Some Whole Foods employees want to unionize to address what they say are changes to corporate culture and diminished compensation under the ownership of Amazon.com Inc.
A group of workers sent an email Thursday to workers at most of the 490 Whole Foods stores urging them to back their unionization drive.
A copy of the group’s message to fellow employees, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, said organizers want to “collectively voice our concerns to Whole Foods Market and Amazon leadership.”
The workers said they want to push Whole Foods and Amazon for better compensation, benefits and profit-sharing.
The unionization push presents a potentially high-profile challenge to Amazon, which has opposed past organizing efforts by warehouse workers and other employees that are less visible to customers than grocery-store clerks.
Amazon workers in Germany, Spain and Poland held strikes around Amazon’s Prime Day promotion in July to demand better health protections and job-safety measures. Germany’s powerful service-workers’ union has held a number of job actions over pay and working conditions in recent years.
Amazon has fought those efforts. The e-commerce company has said that it treats its workers fairly and that reports of inhospitable conditions at its facilities are untrue.
“We offer competitive wages and benefits and are committed to the growth and success of our team members,” a Whole Foods spokeswoman said. She added that Whole Foods employees are encouraged to share workplace concerns with their managers.
“We believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce,” she said.
An Amazon spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a national organization based in New York with 100,000 members, is assisting the effort. The union has been in touch with Whole Foods workers previously, but contact has become more frequent since Amazon bought the chain, according to the organization.
“The RWDSU stands with workers in precarious positions no matter what—Amazon and Whole Foods workers are no different,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union, which has also worked to represent Amazon workers.
“We will not back down until Amazon workers are treated with dignity and respect,” he said.
Before Amazon bought it last year, Whole Foods resisted unionization efforts as well.
The chain has appeared near the top of lists ranking companies by the benefits they offer and the gap in pay between managers and workers. Whole Foods paid $20.15 an hour and $41,911 a year on average in 2016, according to a company filing, more than many other grocers.
But worker grievances started to multiply after Whole Foods laid off hundreds of workers in 2015 amid weak sales. Whole Foods eliminated hundreds of marketing jobs this year, deepening the discontent.
Workers say Whole Foods also stopped offering stock options to lower-level staff after Amazon took over. Whole Foods had for years offered most employees annual stock options. Around 94% had gone to non-executive employees since the program began in 1992, according to a company report before Amazon took over the grocer.
“The clandestine nature of Amazon offering stock options to store leadership without informing [other employees] is beyond problematic,” said the message from workers advocating unionization. “It is insulting and unethical.”
Source: The Wall Street Journal