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WHOLE FOODS CONCEDES TO IWW DEMANDS TO INCREASE WAGES! - Whole Foods Union Wins Raise for San Francisco Stores’ Lowest-Paid Employees

By Tim Maher - Whole Foods Workers Union, November 14, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - A fledgling union of workers at the South of Market Whole Foods in San Francisco used workplace actions to compel Whole Foods management to implement a $1.25 per hour wage increase for those employees at the lowest wage tier.

On November 6th, a delegation of 30 cooks, cashiers, stockers, and butchers at the store in the South of Market neighborhood initiated a brief work stoppage to deliver a petition to management demanding a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees, and no retaliation for organizing their union. Over 50 workers from the store signed the petition. In addition to demanding the $5 per hour wage increase, the petition raised issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

Late last week, Whole Foods’ Northern California regional President Rob Twyman announced that starting January 1, 2015 all employees in San Francisco locations will make a minimum of $12.75 per hour - $1.25 above the current starting wage and $.50 higher than the new minimum wage of $12.25 called for by Proposition J. Mr. Twyman added that this change would be implemented four months before Proposition J’s minimum wage hikes take effect.

The $1.25 increase is nowhere near the $5 an hour the workers asked for, but workers at SOMA say it is still substantial, and that the timing of the raise is a sign that Whole Foods is taking the union’s wage demand seriously. “Whole Foods is rolling out the raise months before they even have to adjust to the new minimum wage. We’ve never seen that happen,” said beer and wine specialist Nick Theodosis who has worked at the SOMA store for 10 years.

“We’ll happily take it, but we will continue pursuing the full $5 for all workers currently working at the company as well as for those yet to come,” said a cashier who asked to be identified as Kristal Garcia. The workers have vowed to continue their fight for the full five dollar raise they asked for.

A worker must earn $29.83 an hour to afford a market-rate one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco, according to a 2014 report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Workers at the store currently earn from $11.25 to $19.25 per hour. The new minimum wage ordinance just approved by San Francisco voters will raise the City’s minimum to $12.25 an hour next year, less than half of what is needed to rent an apartment.

Whole Foods is a multinational chain with over 400 stores in the US, Canada and Great Britain, with $13 billion in annual sales, and 80,000 employees. Prices are high, which is why Whole Foods is colloquially known as Whole Paycheck. Whole Foods currently has over 100 stores in development. Workers have criticized the company, saying that Whole Foods’ expansion has been fueled by cuts to labor. “It seems like every 6 months they open up a brand new store, while at the same time my manager turns around and says the company doesn’t have enough money to give us 40 hours a week,” says Case Garver, a buyer in the Prepared Foods department.

Beneath Whole Foods’ glossy image of social responsibility, “working conditions at Whole Foods reflect the low industry standards that dominate all food and retail industries,” according to the workers’ website Despite the company’s claims to the contrary, "low wages, constant understaffing, [and] inconsistent schedules" are rampant company-wide. Just recently CEO John Mackey announced that the company would be phasing out full-time positions for new hires. Meanwhile, workers say the company has forced them to shoulder more and more of the costs of their limited health benefits.

Workers at the SOMA store say that this small victory is just a taste of what workers can gain from standing together for better conditions on the job.  “History proves that workers have the power to make change when we come together to fight for our interests,” said the workers’ website. We are re-igniting a workers’ movement where we have power: on the job. [...] This is our movement, we are capable of victory, and we are worth it.”

Whole Foods IWW is a group of Whole Foods workers who have organized a union through the Industrial Workers of the World to raise the quality of life for workers throughout the company. Workers ask for supporters to sign the petition here and to share their struggle widely on Facebook and Twitter.

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