A Whole Foods store in downtown Philadelphia fired an employee who called on the store to stop providing free food to police officers during Black Lives Matter protests.
Last week, after employees learned that the Philadelphia store’s team leader had given police officers free food and water while they policed Black Lives Matter protests, a friend of Megan Murray, the recently fired cashier’s assistant, designed a graphic that reads "Tell Whole Foods Market: No Free Food for Cops." The graphic was shared on social media, and asked customers to call Whole Foods customer service to demand the company not to provide free food to police officers amid Black Lives Matter protests.
A week earlier, Amazon, Whole Foods’ parent company, published a statement on Twitter calling for an end to violence against Black people, and the irony was not lost on Whole Foods workers who saw the store manager providing free food to police. A spokesperson for Whole Foods told Motherboard that the store had been told to immediately evacuate the store on June 1 as protests occurred near the store.
"As we closed down our store, we offered the remaining prepared food and some water to the police officers who were on-site helping us to quickly and safely evacuate the store. There were no subsequent donations," the spokesperson said.
On June 7, Murray told Motherboard they were called in by two members of Whole Foods’ Global Asset Protection team and interrogated for more than two hours. Murray said the two investigators pulled up a screenshot of a different graphic related to the call-in campaign from Murray’s private Instagram story, and said that their post presented a threat to the store. On June 8, Murray said they received news of their termination in a phone call.
“I tried to explain that this graphic was a PR thing,” Murray told Motherboard. “It said to call the corporate customer service line, not our store. But [the investigators] mentioned a California Whole Foods getting looted, and said it had presented a legitimate threat to our store.”
In a statement, Whole Foods echoed that language.
“We recognize employees’ rights to express themselves, however we do not tolerate behavior or language that is obscene, abusive, threatening or vulgar directed towards Team Members or Team Leaders, and take threats of any kind very seriously,” a spokesperson for Whole Foods told Motherboard. “The Team Member was separated due to a major infraction, which we investigated after it was brought to our attention by fellow Team Members. We have a zero-tolerance policy for any retaliation, and we followed standard company practices when investigating the Team Member's infractions and throughout the separation process.”
The same spokesperson added, after this article was first published, that Murray was fired for was a different graphic than the one that circulated on social media. “The Team Member was not separated as a result of this graphic, nor was this graphic brought up during any of the conversations with the former Team Member," the spokesperson said. "To suggest otherwise is completely false. She was presented with evidence unrelated to this graphic that showed clear violation of our policies against behavior and language that is threatening, vulgar and obscene towards a Team Member and was separated as a result."
Two employees of the Whole Foods location in downtown Philadelphia told Motherboard that lots of people contacted them last week to say they had called either Whole Foods’ Customer Service line or the downtown Philadelphia location directly, telling them to stop providing food to police officers.
Three Whole Foods employees at the same location told Motherboard that at least four other workers had posted the graphic to their social media accounts, but Murray alone had been singled out for an investigation.
“I feel like management has been trying to fire Megan for a while because they know they’ve been trying to push for union status,” a worker from the Philadelphia location, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation, told Motherboard. “Their firing feels retaliatory for sure, and like they’re trying to cover themselves.”
Murray had also taken steps to organize their coworkers to participate in national Whole Foods walkouts in March and May to demand increased protections for workers during the pandemic, and to join a private Telegram group. Murray says that they had been called in by management to discuss the Telegram group this spring, but did not receive any disciplinary action at the time.
Murray is the second worker active in organizing at Whole Foods to be fired in the past two weeks, amid historic nationwide protests and a deadly pandemic. In late May, Whole Foods terminated a southern California employee, who created a running count of COVID-19 cases in company’s U.S. supermarkets because Whole Foods would not make the information public. Both fired workers were active in the grassroots group Whole Worker, that organizes Whole Foods employees across the country. Meanwhile, Amazon, Whole Foods’ parent company, has fired at least three warehouse employees, all of whom were Black, and two corporate employees active in organizing since the start of the pandemic.
While both companies have repeatedly denied retaliation against organizers, terminated workers suspect that they have been singled out for efforts to organize their coworkers, given Amazon and Whole Foods’ well-documented anti-union stance. In April, Business Insider reported that Whole Foods uses a “heat map” that tracks and scores its 510 U.S. locations for risk of unionizing. The company also produced an anti-union video that was circulated among store managers in 2018.
Update: This piece has been updated with additional information from Whole Foods and Murray about the graphic shared.