Some workers at Whole Foods Market are making the case to unionize, expressing frustration over changes that Amazon has made since acquiring the grocery chain.
Whole Foods employees identifying themselves as members of the company’s “Cross Regional Committee” sent an email to market workers making the case for unionization. They say that in the wake of the Amazon acquisition, “layoffs and the consolidation of store level positions at Whole Foods Market have upset the livelihood of team members” and “stirred anxiety,” in the letter, obtained by New Food Economy.
The group emailed the letter to workers at most of the 490 Whole Foods stores, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.
“At Amazon, we respect the individual rights of associates and have an open-door policy that encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management team,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement shared with GeekWire. “We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”
Amazon bought the Whole Foods chain for $13.7 billion in August of 2017. Shortly after Amazon announced plans to buy Whole Foods, a union representing more than 1 million retail workers sent a letter to the FTC, warning that the deal could hurt customers and lead to significant automation of jobs.
In the year that followed the acquisition, Amazon rolled out changes reflecting its signature efficiency-first ideology at the upscale markets. Prices dropped, discounts for Prime members were added, and hundreds of Whole Foods 365 items became available through the AmazonFresh delivery program. In July, reports surfaced that Whole Foods was laying off hundreds of in-store employees as part of a broader push toward centralization at the company.
“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 Cross Regional Committee letter says.
Amazon has been experimenting with technology designed to disrupt the traditional grocery store model. Last week the company opened its third Amazon Go location in Seattle. Customers of the convenience store purchase items automatically through an app, eliminating the need for checkout staff. The company is also piloting AmazonFresh Pickup in Seattle, which allows shoppers to order groceries online and collect them at drive-up pickup zones.
“We cannot let Amazon remake the entire North American retail landscape without embracing the full value of its team members,” the letter says. “The success of Amazon and [Whole Foods Market] should not come at the cost of exploiting our dedication and threatening our economic stability.”
The unionization effort comes as conditions for other Amazon workers are under a magnifying glass. Reports of harsh conditions inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which power its e-commerce operation, caught the attention of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders. On Wednesday, Sanders introduced the “Stop BEZOS Act” which would require large companies to cover the dollar amount of federal aid their workers receive.
“Amazon is a fair and responsible employer and as such we are committed to dialogue, which is an inseparable part of our culture,” an Amazon spokesperson said Thursday. “We are committed to ensuring a fair cooperation with all our employees, including positive working conditions and a caring and inclusive environment.”