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A group of Whole Foods workers is calling for a global “sick out” on March 31 in a bid to force parent company Amazon to “allocate the necessary resources for us to do our jobs safely.”
The group, known as Whole Worker, is not an official union of Whole Foods employees (Whole Foods has previously worked to avoid unionization among workers), but rather a “grassroots movement” of employees, according to its Twitter account.
Whole Worker had initially scheduled the sick out for May 1, but moved it up to March 31 as the COVID-19 “situation has progressed.”
“COVID-19 is a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us,” a message posted to Whole Worker’s Twitter account reads.
“On March 31, DO NOT GO TO WORK,” the message adds, calling upon all Whole Foods workers — and even those at other retail companies — to join them in protest.
The group of supermarket employees — which are included among the definition of essential workers amid the health crisis — has issued several demands, including guaranteed paid leave for “all workers who isolate or self-quarantine instead of coming to work,” as well as the reinstatement of health care for part-time and seasonal workers. They’re also asking for hazard pay, or “double pay during our scheduled hours”; new policies to ensure customers and workers can safely social distance inside the store; and the “immediate” shutdown of any location where a worker has tested positive for COVID-19, among other demands.
“We are working harder than we have ever worked. We are putting our lives at risk. We deserve to have our needs met. Let’s make sure it happens,” the Whole Worker National Organizing Committee wrote in a petition posted online.
Whole Worker is also seeking the support of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) during future efforts to unionize.
In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Whole Foods said workers’ feedback “continues to shape the decisions we are making every day,” but declined to comment on the “sick out” directly.
“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. Team Members in our stores and facilities also have access to up to two weeks of paid time off if they test positive for COVID or are quarantined, an additional $2 per hour on top of hourly base pay, and increased overtime pay. 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.”
Amazon workers had also staged a walkout at the company’s Staten Island warehouse on Monday, demanding better safety conditions after a worker at the facility tested positive for COVID-19 last week.