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Theo Chocolates is bitter about unionizing, labor group claims

Theo Chocolates, in Seattle, disputes a labor group's report that claims the company fired, discriminated against, and penalized employees who wanted to unionize. (Linda Thomas photo)

A Seattle-based chocolate company known for using fair trade cocoa beans is unfair to its workers, they claim.

A report from a labor group says the company doesn’t deserve its “Fair for Life” certification because it tried to prevent workers from unionizing a couple of years ago.

The International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit, made a case study out of the Theo Chocolates company.

It says that in 2010, Theo Chocolate workers contacted the Teamsters union about organizing because they said they were overworked and some had been injured on the job.

The company reportedly hired a consultant to meet with workers to tell them why unionizing was a bad idea.

“Management actively campaigned against
worker organizing efforts using professional
union avoidance consultants, intimidation,
and discriminatory treatment of workers
based on support of the union,” says Judy Gearhart, executive director of the labor rights group.

“Theo management learned that the Theo workers were attempting to form a union. To the workers’ surprise, management responded with hostility, intimidation and retaliation.

Rather than view the workers’ desire to
form a union as a positive step toward a
more mature labor-management relationship,
Theo management viewed the efforts
as a personal affront and a challenge to the
company’s business model. Top management,
including CEO Joe Whinney, confronted
union supporters and spread an anti-union culture through emotional manipulation, guilt, intimidation, fear and derogatory accusations about unions in general.”

The company has responded with a letter “Setting the Record Straight” refuting the report.

Theo Choclates CEO Joe Whinney says in bold type, “I want to be clear that the accusations contained in this report are false. At no time has Theo fired, discriminated against, or penalized employees based on their activities or preferences around unions.”

He says the report is flawed and adds, “Executive and salaried employees elected to take pay cuts to ensure no jobs would be lost during the recession, and that hourly employees’ wages would be protected and maintained at pre-recession levels.”

By LINDA THOMAS

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