As Whole Foods Adopts $15 Minimum Wage, Workers Fear Being Replaced by Automation
Was Amazon’s $15 minimum wage pay raise merely a public relations stunt?
Some workers at grocery store chain Whole Foods are complaining that after receiving a much-lauded pay raise last fall their hours are being cut and they fear ultimately losing wages to increasing automation.
Workers told The Guardian that part-time workers were cut on average from 30 hours a week to 21 hours per week. The Guardian spoke to Whole Foods workers who asked to remain anonymous for fear of backlash from the company.
“My hours went from 30 to 20 a week,” said one Whole Foods employee in Illinois.
“We just have to work faster to meet the same goals in less time,” the worker added. The unnamed worker also provided schedules to The Guardian from November of 2018 to the end of January 2019 that showed a significant decrease in their department’s workers hours.
Hours Cut Make the Pay Raise ‘Pointless’
Last November, Whole Food’s minimum wage was increased to $15 per hour and team members who already made at least $15 an hour received a $1 an hour raise, while team leaders received a $2 an hour raise.
However, according to Whole Foods employees, after the pay raise the company reduced their hours across the country and fears abound that workers are being replaced by automation.
“Things that have made it more noticeable are the long lines, the need to call for cashier and bagging assistance, and customers not being able to find help in certain departments because not enough are scheduled, and we are a big store. Just about every person on our team has complained about their hours being cut. Some have had to look for other jobs as they can’t make ends meet,”
An employee in Maryland noted that regional management has forced stores to cut full-time employees’ hours by four hours a week. The employee said, “This hours cut makes that raise pointless as people are losing more than they gained, and we rely on working full shifts.”
Many employees have worked during their paid time off to make up for cut hours. An employee from Oregon said, “At my store all full-time team members are 36 to 38 hours per week now. So what workers do if they want a full 40 hours is take a little bit of their paid time off each week to fill their hours to 40. Doing the same thing myself.”
Whole Foods Denies Slashing Hours
In spite of employees’ reports Whole Foods denied cutting hours, saying staffing is based on factors such as “individual store needs” and “seasonality.”
Whole Foods said in a statement to Fox News, “Claims that Whole Foods Market is reducing hours as a result of increased wages are false. In fact, on average, our full-time store Team Members worked the same number of hours in January and February 2019 as they did during the same period last year. We are proud to have increased the hourly wage for all store Team Members, and we will continue to schedule labor hours based on individual store needs to create the best experience for our Team Members and customers.”
In addition to cutting hours, Amazon has allegedly cut employee bonuses and stock vesting plans.
Unhappy Whole Food Workers Unionize
Amid the hour cuts and increased work, a group of Whole Foods employees made arrangements to form a union. They organized a group called Whole Worker.
In September 2018 the group sent an email urging other employees to join Whole Worker. The email stated, “There will continue to be layoffs in 2019 and beyond as Amazon aims to aggressively trim our labor force before it expands with new technology and labor models.”
A spokesperson for Whole Worker said in an email to The Guardian, “There are many team members working at Whole Foods today whose total compensation is actually less than what it was before the wage increase due to these labor reductions.”
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which has longed eyed Whole Foods employees as potential members, claims Amazon is using “bait and switch” tactics, and the pay raise was a public relations gimmick.
A Whole Foods employee in the New England area told The Guardian last October that many employees want things to return to the way they used to be.
“Store teams used to make more. We had much better pay and were taking more money on our paychecks than we were making from our hourly wage when the company was successful, when it wasn’t self cannibalizing, when everybody had the tools to do their job,” the employee said. “We just got bought by the second trillion-dollar company in the world, and we don’t have money to replace refrigeration units.”
Whole Foods also lost a National Labor Relations Board case in 2017 which ruled the company had illegally prevented employees from recording workplace communications, an infringement on collective bargaining rights and labor law.