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To Stop Amazon From Turning Them Into 'Robots,' Whole Food Workers Intensify Union Effort

Employees report that "we're left to try to figure out how to do the impossible on shifts with not enough people to work."

Whole Foods Market employees and union activists

Whole Foods Market employees and union activists protested on July 31, 2013 outside a Whole Foods Market store in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Whole Foods Market employees are seeking a union to battle anti-worker tactics by Amazon—which acquired the grocery chain last year and is run by the richest man in the world—warning that the company is "self cannibalizing" and "they want us to become robots."

"Store teams used to make more. We had much better pay and were taking more money on our paychecks than we were making from our hourly wage when the company was successful, when it wasn't self cannibalizing, when everybody had the tools to do their job."
—Whole Foods worker
"No one trusts Amazon and there are fears in upper management that Amazon will clean house if sales rates aren't hit," a founder of the Whole Worker community told the Guardian in an article published Monday. "They're squeezing all they can out of the workers."

Those interviewed didn't want their names printed, according to the Guardian, because they fear retaliation from managers trained watch for "warning signs" of organizing, such as employees socializing outside of work or using what the company called "union words" like "living wage."

Unnamed employees from stores in multiple states shared how Amazon's acquisition of Whole Foods has impacted them and their work environments:

  • "We just got bought by the second trillion-dollar company in the world and we don't have money to replace refrigeration units."
  • "Amazon gives little notice whenever they make changes. When they rolled in the Amazon Prime discount, they only gave stores ten to fourteen days of notice and no extra labor to handle the extra work."
  • "We're left to try to figure out how to do the impossible on shifts with not enough people to work. It's not the same place it was a year ago."
  • "Store teams used to make more. We had much better pay and were taking more money on our paychecks than we were making from our hourly wage when the company was successful, when it wasn't self cannibalizing, when everybody had the tools to do their job."
  • "They want us to become robots. That's where they are going, they want to set it up so they don't have to pay someone $15 an hour who knows all about the food, they can pay someone $10 an hour to do these small tasks and timed duties."

Even before the Amazon acquisition, Whole Foods had a history of union-busting and implemented policies such as the order-to-shelf system, which critics say aims to make workers "interchangeable." But those who spoke to the Guardian and members of the Whole Worker community argue that some of Amazon's moves have been bad for both employees and business.

"Local and specialty products have been cut and replaced with more conventional mainstream ones, and regional marketing and sign making has been removed," a California worker told the Guardian. "We are losing the shopper and team members who helped make us who we were."

"Corporations keep getting tax incentives, but when you don't raise wages and you need two jobs just to make a living, what's the point? We're not getting anywhere as a society."
—Whole Foods organizer
An Illinois-based employee who helps coordinate the Whole Worker community noted: "We work for the wealthiest man in the world and our stores can't afford to hire. If you actually want to build sales and increase market share, you need to spend the money to get it done."

"Corporations keep getting tax incentives, but when you don't raise wages and you need two jobs just to make a living, what's the point?" the Illinois employee added. "We're not getting anywhere as a society.

While Amazon attempts to quash organizing in Whole Foods stores nationwide—assuring managers in a training video that leaked last week that the law "protects" them when sharing "opinions" such as "unions are lying, cheating rats" to discourage workers from forming a union—efforts continue to improve working and living conditions for Whole Foods and Amazon employees.

Noting that "over the past year, layoffs, and the consolidation of store level positions at Whole Foods Market have upset the livelihood of team members, stirred anxiety, and lowered [morale] within stores," the Whole Worker community emailed employees on Sept. 6 to call for the formation of a union, warning that "there will continue to be layoffs in 2019 and beyond as Amazon aims to aggressively trim our labor force before it expands with new technology and labor models."

With a clear jab at Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) last month introduced the Stop BEZOS Act, which would impose a "corporate welfare tax" on major corporations to pay for the public assistance their employees require due to low wages and inadequate benefits.

Praising Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's recent decision to pull millions of dollars in grants from Amazon unless it pays workers in the country a living wage, Sanders on Monday called for the U.S. government to pursue the same tactic:

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