- In the wake of Amazon’s recent announcement that it will raise minimum wage to $15 an hour at its facilities and subsidiaries, Whole Foods employees nationwide have gone public with confusion and frustration, according to Gizmodo. While this may be a positive change for new hires or those well below the $15 threshold, employees who already make $15 per hour, or close to it, have questions about their compensation.
- An email obtained by Gizmodo details a memo from Whole Foods CEO John Mackey to employees to clarify the details of the new compensation structure. According to Mackey, effective November 1, all part-time and full-time Whole Foods employees will receive raises. Those who earn less than $14 per hour will get a raise to $15 per hour. Team members earning $14 per hour or more will receive a $1 per hour raise. Whole Foods team leaders will receive an increase of $2 per hour.
- There is concern from longtime Whole Foods employees that their raises will be nominal, while new team members will make substantially more with less tenure. It also appears that to offset the pay increases, Amazon will no longer offer bonuses or stock options as part of employee compensation. The backlash is building among employees, with reports of increased momentum toward unionizing.
It was just over a month ago that news broke of Whole Foods employees attempting to unionize, and Amazon’s announcement last week appears to be, in part, a defensive move from the retail giant to appease employees and prevent further labor organizing. But clearly, there’s trouble in foodie paradise, especially among existing employees who are already fed up and don’t believe the pay increase addresses the real problems.
While Whole Foods has not been friendly to labor unions in the past, with claims as far back as 2007 that Mackey was anti-union, the sentiment among employees seems to be that Amazon is even more aggressive about its anti-union policies, which have been thoroughly documented over the years. A training video was reportedly sent out to Whole Foods leadership in late September to give them guidance on how to defuse workplace organizing.
In response to what some employees say are worsening conditions under Amazon, the desire to unionize seems to be gaining strength even more quickly and widely. Grub Street recently reported on a group called Whole Worker, which has formed to help Whole Foods employees unionize. One of the group's leaders said he was laid off after leadership suspected his efforts to organize employees. Amazon has, in the past, fired workers who attempted to unionize, so this claim is not far-fetched.
There are probably millions of people who would take a $15 per hour job with one of the largest companies in the world, and that could be why Amazon and Whole Foods don't seem to fear an uprising from current employees. While they should care about employee retention and the loyal work many people have put in, the reality of retail jobs is that there is usually another applicant in line.
As a whole, the grocery industry is seen as union-friendly, and other major grocers may quietly be hoping to see Whole Foods employees get fed up and quit, especially if they can't unionize. In an economy with a 3.7% unemployment rate, grocery stores are in great need of good workers, and experienced Whole Foods employees are attractive talent for many other grocery stores — especially as they expand and add features that reflect the Whole Foods model, such as fresh bakery departments, grocerants, coffee bars and more. Whole Foods employees, in turn, may have a lot of opportunity at their fingertips if they want to move on and find union representation elsewhere.