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Report says Theo Chocolate tried to quash union effort


Seattle-based Theo Chocolate is known for its focus on sustainability and fair trade. But a new report 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 report was written by the International Labor Rights Forum, a Washington D.C.-based non-profit. 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 report says the company then hired a consultant to meet with workers to tell them why unionizing was a bad idea.

Mackenzie Jahnke was a web developer for Theo who helped lead the organizing campaign. She says company executives made workers feel bad for trying to organize.

"They also held a number of meetings, which were mandatory company meetings, in which managers got up in front of the company and started crying and telling us that we had ruined the family atmosphere at Theo and that we had created a vibe that would never ever be able to be bridged because we had attempted to form a union," Jahnke said.

Jahnke says she was later terminated – she thinks it was because of her unionizing. The report also says the so-called Fair for Life certification the company received from a European certifying group was given unfairly because of the anti-union effort.

The company has put out a long letter on its web site rebutting the report. In it, CEO Joe Whinney says Theo has never fired or discriminated against workers for union activity and that the company is firmly based on the principles of social and environmental justice. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.