Whole Foods workers organized a national “sick-out” protest on Tuesday, demanding that the grocery store give employees double their normal wages as “hazard pay” for working on the front lines during a pandemic.
The Whole Foods protest follows worker-organized strikes for better coronavirus protections at Instacart, the grocery delivery service, and at an Amazon warehouse in New York. Whole Foods is owned by Amazon, whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the richest person in the world.
Whole Worker, an organization of Whole Foods employees, called on workers to stay home sick on Tuesday to pressure the company to improve health protections for grocery workers, including paid sick leave for all workers who need to self-isolate, reinstatement of healthcare coverage for part-time workers, better sanitation equipment, and the immediate shutdown of any store location where an employee tests positive for Covid-19.
“We are working harder than we have ever worked. We are putting our lives at risk. We deserve to have our needs met,” the group wrote in an online petition.
The petition referenced an 11 March e-mail from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, who suggested Whole Foods employees could respond to the pandemic by donating their paid time off hours to coworkers dealing with a medical emergency, as Vice News reported.
Whole Foods employees’ starting pay rate is $15 an hour, according to the company. A Whole Foods spokeswoman said the grocery store had already increased employees’ wages by $2 an hour and increased overtime pay, as well as offering an additional two weeks of paid sick time for workers who had tested positive for Covid-19 and those in quarantine.
This week, the company had rolled out a new safety measure: “daily temperature screenings” for Whole Foods team members and Prime Now shoppers, spokeswoman Rachel Malish wrote in an e-mail.
She called the Whole Worker protest organizers a “small, but vocal group” and said that they did not represent “the collective voice” of more than 95,000 Whole Foods employees, who “are heroically showing up every day to provide our communities with an essential service”.
“So far today we have seen no changes to overall absenteeism and we continue to operate all of our stores without interruption,” Malish wrote.
Whole Worker did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The group had originally planned the “sick-out” protest for 1 May, the organizers wrote in an online petition, but had moved up the date to 31 March. “Whole Foods employees are already getting sick. We must act NOW,” they wrote.
We call on all Whole Foods Market employees to engage in a mass sick out on:
— Whole Worker (@WholeWorkerWFM) March 21, 2020
Amazon fired a New York warehouse worker who had helped organize the walk-out protest on Monday. New York City mayor Bill deBlasio said Tuesday the city’s human rights commissioner would investigate the organizer’s firing.