Whole Foods Workers Stage Nationwide “Sick-Out” for Today

updated Mar 31, 2020
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As the pandemic swirls, and more and more people stay home to stay safe, whether mandated by law or doing so by choice, it has become clearer and clearer exactly who are the “essential workers” in our new world. Chief among them are the employees at grocery stores, who have dealt with massive surges of people scrambling for scarce supplies. These workers continue to go out in public which puts them at potential risk of exposure to the coronavirus. They do all this despite not having guaranteed hazard pay and paid sick leave — something that puts them and the shoppers alike at risk. 

Workers at Whole Foods have decided that this is no longer acceptable and turned to the age-old strategy of collective action to enact change. The company currently only offers paid sick leave if employees test positive for the novel coronavirus, and even penalizes workers for calling out sick for other reasons, says an article on Delish. Given the state of the testing process — in many places where the virus is spreading rapidly, they are testing only a tiny fraction of presumed positive cases — that makes it very difficult to use that option.

Given all of this, a group called Whole Worker, a grassroots movement of Whole Foods employees, has asked all employees to call in sick today in order to lobby for health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers, and closure of stores where a worker tests positive for COVID-19. (Two NYC employees have tested positive.) Additionally, they are requesting hazard pay, adequate sanitation, and stronger social distancing policies.

Collective action, like sick-outs and strikes, have long been a tool of the working class to achieve fairer treatment and higher safety standards. As grocery workers step up to keep one of the most essential pieces of our society running smoothly, they are asking to be kept as safe as possible and treated with the appropriate importance. Yesterday, Instacart and Amazon employees used a similar tactic. Minnesota has led the country by designating grocery workers as emergency workers, and Vermont followed, classifying them as essential personnel, which gives them the same benefits and protections as first responders, including free childcare. In Washington, the grocery union reached an agreement with Safeway and Kroger for hazard pay and some other benefits.