The workers of Whole Foods, the health-focused grocery chain purchased by Amazon just over one year ago, are beginning to organize.
An email—first reported on this morning by the Wall Street Journal, then obtained with one redaction by New Food Economy—proposes collective action by the store’s rank-and-file employees to obtain an increased minimum wage, among other benefits, and stanch the flow of staffing cuts that began in 2015 and have continued under Jeff Bezos’ leadership.
“Amazon has just become this big weight where I haven’t been able to reap any benefits from the millions of dollars that Jeff Bezos makes,” a current Whole Foods employee told Gizmodo. “There has been no whisper of any type of pay increase. At all. Prices have dropped only by a few cents and the items that got dropped were produce items which were already priced low. Amazon is a joke. Customers feel betrayed.”
It’s not clear yet how widely the email has been distributed across the company’s 450+ locations, and the memo mentions no preexisting union that this committee of organizers intends to join. It’s the very motion towards a unified front, but it’s all the more important given Amazon’s historic ability to resist unionization efforts in the U.S. While strikes of varying size and efficacy have taken place in many of the company’s European warehouses, organized labor has struggled to find a foothold here—although, if Whole Foods workers are ultimately successful in having their demands met, it might kickstart such efforts more broadly within Amazon.
We’ve reached out to Amazon for comment. Read the entire memo below:
Dear team members,
We write to you today as a group of Whole Foods Market team members who are concerned about the direction of our company.
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 moral [sic] within stores. Many in leadership are well aware of the fact that when John Mackey sold WFM to Jeff Bezos last year, that deal came with an agreement to trim hundreds of millions of dollars of labor from our stores. 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. Positions including department order writers, supervisors, store scanners, and customer service teams positions are currently the most vulnerable.
It has become apparent over the last three years the WFM has not lives up to its core value of supporting team member happiness and excellence. John Mackey claims that “customers are our most important stakeholders,” and while customers are clearly important we believe that team members are stakeholders that bare equal importance as customers. Whole Foods would literally grind to a full stop were it not for the hard work that WFM team members put into their jobs every day. Without all of our hard work, Whole Foods would never have survived the hard years we have been through. And without our hard work and dedications today, Whole Foods would literally be worth next to nothing.
It is time to hold John Mackey accountable in supporting his team members. It is not acceptable to layoff dedicated team members with meager severance packages, no health insurance and then merely offer the opportunity to re-apply for other positions at a much lower wage.
Many team members might not be aware that WFM provided profit sharing in the form of stock options for full time team members above 6000 service hours before Amazon’s acquisition last year. Currently under Amazon, only store leadership and home office positions receive Amazon stock, neglecting the much deserved compensation of store team members. This is not acceptable.
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. Therefore, we should demand a labor model that offers a $15 minimum wage, 401K matching, paid maternity leave, lower heath insurance deductibles, a fair and equitable gainshare and bonus system, and equal profit sharing, amongst other benefits. If Amazon and Whole Foods continues down its current path with a labor model that is similar to Walmart’s, it will be a tremendous loss for all of us.
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.
If this cause appeals to you and you are interested in joining the cross-regional committee, please email [REDACTED] and we will send out further information with instructions. Your complete confidentiality will be protected. It is against the law for Whole Foods to threaten, intimidate and/or retaliate against workers who organize for better working conditions, and we will undertake measures to protect those who wish to help. You can also forward this letter to other team members or post it on your communication boards as we would like to connect with as many team members as possible.
Every store team member at Whole Foods Market was negatively impacted by the layoffs of 2015 and every store team member is going to be impacted by future restructuring. Help us stand up to Amazon, WFM and John Mackey.
The members of Team WFM’s Cross Regional Committee