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Whole Foods CEO Reportedly Suggested Workers Donate Paid Time Off To Sick Colleagues During Coronavirus Outbreak

“Insane. The CEO of Whole Foods—which is owned by Amazon/Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, with well over $100,000,000,000 in wealth—sent an email to employees suggesting they should give their days off to sick colleagues, amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

The CEO of Whole Foods reportedly suggested that employees donate their paid time off to coworkers who become sick during the coronavirus outbreak, prompting fury from social media observers who quickly pointed out that Whole Foods is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world.

As Motherboard’s Lauren Kaori Gurley reported, the option was included in an email CEO John Mackey sent to employees about responses to the pandemic:

Among his six suggestions was an option for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers facing medical emergencies.

“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours,” Mackey wrote in an email reviewed by Motherboard, “not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country.”

In that same email, Whole Foods also said that it will offer unlimited, unpaid time off during the month of March and two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus—a policy announced this week for all Amazon employees and contractors that has also been adopted by tech companies like Uber, Lyft, and Instacart.

Critics viewed the report as illustrative of the extremes of modern capitalism. Jeff Bezos, the owner of Whole Foods, is worth over $100,000,000,000 and could easily provide sick leave to all of his employees during the coronavirus outbreak. Instead, the company’s owners appear to have put their exorbitant profits above the well being of their employees and broader society during a pandemic.

According to a Business Insider analysis from February, Bezos makes $2,489 per second, or more than twice what the median US worker makes in one week, and the Amazon CEO possesses a net worth greater than the combined GDPs of Iceland, Luxembourg, and Zimbabwe.

Before Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods in June 2017, “Whole Foods was well known for above-and-beyond worker treatment, with better-than-average pay and benefits packages rarely seen in the grocery industry,” according to the New Food Economy. But since the acquisition, critics such as Eater’s Jaya Saxena have reported that both Whole Foods’ products and treatment for employees have worsened. In September, Whole Foods cut medical benefits for part-time workers.

Whole Foods’ policy of allowing coworkers to donate paid time off to each other predated Amazon’s acquisition, but some employees told Gurley that they felt the option was inappropriate for a subsidiary of one of the biggest corporations in the world.

“The policy of being able to donate to coworkers before has been around for a while,” Matthew Hunt, a former Whole Foods employee who led an effort to unionize Whole Foods workers, told Kaori Gurley. “You’ve got the richest man in the world asking people who are living paycheck to paycheck to donate to each other. That’s absolute bullshit. With the amount Jeff Bezos makes in one day, he could shut stores down and pay employees to stay safe.”

Eater reports that other major corporations in the food industry have offered more comprehensive coronavirus responses:

“Elsewhere in response to COVID-19, Trader Joe’s has announced it would provide more paid sick time to employees showing signs of respiratory illness; McDonald’s is also offering up to 14 days of paid sick leave if an employee is quarantined. Starbucks, which does offer its employees paid time off, is also extending its “catastrophe pay” program, offering pay for 14 days of self-quarantine to anyone who has had “close prolonged contact” with someone who has been diagnosed with or exposed to COVID-19. It also offers the same for those actually diagnosed with COVID-19: If employees are still unable to return to work after 14 days, “additional pay replacement” will cover up to 26 weeks.”


Peter Castagno

Peter Castagno is a co-owner Citizen Truth.

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  1. Gort March 14, 2020

    Well Jeff, we suggest you get a heart and soul!

  2. Looneytoonsindville March 14, 2020

    Do you know how many otherwise honest people fake illness to take paid sick leave for a holiday? In the US Federal Government, the act of donating unused paid leave for those suffering from illness is a COMMON PRACTICE. Has been for a long time. Why should ANY employer (Jeff Bezos or Joe Schmo who runs a two person landscaping enterprise) provide free sick time to liars and thieves? No, co-workers know if you are sick or a thief and will donate accordingly. I like this method and support it enthusiastically!


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