Last year, Jeff Bezos' Amazon acquired Whole Foods and set about streamlining and centralizing the grocery chain's existing model that had historically allowed each store to operate largely independently. But practically speaking, that focus on corporate efficiency translated to layoffs for Whole Foods employees. Now, the employees are doing their own centralized organizing.
After hundreds of in-store marketing staff were laid off earlier this summer, workers started agitating for a union. This morning, a group of employees released an email to New Food Economy that they said had been distributed to most of Whole Foods' tens of thousands of workers urging them to unionize.
"We cannot let Amazon remake the entire North American retail landscape without embracing the full value of its team members. The success of Amazon and WFM should not come at the cost of exploiting our dedication and threatening our economic stability," the email says before detailing some of the demands:
Therefore, we should demand a labor model that offers a $15 minimum wage, 401k matching, paid maternity leave, lower health insurance deductibles, a fair and equitable gain share and bonus system, and equal profit sharing, amongst other benefits.
It goes on to specifically solicit union participation across all 490 Whole Foods stores.
To hold Amazon and WFM accountable in supporting its team members, we are forming a cross-regional committee of interested team members that would like to organize in working to create a platform to force Amazon to meet our demands. Accomplishing this as individual stores is extremely difficult. However, if we organize our efforts on a national scale it will be impossible for Amazon and WFM executives to ignore.
That said, world's-richest-corporate-overlord Jeff Bezos has worked to squash unions since Amazon's founding in 1994. Despite widespread reporting on the exploitative and sometimes dangerous working conditions in his factories and near poverty-level pay, Bezos has repeatedly employed intense pressure and punitive firings to prevent labor from organizing.
We reached out to Whole Foods for a comment on the unionizing effort, and they supplied the following:
We respect the individual rights of our team members and have an open-door policy that encourages team members to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their team leaders. We believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce and creates an atmosphere that fosters open communication and empowerment. We offer competitive wages and benefits and are committed to the growth and success of our team members.
For his part, Whole Foods' founder John Mackey, who paid himself only $1 a year as CEO but made $8 million in the sale to Amazon, has defended the company's lack of labor organization by saying, "We’re not so much anti-union as beyond unions.”
The staff, however, may feel differently.