NEW YORK (Reuters) – A group of workers at Whole Foods Market called on others to phone in sick at all of the grocer’s stores on Tuesday to protest what they say is a lack of adequate compensation and protections from the coronavirus.
People wait in line practicing social distance at a Whole Foods Market amid an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in San Francisco, California, U.S., March 31, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
The group, known on Twitter as Whole Worker, describes itself as a grassroots movement of Whole Foods team members working to unionize.
The group did not respond to a request for comment and it is not known how many Whole Foods employees called in sick. A representative for Amazon.com-owned Whole Foods did not respond to a request for comment.
As millions of people shelter in place in the United States and non-essential businesses are shuttered to halt the spread of the virus, grocery stores and pharmacies are staying open to supply food and medicine.
The Whole Worker group is demanding, among other things, hazard pay and the immediate shutdown of any location where a worker tests positive for COVID-19. If a store is closed, all workers should receive full pay until the store can safely reopen, according to the group’s Twitter account.
At two locations in New York, there were no apparent disruptions. At stores in Harlem and the East Village neighborhoods, customers were shopping while clerks where restocking shelves and ringing up purchases.
Whole Foods said earlier this month it was raising pay for its full and part-time hourly workers employees by $2 per hour. It also said it was reducing hours to allow for extra cleaning and shutting self-serve salad and antipasti bars.
Total deaths from the virus in the United States hit 3,017, including at least 540 on Monday, and reported cases climbed to more than 163,000, according to a Reuters tally.
The call for action at Whole Foods won the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers union which has 1.3 million members in the grocery industry.
On Monday, warehouse, delivery and retail gig workers at Amazon.com and grocery delivery company Instacart in the United States went on strike to call attention to safety and wage concerns for people laboring through the coronavirus crisis.
Amazon said later it fired an employee who helped organize the action at a New York warehouse for alleged violations of his employment, including leaving a paid quarantine to participate in the demonstration.
The call for action won the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers union which has 1.3 million members in the grocery industry.
Whole Foods employs 95,000 people and has 487 stores in the United States, 14 stores in Canada and seven stores in Britain.
Reporting by Hilary Russ, additional reporting by Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru and Craig Hettich in New York; writing by Anna Driver; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Marguerita Choy