Following in the footsteps of Instacart gig-workers who are staging a virtual strike today and refusing to accept new orders, some Whole Foods workers are calling for their cohort to call in sick on Tuesday, March 31 amid a pandemic that has left them on the frontlines of essential businesses.
Whole Worker, a grassroots organization of Whole Foods employees with over 1,000 Instagram followers, called on fellow employees to stage a global sickout in a petition/blog post — moving up a proposed sickout that was originally scheduled for May 1.
"We will be staging this sick out earlier than initially planned," the workers write. "Whole Foods employees are already getting sick. We must act NOW."
Among the group's demands are hazard pay equal to double their regular pay, unlimited PTO for those who want to or must self-isolate, and a promise to shut down any store where a worker tests positive for COVID-19.
OUR DEMANDS pic.twitter.com/u08PDuHuuY— Whole Worker (@WholeWorkerWFM) March 29, 2020
Will most or all Whole Foods workers heed the call? It's not clear. The petition currently has just under 800 signatures — Whole Foods employs approximately 89,000 people. USA Today, Eater, and other outlets have picked up the story, though, and Tuesday may end up being not an ideal to try to do your Whole Foods or Prime Now shopping.
"As this situation has progressed, our fundamental needs as workers have become more urgent," the petition-writers say. "COVID-19 poses a very real threat to the safety of our workforce and our customers. We cannot wait for politicians, institutions, or our own management to step in to protect us."
As NPR reports, Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island in New York are also striking today for hazard pay and other demands.
Whole Foods has seen several workers around the country fall ill, and in a statement to USA Today, the company (which is owned by Amazon), says, "As we address unprecedented demand and fulfill a critical need in our communities, Whole Foods Market is committed to prioritizing our Team Members’ wellbeing, while recognizing their extraordinary dedication. We have taken extensive measures to keep people safe, and in addition to social distancing, enhanced deep cleaning and crowd control measures, we continue rolling out new safety protocols in our stores to protect our Team Members who are on the front lines serving our customers."
Neither Amazon nor Whole Foods has directly responded to the sickout announcement.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union, which counts some 1.3 million members in the grocery and retail industries, issued a statement praising the strikes. "Amazon, Instacart, and Whole Foods workers are sending a powerful message that it’s time to stop putting corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of the men and women who are critical to our food supply, and are on the frontlines of the coronavirus outbreak," says union president Marc Perrone.