They want us to be robots’: Whole Foods workers fear Amazon’s changes | Tech Industry
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Workers at “America’s healthiest grocery store” say management is trying to cut jobs and reduce wages as they reshape the 38-year-old grocery chain in Amazon’s image.
“No one trusts Amazon and there are fears in upper management that Amazon will clean house if sales rates aren’t hit,” said one of the founders of the Whole Worker community in an interview. Staff are reluctant to speak on the record for fear of retaliation and the company has recently started training managers to fight back against union organization.
“They’re squeezing all they can out of the workers. Amazon gives little notice whenever they make changes. When they rolled in the Amazon Prime discount, they only gave stores ten to fourteen days of notice and no extra labor to handle the extra work.”
Whole Foods workers across the United States are beginning to collectively organize in an attempt to push back on changes made to the supermarket chain operations since Amazon acquired the company in August 2017.
On 6 September, a group of workers sent out a letter to Whole Food stores across the country reaching out to fellow employees to discuss concerns with how Amazon has changed the company as part of the Whole Worker community.
They cited the “Order-To-Shelf system”, which began three years ago and has accelerated under Amazon, and mass layoffs of certain positions as some of the primary reasons Whole Foods workers are now coordinating efforts to unionize.
The Order-to-Shelf system is a strict set of procedures for employees to follow that uses scorecards to prescribe specific ways to store, display, purchase items on store shelves and in stock rooms.
“The OTS system really aligns with Amazon’s core practices. It’s to make everyone interchangeable,” said a Whole Foods employee in the New England area involved in labor organizing. “They want us to become robots. That’s where they are going, they want to set it up so they don’t have to pay someone $15 an hour who knows all about the food, they can pay someone $10 an hour to do these small tasks and timed duties.”
Whole Foods has a history of union busting even before Amazon acquired the company.
In May 2016, Whole Foods paid the union-busting consulting firm Kulture Consulting more than $100,000 days before a union election for a distribution center in Pompano Beach, Florida.
In 2017, the National Labor Relations Board ruled against Whole Foods for union busting tactics, as they amended the employee handbook to ban recording of all work related activities without management approval, an infringement on collective bargaining rights and labor law.
“We want a return to where we were a few years ago,” added the New England area based Whole Foods employee. “Store teams used to make more. We had much better pay and were taking more money on our paychecks than we were making from our hourly wage when the company was successful, when it wasn’t self cannibalizing, when everybody had the tools to do their job.”
The employee explained that under Amazon, Whole Foods workers are expected to do more with restricted labor budgets and often perform duties above their rank without being properly compensated. In addition, his region’s capital expenditure budget has been frozen. “We just got bought by the second trillion-dollar company in the world and we don’t have money to replace refrigeration units.” Amazon recently followed Apple to become the second company ever to be valued at over $1tn.
Another New England area based Whole Foods employee told the Guardian that despite drastic differences in store traffic and sales between August, when customers are on vacation, and September, when children go back to school, his labor budget only increased by $300 despite a projected increase in daily sales of $100,000. “We’re left to try to figure out how to do the impossible on shifts with not enough people to work,” the employee said. “It’s not the same place it was a year ago.”
A Whole Foods employee in Southern California said the culture at Whole Foods had changed as upper management has focussed on maximizing profit and homogenizing stores. “Local and speciality products have been cut and replaced with more conventional mainstream ones, and regional marketing and sign making has been removed,” they said. “We are losing the shopper and team members who helped make us who we were.”
Under Amazon’s ownership, profit-sharing for employees – once a major perk of working for the company – has reportedly been eliminated. “Jeff Bezos should not have earned $150bn while the majority of his workers live paycheck to paycheck and do not receive profit sharing,” stated the letter sent out to Whole Foods employees by the Whole Worker Community. “The clandestine nature of Amazon offering stock options to store leadership without informing TMs (team members) is beyond problematic. It is insulting and unethical.”
Whole Foods has also gradually eliminated or drastically reduced classes of jobs, such as in-store graphic designers and payroll benefits specialists, and merged those duties into other positions without providing workers additional compensation. In a previous statement made in March 2018, Whole Foods said the cuts were made to support business needs.
“We work for the wealthiest man in the world and our stores can’t afford to hire. If you actually want to build sales and increase market share, you need to spend the money to get it done,” said a Whole Foods employee based in Illinois who helps coordinate the Whole Worker community. “Corporations keep getting tax incentives, but when you don’t raise wages and you need two jobs just to make a living, what’s the point? We’re not getting anywhere as a society.”
The employee added the short staffing and reduction in labor has fostered an environment at Whole Foods where employees are struggling to complete all their assigned duties, and unable to take the time required for customer service throughout the work day. “Even stopping to help somebody feels like a burden and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Whole Foods declined to comment for this story.