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Food and Retail Workers Union

“Conscious Capitalism” Icon Whole Foods Exploits Prison Labor

By Ben Norton - CounterPunch, July 17, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, whose net worth exceeds $100 million, is a fervent proselytizer on behalf of “conscious capitalism.” A self-described libertarian, Mackey believes the solution to all of the world’s problems is letting corporations run amok, without regulation. He believes this so fervently, in fact, he wrote an entire book extolling the magnanimous virtue of the free market.

At the same time, while preaching the supposedly beneficent gospel of the “conscious capitalism,” Mackey’s company Whole Foods, which has a $13 billion and growing annual revenue, sells overpriced fish, milk, and gourmet cheeses cultivated by inmates in US prisons.

The renowned “green capitalist” organic supermarket chain pays what are effectively indentured servants in the Colorado prison system a mere $1.50 per hour to farm organic tilapia.

Colorado prisons already grow 1.2 million pounds of tilapia a year, and government officials and their corporate companions are chomping at the bit to expand production.

That’s not all. Whole Foods also buys artisinal cheeses and milk cultivated by prisoners. The prison corporation Colorado Correctional Industries has created what Fortune describes as “a burgeoning $65 million business that employs 2,000 convicts at 17 facilities.”

The base pay of these prison workers is 60¢ per day. Whole Foods purchases cheeses from these prisons, which literally pay prison laborers mere pennies an hour, and subsequently marks up the price drastically.

This is by no means the only questionable practice of Whole Foods—a corporation that presents itself as the leader in a new generation of Benevolent Big Business. In June, it was revealed that the company had systematically overcharged customers in a variety of locations for at least half of a decade.

The double standards are striking. One would think exploiting prisoners—individuals incarcerated by the state—would contradict putative libertarian values of voluntarism, voluntary association, and non-coercion. Yet critics would argue right-wing libertarians have never been ones to demonstrate moral consistency.

In fact, Mackey also firmly opposes basic libertarian values vis-à-vis workers’ rights and labor organizing. He forbids Whole Foods employees from unionizing, comparing workers’ democratic control over their own workplaces and lives to herpes. A union “doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover,” the Whole Foods CEO declared.

My Whole Foods nightmare: How a full-time job there left me in poverty

By Nick Rahaim -, December 8, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Despite the corporate talk of "team" and "love," here's what working there was really like -- and why I had to quit

After years of organizing in secret, building bonds over beer and supporting co-workers when issues have arisen with management, team members at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco disrupted the normal workday and demanded a $5 an hour pay increase last month. More than 20 employees beckoned store management to the floor and presented a petition signed by more than 50 of the store’s workers calling for more paid time off, better health and retirement benefits as well as steady, consistent schedules.

I worked at Whole Foods in the spring of 2012. As is the typical way of getting to know co-workers, I went out for drinks with a tight-knit group of employees. Conversations went quickly from the getting-to-know-you banter to politics, and it was at the time the Occupy Movement was running out of steam. We exchanged battle stories of political engagement and mused about how best to carry the momentum from Occupy in new directions. I asked about organizing at Whole Foods; a few of my co-workers smirked while others played dumb. A week later I was brought into the fold, and found people had been organizing for more than two years. I was feisty for action, but the others knew better; they were in it for the long haul.

Since workers came out after plotting in the shadows for nearly five years, store managers have reportedly attempted to kill them with kindness, while saying nothing of their demands. On the corporate side, Whole Foods Market announced a pay increase in its San Francisco stores effective Jan. 1, shortly after the Whole Foods Union went public. The $1.25 increase in the starting wage, from $11.50 to $12.75, sits 50 cents above San Francisco increase in minimum wage that will take effect in May of 2015. Outside of that, both the store and corporate management have refused to publicly address the situation. Workers organizing at Whole Foods claim the announced wage increase four months ahead of schedule was likely in response to their demands.

In an attempt to put teeth to their demands workers held pickets at the Whole Foods Northern California Regional distribution center in Richmond, California. The picket fell short of stopping the flow of goods to the Bay Area stores it had envisioned, in the spirit of the Black Friday actions taken in 2013 by retail workers. Although the Teamsters did agree that their drivers would not cross the picket line. To that Ruan, the shipping company contracted by Whole Foods, hired temporary workers — scabs — to cross.

Organizing with the radical-syndicalist union, the Industrial Workers of the World, Whole Foods employees are shunning traditional unions that represent the majority of workers at Safeway, Alberson’s and other national grocers. In doing so, they have given up access to the deep pockets of United Grocery Workers and the like, but have the added agility to stealthily maneuver. The IWW is also the only union to have successfully created union shops at Starbucks.

Shut Down Whole Foods Distribution Center!

Action Alert!

Join Whole Foods Workers for a 24 Hour Picket at Whole Foods' Northern California Distribution Center This Weekend!

  • WHERE - 6035 Giant Rd Richmond, California
  • WHEN - November 21 at 2:00 PM - November 22 at 2:00 PM
  • Facebook Event - link

Shut It Down, RAIN OR SHINE. Bring 5 Friends!

Our Demands:

  • 1) Full $5 an Hour Wage Increase For All Whole Foods Workers!
  • 2) Stop Management's Intimidation of Union Members!
  • 3) End Whole Foods' Silent Treatment! We Deserve a Real Response!

CONFIRM YOUR ATTENDANCE and the number of people you're bringing. We are also in need of volunteers to rideshare. Contact info below.

SHIFTS: Fri 2pm-8pm, Fri 8pm-Sat 2am, Sat 2am-8am, Sat 8am-2pm.

We will provide water, healthy snacks, caffiene and light rain protection.

CONTACT: Ph: 415-985-4499, Email: wfmunite (at) gmail (dot) com.
For more about Whole Foods IWW:

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.

Whole Foods Workers Threaten Action Against The Store If They Aren’t Granted Higher Wages

By Joaquim Moreira Salles - Think Progress, November 14, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Workers at a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood are demanding higher wages and the right to collective bargaining without being reprimanded by management. Specific demands include a $5 wage increase, better working conditions, a comprehensive health plan with affordable premiums and deductibles, and no retaliation for forming a union. Whole Foods — a company that has long preached a philosophy of corporate benevolence — is the second-largest non-union food retailer in the country.

Today is the workers’ deadline for a response by the store, and they have pledged take “job actions” if their demands are not met, one of the movement’s organizers told ThinkProgress. If management doesn’t comply by the end of today, employees will respond by holding a rally and a press conference at Whole Foods’ California headquarters on Monday. They will also demand to speak to the company’s regional president.

The Fortune 300 company is known for its anti-union stance. CEO John Mackey once compared unions to herpes. “It doesn’t kill you,” he told a reporter, “but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.” Mackey seems to have maintained this belief as his company grew from a single store in Austin, Texas into an $11 billion dollar empire.

There has been one previous attempt to unionize at a Whole Foods by employees in Madison, Wisconsin. That attempt failed. Whole Foods refused to recognize the union and workers who had led the organizing effort began being fired for allegedly trivial offenses, one of the employees involved in the incident claims. When asked about the events in Madison during an ABC News interview, co-CEO Walter Robb said employees in Wisconsin had voluntarily changed their minds and opted not to unionize.

According to current and former employees, Whole Foods subjects their staff to a “routine anti-union curriculum”, as one worker told ThinkProgress. Other employees who have attended these meetings claim they are told, among other things, that unions are greedy third party institutions that interfere in the relationship between employer and employee, that workers risk losing their benefits if they choose to organize, and that laws protecting workers have eliminated the need for unions. These fear-mongering tactics have failed in SoMa, where workers are being organized by Industrial Workers of the World, one of the most radical labor unions out there.

IWW Workers Take on Whole Foods in SF

By Marc Norton - 48 Hills, November 7, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Three days ago, Bay Area voters raised minimum wages in San Francisco and Oakland. There were also successful campaigns to raise minimum wages in Alaska, Arkansas, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota.

Yesterday, workers at the San Francisco Whole Foods Market at 4th and Harrison Streets took the fight for fair wages to another level.  Early this afternoon, a delegation of workers presented management with a demand for a $5-an-hour across-the-board wage increase for all employees.  Workers at the store currently earn from $11 to $19.25 an hour.

At the call of an air horn, a contingent of workers in the store stopped work and gathered at the café bar near the store’s entrance. Other Whole Foods workers, who were not on duty but who had infiltrated the store, joined them, along with a number of supporters. They then summoned the store manager.  As workers and supporters gathered around, and customers looked on somewhat bewildered, long-time Whole Foods worker Nick announced to the assembled crowd, “We are the Industrial Workers of the World.”

Nick and two other Whole Foods workers, both women, presented their demands for better wages and better treatment: “We are ready to earn enough at this job so that we can quit the other two.” Ryan Rosprim, the store manager, listened patiently, but did not respond.

The workers ended the gathering with a demand for an answer by November 14, when their next paycheck is due. At that, on-the-clock workers returned to their jobs, while the other workers and their supporters exited the store, chanting “Si, Se Puede!”

Outside, workers and supporters conducted a brief rally and picket.

“We are workers at Whole Foods Market building a movement for power and a voice on the job,” reads a petition that had been circulated at the store, signed by more than 50 workers. “This is our movement, we are capable of victory, and we are worth it.”

In addition to demanding the $5 wage increase, the petition raises issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

A leaflet distributed to customers during Thursday’s job action said that a “2014 study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition found that a worker in San Francisco must earn $29.83 an hour just to rent a one bedroom apartment in the City.  Even with a $15 an hour minimum wage on its way [in San Francisco], that is half of what a worker must earn…  It is simply NOT ENOUGH.”

After the rally, the crowd broke into the perennial chant, “We’ll be back!”

Whole Foods Workers Demand Higher Wages and Union: Delegation Delivers Petitions to Whole Foods Management as Supporters Rally Outside SOMA Whole Foods

By Tim Maher -, November 6, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - This afternoon a delegation of 20 cashiers, stockers, and cooks at Whole Foods Market initiated a temporary work stoppage to deliver a petition to Whole Foods management demanding a $5 an hour wage increase for all employees and no retaliation against workers for organizing a union. After the delegation presented the petition to management, workers and supporters held a rally outside the store, located at 4th and Harrison Streets in San Francisco's South-of-Market district.

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.

Over 50 workers from the 4th Street store signed the petition. In addition to demanding the $5 per hour wage increase, the petition raises issues about paid time off, hours and scheduling, safety and health, and a retirement plan.

Whole Foods workers have demanded a response from Whole Foods by November 14, when their next paychecks are due. If management fails to respond, workers will begin taking job actions.

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.

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.

Whole Foods currently has over 100 stores in development. Case Garver, a buyer in the Prepared Foods department, has seen enough of the doublespeak.

"It seems like every 6 months they open up a brand new store," he stated, "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. We're tired of doing more with less."

Azalia Martinez, a cashier at the store, relates that in addition to working full time for Whole Foods, going to school and fulfilling family obligations, she must take additional side jobs to make ends meet. "It's extremely hard," she says.

Despite the hardships, workers at the store know that they can win better wages by standing together. "History proves that workers have the power to make change when we come together to fight for our interests. 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."

The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) is a worker-led labor union uniting diverse members from several industries throughout the world.

Founded over a century ago, the IWW raises the quality of life for workers today while laying the foundation for a society without classes.

Food Justice and Worker Organization: An Interview with Luigi Rinaldi, Industrial Workers of the World

Interview with Luigi Rinaldi - Theory in Action, Vol. 7, No. 4, October 2014, reposted by Providence IWW

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Q: First off, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview, Luigi. This issue of Theory in Action is centered on food justice and sustainability. For a lot of people, food justice cannot be coherently separated from the experiences of workers in the food industry and, I think, if we mean the term “sustainability” in its most widely applicable way, that also means looking at how people’s lives and livelihoods are made unsustainable by our dominant institutions. I know your union, the Industrial Workers of the World, over the last few years has had various campaigns in food service. Can you start by briefly outlining the economic situation of workers in the food industry? Why should people be concerned with the plight of food industry workers?

Luigi Rinaldi (LR): Thank you for the opportunity to talk about these issues! I would say that it is impossible to talk about food justice without touching on capitalism and, therefore, the class relation. Workers in the food industry, throughout the whole process – from farm to restaurant – are in a situation that leaves them extremely precarious. Now, I’m primarily going to focus on the food service end of things, because that’s the part of the industry I’ve worked in, but there’s a lot to be said for the production side and the supply chain as well. The work isn’t the same, but the conditions that it creates are similar.

What you have is a very precarious and low wage industry. You can expect to hold a job for less than a year and to earn less than ten dollars an hour. My previous workplace, a café and bakery, had about 90% turnover in a year… I would say that is low for most of the industry, especially when you get into fast food. Contrary to the popular image, most of these workers are not teenagers, but adults trying to eke out a living. They are fathers and mothers who often have to work two or three jobs, because in the food industry full time employment is rare, and even with full time employment the wages are too low to get by on. The work conditions are often unsanitary and you are subject to harsh and arbitrary discipline. There should be concern about this industry because it’s one of the fastest growing, at least here in the United States. It’s already one of the largest private sector employers and while job growth for the rest of the economy is around 1.5 or 2%, food service is growing at a rate nearly double that. The industry is expected to add 1.3 million jobs to the economy over the next decade. With the decline of many manufacturing and even professional jobs from our economy in the United States, look at where there’s job growth: that’s where you’ll be applying.

The Fine Print I:

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