By: Max Lorber, Arts and Culture Editor
Whole Foods employees in Portland are concerned for their safety. These workers, along with many Whole Foods workers throughout the country, do not believe they are being adequately protected or compensated by their employer.
Whole Foods employees throughout the US have tested positive for COVID-19, but the stores have remained open. Employees are not receiving paid sick leave if they self-quarantine, and employees will receive no paid leave if they call out sick and have not tested positive for COVID-19. Testing is still not widely available in Maine or in many other states in the US, and individuals who have symptoms are encouraged to remain at home if possible.
“I have been out of work for almost two weeks with orders from my doctor to self-quarantine due to having COVID-19 symptoms,” said a Portland Whole Foods employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “I have not been able to access paid sick time-off, despite being quarantined.”
On March 16, Whole Foods announced to its employees they would receive a hazard pay increase of $2 more an hour until the end of April. Employees who call out sick or do not come into work because they feel unsafe are also told they will not lose their jobs. There have been no plans announced to provide paid sick leave for employees.
“Each day at work, the higher management makes an announcement celebrating how much we’ve made in sales that week. It’s hard to swallow,” said another Portland Whole Foods employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s hard to be proud of that when we’re all being put at the forefront of this virus just to make those sales.”
Many Whole Foods employees do not have enough savings to quarantine themselves or to call out sick, effectively forcing them to come to work.
On March 25, attorneys general from 14 states and Washington D.C. sent a letter to Jeff Bezos and John Mackey, the CEOs of Amazon and Whole Foods, asking them to change their sick-leave policy. Amazon owns Whole Foods and has also been criticized by state representatives for not providing adequate sick leave for workers. In the letter, the attorneys general said that the current Whole Foods paid sick-leave policies “are inadequate to protect the public health during the developing COVID-19 crisis.”
Some Whole Foods employees throughout the U.S. planned a ‘sick-out’ last Tuesday, demanding paid leave, free COVID-19 testing, and double hazard pay. The Wall Street Journal reported that the corporation was largely unaffected by the strike.
“By limiting paid sick leave to only those employees who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or who have been placed into quarantine, the Companies are placing their other employees, their customers, and the public at large at significant risk of exposure to COVID-19,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter.