Yesterday, a group of workers at Whole Foods sent an email to nearly every employee, entreating them to unionize. This is not the first time Whole Foods workers have tried to organize, but it is the first time under its new Amazon ownership. And, according to the letter that was sent yesterday, things aren’t going great with the new overlords.
“Over the past year, layoffs and the consolidations of store-level positions at Whole Foods Market have upset the livelihood of team members, stirred, anxiety, and lowered moral [sic] within stores,” the email declares. It then alleges that Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sold the store to Amazon “with an agreement to trim hundreds of millions of dollars of labor from our stores.” The letter goes on, “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.”
The workers are organizing with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union–who represents workers from big department stores, including Macy’s and H&M.
Whole Foods has historically fought against these attempts to unionize, and we can only expect Amazon to do the same. For years, Amazon workers have alleged poor working conditions and dismal compensation, which the company claimed to be false.
What makes the Whole Foods attempt interesting is that, for decades, the grocery store has been considered a good employer–providing better wages and benefits than most other competitors. It was once the incarnation of “welfare capitalism,” where a business provides the necessary social services to its employees. The letter insinuates that Amazon’s ownership is changing this once-core part of Whole Foods’s business model. (Of course, even before the acquisition, the company made big changes that indicated its benevolent business approach was rapidly changing.)
Still, this is a movement to watch. Amazon and Whole Foods will surely come out with guns blazing, but American class consciousness is undoubtedly different now than it was even a year ago. People are beginning to realize that labor conditions aren’t good, and that big corporations are no longer looking out for their well-being. This will hopefully give the unionization effort more ammunition than it’s ever had before. (Disclosure: Fast Company‘s editorial staff is in the process of unionizing.)
In response to an inquiry, Whole Foods provided the following statement:
“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.”
I also reached out to Amazon and will update if I hear back. We’ll be keeping an eye out for any updates, and whether this email helped galvanize even more Whole Foods workers. You can read the full email here.