violence enter the workplace.
Many employees described working conditions that were, even at the best of times, strenuous, as employees scrambled to find and prep ingredients from a supply chain that sometimes struggled to keep up. One former warehouse lead described frequently working 12-hour days up to six days a week (workers were apparently properly paid overtime). That employee also described Blue Apron co-founder Matt Wadiak, who oversaw operations, as having an abrasive leadership style and little knowledge of how to run a warehouse.
Though BuzzFeed says Wadiak would not agree to an interview, the company provided extensive comments in response to the findings. The company has upgraded its security at the Richmond facility. Most impressively, the company says it “closed many shipping days to new customers, cut its marketing budget, turned off its referral program, and altered many of its email marketing programs designed to drive customer orders until appropriate staffing was able to be put in place.”
That approach seems to be working, as the Richmond Police Department says that police calls to the Blue Apron facility have declined this year— but there have still been more than a dozen since May.