I am a worker at a Whole Foods in the South. I’ve worked for this company for over two years, and in that time I’ve watched my job change from a desirable, full-time role with benefits, stability, and dignity in my work to the opposite. I have watched management routinely cut people’s shifts forcing others to do the jobs of multiple people. When management cuts our shifts to below the hours that make us eligible for health insurance, we not only lose income but also access to healthcare. In order to work full-time, we must completely open our schedules and make ourselves available whenever the store needs us. This means working schedules that often change from week to week, forcing us to sacrifice stable home lives for the “luxury” of full-time employment. Even in the middle of a pandemic, Whole Foods has shown a complete disregard for making these jobs sustainable for workers — instead, I’ve watched them make our lives more difficult over the last year.
Amazon Conditions in Whole Foods
This is not an accident. This is the latest step in Amazon’s pursuit of standardization and regimentation of every aspect of the economy under its control. From their warehouse workers to their delivery drivers, Amazon treats their employees like disciplined soldiers, with those on the frontlines acting as cannon fodder. Right now, working in Amazon warehouses is like working on the factory line. While Whole Foods may not be there yet, Amazon has put us on the path to making our work just as monotonous and routine. We will continue like this until a majority of workers across Whole Foods understand what it will take to change course.
The new break policy Whole Foods rolled out on February 8 is just the latest step down this path. News reports state that workers will lose 5 minutes from our paid breaks, which were previously 15 minutes long. On top of this, we are now also required to take our mandatory 30-minute unpaid break in the middle of our shift. Even though news of the policy change has made it to the press, it has not reached its most important audience: Whole Foods employees themselves. I’ve already had coworkers fail to understand that they now have mandated paid breaks along with unpaid breaks. This change has effectively added half an hour to our work day with no increase in pay.
CEO Pay vs. Workers’ Rights
This is coming on the heels of Jeff Bezos increasing his wealth during this pandemic from $115 billion to $185 billion and then stepping down to take a break and relish in his ill-gotten gains. This change will squeeze workers down to the last second while corporate owners reap the rewards. This decision was not made with worker input. They did not ask if this would make our lives easier. This was a cold and calculated move to destroy what little control we had over our own time.
Time to Organize
We know this is just the tip of the iceberg. Between the recent change to the dress code to limit self-expression, the reduction of break time, and the forced unpaid breaks, we know that Amazon is not going to stop on its own. This won’t stop until workers learn how to control the shop floor more than the bosses can.
We can’t just shame Whole Foods and its bad practices. We can’t just hope that a politician or nonprofit benefactors are going to make the change for us. We need to get a majority of our coworkers, and a majority of the stores in this country, on the same page. We are whole workers, we are whole humans, and we deserve to live whole lives that we can control. And we don’t deserve them at the expense of our basic rights like access to affordable healthcare and a living wage. Those should not be up for debate.