Strike Action By Whole Foods Workers Over Coronavirus Safety Concerns

Whole Foods employees organised a global 'sickout' protest.
Whole Foods employees organised a global 'sickout' protest.

April 4 - Whole Foods employees organised a global ‘sickout’ protest on Tuesday, demanding the Amazon subsidiary gives guaranteed paid leave for all Whole Food workers who isolate or self-quarantine during the pandemic, among other demands.

Currently, Whole Foods offers paid sick leave to those who have tested positive for the virus, but there is no such coverage for people who voluntarily self-isolate. In January, the company stopped health care benefits for part-time employees who work less than 30 hours a week.

The protest was organised by Whole Worker, which describes itself as a grassroots organisation of Whole Foods employees. Among the other demands were the reinstatement of health coverage for part-time and seasonal workers, guaranteed hazard pay in the form of double pay, and implementation of new policies to facilitate social distancing between workers and customers. Strike organisers also caused for the immediate closure of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19.

“COVID-19 is a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and customers,” Whole Worker wrote in a statement. “We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us.”

There are no figures about how many employees called in sick in support of the dispute, but the company said operations hadn’t been disrupted. According to a Whole Foods spokesperson, the upmarket grocer has increased base pay by $2 per hour, increased overtime pay and will give employees who test positive for the virus an additional two weeks paid sick leave.

Organisers of the Whole Foods action have circulated a petition signed by more than 11,500 people calling for their demands to be met. In a statement following the sickout, Whole Worker said: “This is only the beginning, and we will be following this sickout with further action.”