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Whole Foods workers’ worst fears may be coming true

Whole Foods workers’ worst fears may be coming true
[Photo: David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons]

As Amazon trudges toward its goal to overtake nearly every industry, it is expanding its technology arsenal, too. Over the last year, the company has unveiled its Amazon Go stores, where customers can go in, take items, and leave without checking out. Now the Wall Street Journal reports that Amazon is testing out this cashier-less technology in bigger stores. This news will probably send shivers down the spines of many Whole Foods workers.

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Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion. It has tried to stay mum on what exactly its grand plans are for the high-end grocery chain, but Whole Foods employees have been worried. Over the last year, some say working conditions have worsened. In response, some Whole Foods workers have been trying to unionize (something Amazon warehouse employees have also been trying to do, too).

While many Whole Foods employee complaints revolve around daily working conditions, another latent fear is a near future where most workers are no longer necessary. Were Amazon to implement Go’s cashier-less tech in the supermarkets, it would undoubtedly reduce the demand for cashiers.

That Amazon is looking to expand its cashier-less technology is precisely the sort of bad news workers were fearing. According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited anonymous well-placed sources, Amazon has been testing it in Seattle in what looks like a “big store.” The company hasn’t confirmed that this means it would be used for Whole Foods, but the connection seems natural. I reached out to both Amazon and Whole Foods; an Amazon spokesperson offered me this statement: “We don’t comment on rumors or speculation.”

Of course, none of this should come as a surprise. While Amazon has been reticent to divulge its precise Whole Foods plans, the company has a decades-long track record of slowly building out new services and then, when proven effective, scaling them to insane heights. This is the playbook Amazon strictly followed when it launched its marketplace, its cloud services, and its ever-growing artificial technology projects, to name just a few.

When word first got out a few years ago that Amazon was dabbling with cashier-less technology, it was nearly a given that the company had plans to use it more widely down the line. And we saw this with Amazon’s frequent announcements about new Go store locations.

In this same vein, Amazon has continually invested in ways it could become less reliant on humans. This is the other part of its playbook. What CEO Jeff Bezos wants is as big an empire as possible with the smallest of margins. What better way to do that than reduce the need for human wages?

Of course, we don’t know what Amazon’s precise plans are, but this alleged technology expansion gives us some valuable clues. If there were ever an event to mobilize Whole Foods workers to protect their livelihoods, this would be it.

You can read the full Wall Street Journal report here. 

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