Whole Foods workers demand higher wages and a union

A press release from an IWW campaign in San Francisco at Whole Foods, a natural foods chain supermarket.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on December 20, 2014

On the afternoon of Nov. 6, a delegation of 20 cashiers, stockers, and cooks at Whole Foods Market in San Francisco initiated a temporary work stoppage to deliver a petition to Whole Foods management demanding a $5 per hour wage increase for all employees and no retaliation against workers for organizing a union. After the delegation presented the petition to management, workers and supporters held a rally outside the store, located at 4th and Harrison Streets in San Francisco’s South-of-Market district.

A worker must earn $29.83 per hour to afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, according to a 2014 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Workers at the store currently earn from $11.25 to $19.25 per hour. The new minimum wage ordinance just approved by San Francisco voters will raise the city’s minimum to $12.25 per hour next year—less than half of what is needed to rent an apartment.

Over 50 workers from the 4th Street store signed the petition. In addition to demanding the $5 per hour wage increase, the petition raises issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

Whole Foods is a multinational chain with over 400 stores in the United States, Canada and Great Britain, with $13 billion in annual sales, and 80,000 employees. Prices are high, which is why Whole Foods is colloquially known as “Whole Paycheck.”

Beneath Whole Foods’ glossy image of social responsibility, working conditions at Whole Foods reflect the low industry standards that dominate all food and retail industries. Despite the company’s claims to the contrary, low wages, constant understaffing, and inconsistent schedules are rampant company-wide. Just recently CEO John Mackey announced that the company would be phasing out fulltime positions for new hires. Meanwhile, workers say the company has forced them to shoulder more and more of the costs of their limited health benefits.

Whole Foods currently has over 100 stores in development. Case Garver, a buyer in the San Francisco store’s Prepared Foods department, has seen enough of the doublespeak. “It seems like every six months they open up a brand new store,” he stated, “while at the same time my manager turns around and says the company doesn’t have enough money to give us 40 hours a week. We’re tired of doing more with less.”

Azalia Martinez, a cashier at the store, relates that in addition to working full time for Whole Foods, going to school and fulfilling family obligations, she must take additional side jobs to make ends meet. “It’s extremely hard,” she said.

Despite the hardships, workers at the store know that we can win better wages by standing together. History proves that workers have the power to make change when we come together to fight for our interests. We are re-igniting a workers’ movement where we have power: on the job. This is our movement, we are capable of victory, and we are worth it.

For more information, visit: http:// www.wfmunite.com.

Originally appearred in the Industrial Worker (December 2014)