Amazon-Owned Whole Foods Slashes Health Care Benefits for Part-Time Workers

Illustration for article titled Amazon-Owned Whole Foods Slashes Health Care Benefits for Part-Time Workers
Photo: Eric Gay (AP)

Amazon-owned Whole Foods is slashing benefits for 1,900 part-time workers at the start of 2020, with staff working 20 hours a week told the bar to buy into the company health care plan will now be set at 30 hours a week, Business Insider reported this week.

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The changes won’t affect full-time employees, according to BI. In a truly headache inducing statement to the site, a Whole Foods spokesperson referred to the change as an attempt to make its “scheduling model” more “equitable and efficient”:

Whole Foods said it was making the change “to better meet the needs of our business and create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model.”

“The small percentage of part-time team members ... who previously opted into medical benefits through Whole Foods Market’s healthcare plan—less than 2% of our total workforce—will no longer be eligible to buy into medical coverage through the company,” the Whole Foods spokesperson said.

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It is undoubtedly more “efficient” for Whole Foods and its owner Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, who Forbes estimates is worth $114.4 billion, to kick nearly 2,000 people off of a company health care plan. The Verge noted that when they reached out to Amazon, the spokesperson was sure to emphasize that these workers still qualified for a 20 percent discount on Whole Foods products. So equitable!

“I am in shock,” one Whole Foods worker told BI. “I’ve worked here 15 years. This is why I keep the job — because of my benefits.” As BI separately noted, just last month, Bezos signed a Business Roundtable pledge which (loosely) committed signatories to “deliver value to all” stakeholders, not just shareholders, including by “investing in our employees” and “compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.”

According to the Seattle Times, workers involved in a union drive at Whole Foods that previously raised concerns about Amazon’s plans to “aggressively trim our labor force before it expands with new technology and labor models” are pushing back. An account associated with the lobby tweeted, “They already took our profit sharing. Now they’re coming for our healthcare.” (In a letter to fellow employees decrying planned layoffs last year, the workers noted that profit sharing for non-management or home office positions for employees over 6,000 hours was eliminated under Amazon ownership.)

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United Food and Commercial Workers union president Marc Perrone, who has worked to organize Amazon staff in New York but whose union does not currently represent Whole Foods employees, told the Times in a statement that the cuts are “one of Jeff Bezos’ most brazen attacks on the quality of jobs at Whole Foods and the communities they support.”

Congrats to Bezos on padding his overstuffed wallet with a few more crisp, tainted bills’ worth of human misery, though. After all–you don’t get to be the world’s richest man by being a good person.

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DISCUSSION

The whole notion of employer provided healthcare is so problematic, that the US is virtually alone amongst developed nations in trying to make the model work.

And, truthfully, it only exists as a response to some very particular WW2 associated economic conditions in the US. Because of the war, the US instituted wage and price controls. Employers, desperate to recruit and retain workers during the war (recall Rosie the Riveter) turned to benefits, such as private health insurance, to sweeten the deal for workers since they couldn’t increase pay. The deal was sealed when the government then elected to exempt health insurance from income tax.

Other countries, who didn’t have the luxury of functioning economies during the war, almost universally developed systems to effect universal coverage, unrelated (Canada, France, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden, and UK) or only peripherally related to employment (Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, and Switzerland).

So, instead of saying “Boo” to Amazon, perhaps we should be asking why we haven’t corrected for a 75 year old accident?