For 20 years, Whole Foods has enjoyed the honor of being on Fortune magazine’s list of the top 100 best places to work. But if recent comments by co-founder and CEO John Mackey are any indication, that all might change soon. That’s because Amazon is buying Whole Foods, and Mackey thinks the company should take a page from the (notoriously terrible to work for) online superstore’s handbook.
When the deal was announced to employees at a town hall meeting on Friday, Mackey answered some questions about the future of Whole Foods. This section stands out, emphasis mine:
One of the things they do better than us, they are more customer-centric than we are. They really are. And one of my takeaways is that, by God, we’re gonna become as customer-centric as Amazon. We’re gonna— we’re gonna— we’re gonna import their passion about that.
Because I think, sometimes, our company’s gone a little bit too much team member focus at the expense of our customers. And that’s one definite evolution that’s gonna happen. I love the passion these guys have around the customer. They put the customer first in everything they do and think backwards. And— we— we’re gonna be the same way. …
They are a tremendous company that— has so much to teach us. And I’m, for one, gonna be an eager— eager pupil.
This is funny, because Amazon is a widely known as an awful and abusive place to work. Actually, it’s not funny at all. When The New York Times published a shocking exposé about Amazon’s corporate culture in 2015, the company responded not by denying the claims or making an effort to improve employee happiness but by slinging mud at the newspaper’s sources. You might remember that Times story by the quote, “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.” Amazon would later accuse the former employee who said this of being a fraudster and accused the newspaper of shoddy journalism.
But that story didn’t seem sensational at all, as Amazon has long had a reputation for treating its employees like garbage. For years, our sister site, Gawker (RIP), catalogued the horror stories of Amazon workers. Those stories included tales from contract workers at Amazon fulfillment centers who were forced to do hours overtime, office workers who were underpaid but still working 100-plus hours a week, part-time workers who weren’t paid for extra hours, and even warehouse employees who were trained and then immediately fired. The list goes on.
This is apparently the culture that Whole Foods wants to learn from. And quite frankly, Whole Foods employees should be shitting their pants right now. Can you imagine if your boss stood up in front of the entire company and said that the leadership team had “a little bit too much team member focus?” In other words, the company you’ve been working for has been taking too much care to keep employees happy, so they’d better borrow labor practices from one of the most flagrant culprits of worker abuse on the planet. Imagine sitting through that meeting and hearing that. Your head would explode!
Time will tell whether Whole Foods becomes just another Amazon-branded sweatshop. The deal is set to close later this year and still needs to clear some regulatory hurdles before everything is finalized. Based on Mackey’s comments, though, things aren’t looking good for the Whole Foods team members. But hey, at least they had it good for a couple decades.
Update 9:00pm - Amazon sent us the following statement:
“We are proud of our workplace. We offer good jobs with innovative and egalitarian benefits, competitive pay and company stock, tuition to pursue career aspirations, and a network of support to succeed. We offer public tours in both our corporate offices and our fulfillment centers and welcome anyone to come see for themselves.”