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Under Pressure from OCA & Unions, Bon Appetit Calls on BeefNorthwest/Country Natural Beef to Negotiate with United Farm Workers

The Bon Appetit Management Company (BAMCO) of Palo Alto, CA, has agreed it "will not play a role" in a proposed union election involving the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the marketing cooperative Country Natural Beef. As a result, a farm workers protest planned for October 29 outside BAMCO's corporate offices was cancelled.

Bon Appetit, a foodservice management company, is known as a "leader in sustainable foodservice practices". A company spokesperson said that the event was called off after UFW vice president Eric Nicholson spoke with a Bon Appetit officer.

Country Natural Beef (CNB), a "pioneer in the naturally raised beef movement" is one of Bon Appetit's biggest suppliers. It accounts for about 45,000 head of cattle on some 90 ranches.

CNB sells to organic and natural grocery chains like Whole Foods Market and also to restaurant chains like Burgerville.

The contentious and years-long labor dispute between CNB and the UFW centers around the issue of whether workers at Beef Northwest Feeders, a feedlot operation which handles CNB's cattle, want to join the UFW, which is the largest agricultural workers' union in Oregon & Washington.

According to the UFW, workers voted for unionization earlier in the summer, but in late October, ranchers for CNB posted election notices. UFW is challenging the election as unfair and unnecessary, citing the earlier pro-union vote, and, in a Sunday press release accused Bon Appetit and Whole Foods of subverting the right of feedlot workers to unionize. "The support that Whole Foods and Bon Appetit, both non-union companies themselves, has given to the sham "election" proposal only serves to undermine both the talks the UFW has been engaged in with Beef Northwest and disrespects workers' rights," the union said.

In a statement issued after speaking with UFW's Nicholson, BAMCO said the company "will not play a role in the proposed election", but would "support workers in their ultimate decision whether or not to unionize". "We strongly urge both the United Farm Workers and Beef Northwest to come to the table in pursuit of socially just labor policy, working together to resolve this issue quickly for the benefit of all," BAMCO said.

Earlier in October, protests were held outside Whole Foods stores in the western U.S., including members and supporters of the UFW, the Organic Consumers Association, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and the National Farm Workers Ministry. The union-organized boycotts have had a negative financial impact, CNB ranchers say.

The UFW has been trying to organize Beef Northwest workers since 2007. Election results will be announced Nov. 10.