The pro-unionization group Whole Worker is asking employees to strike on Tuesday, March 31.

By Mike Pomranz
March 30, 2020
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During widespread closures of other businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, grocery workers have been listed as officially “essential,” a designation that essentially means grocery workers are also putting their lives on the line to keep shops running while customers stay in the safety of their homes. The result is a tough dynamic: The coronavirus pandemic shouldn’t be taken advantage of, but shouldn’t these grocery workers get additional compensation commensurate with their risk and hard work?

And so, some workers are fighting back. A group of Instacart employees organized a nationwide strike for today seeking better pay and safety policies. Now, a group of Whole Foods workers are planning a similar event for tomorrow.

A view of people standing in line outside Whole Foods Market in Union Square as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 20, 2020 in New York City.
| Credit: Noam Galai / Contributor/Getty Images

Whole Worker—which dubs itself “a grassroots movement of WFM team members collectively voicing our experiences at Whole Foods and working to unionize”—has called on Whole Foods Market employees “to engage in a mass sick out” tomorrow, March 31. This date is earlier than the group originally planned, but in a petition posted online, they explain, “As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent. COVID-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers.”

The group’s demands are listed in six bullet points which are “necessary resources for us to do our jobs safely.” Many of them are extensions or expansions of policy changes Whole Foods has already announced. For instance, Whole Worker is demanding “hazard pay in the form of double pay;” Whole Foods has only implemented $2 raises and doubled overtime pay. Whole Worker wants “paid leave for all workers who isolate or self-quarantine;” Whole Foods’ policy as written only applies to “team members placed into quarantine or diagnosed with COVID-19.” Whole Worker also asks for an “immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19” with paid time off until the store reopens, with the group accusing Whole Foods of keeping stores open even after an employee had tested positive.

In a statement sent via email, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson told me, “As we address unprecedented demand and fulfill a critical need in our communities, Whole Foods Market is committed to prioritizing our Team Members’ wellbeing, while recognizing their extraordinary dedication. We have taken extensive measures to keep people safe, and in addition to social distancing, enhanced deep cleaning and crowd control measures, we continue rolling out new safety protocols in our stores to protect our Team Members who are on the front lines serving our customers…. Whole Foods Market's longstanding open door policy encourages direct dialogue between Team Members and leadership, feedback which continues to shape the decisions we are making every day.”

As of this writing, Whole Worker has not responded to an email request for more information. (We’ll update if they do.) For one, it’s not clear how significant Whole Worker’s reach is within the Whole Foods community. The group only has about 2,200 Twitter followers, and their pinned tweet calling for the “sick out” has 138 retweets. Additionally, their petition currently stands at just 751 signatures.

This isn’t to say that the Whole Worker campaign isn’t raising awareness of the concerns of Whole Foods employees and grocery workers in general during this difficult time. However, it’s hard to tell how disruptive this protest could be to stores. Unless anything changes, we’ll find out tomorrow.