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Working In These Times

Wednesday, Nov 26, 2014, 10:00 am

Want Thanksgiving Off? Follow These Whole Foods Workers’ Example and Go On Strike

BY Amien Essif

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A signup sheet from a Chicago Whole Foods for workers who choose to work on Thanksgiving. After workers went on strike last year, management quietly changed their policy of mandatory work on the holiday.  

One year after workers staged a “Strikesgiving” protest at a Whole Foods Market in Chicago, the company’s stores in the Midwest have quietly implemented a new policy for scheduling and compensating workers on Thanksgiving Day—and workers are calling it a victory.

In These Times obtained a photo of a sign-up sheet posted in the break room at one of the city’s Whole Foods locations which shows that “team members” (the company's term for employees) can choose whether or not they will work on Thanksgiving Day. Hourly workers who do choose to work will be paid double their regular wage.

Last year, things were different, workers say. The holiday was considered a “black-out day,” meaning management scheduled more workers than usual, and workers had to request time off far in advance. In addition, those who came in on Thanksgiving were only compensated with time-and-a-half pay rather than double pay.

Frustrated that their store would remain open on the national holiday, about seven workers at the Whole Foods on Halsted Street in Chicago protested by walking off the job or neglecting to come in to work the day before Thanksgiving last year, demanding paid time off for all workers. The strikers—members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, which launched a Fight for 15 campaign at Whole Foods in the spring of 2013—also called for $15 an hour and the right to form a union without retaliation.

The November 27 strike was followed by a rally that brought out over a hundred supporters (many of them co-workers who were not striking) and made national news. In response, management said that they would allow workers to stay home on Thanksgiving Day if they so chose, even if they had not already requested time off.

Now, a year later, the new leniency toward working on the food-filled holiday seems to have been put on the books.

Whole Foods Midwest declined to comment, but managers at stores in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri confirmed with In These Times that the policy has changed and that workers will be paid twice their hourly rate to come in on Thanksgiving rather than 50 percent more as was the case last year.

Some managers maintained that working on Thanksgiving was always voluntary, but a manager at a store in St. Louis said that the sign up sheets were new this year. “More people than we need want to work that day,” she says, citing the pay increase as the incentive.

The sign up sheet at the store in Chicago declares that Whole Foods “want[s] to respect the time each [employee] spends with their family and friends.” But Jose Rodriguez, an employee who helped organize last year’s “Strikesgiving,” chalks it up to the company wanting to impress their “more liberal” customer base. “Whole Foods wanted to recover their image and make it look like ‘We’re progressive, as well,’ ” he says.

The natural and organic grocery chain has had difficulty in its relations with its liberal customers in the past after CEO John Mackey compared unions to herpes and claimed that Obama’s Affordable Care Act bordered on “fascism.”

Rodriguez and some of his co-workers aren’t satisfied with the new policy and are still hoping to see the company close on Thanksgiving and provide their workers with paid time off. He isn't discouraged by the argument that customers need a place to buy groceries on a holiday that traditionally revolves around a large meal.

“It’s not like Thanksgiving is ever in December or July,” he jokes. “It’s about preparation.”

Whole Foods, in his opinion, should advertise that “we’re going to be closed Thanksgiving so you should do all your shopping before because we’re going to take care of our workers.”

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Amien Essif is a regular contributor to Working In These Times and maintains a blog called The Gazine, which focuses on consumerism, gentrification, and technology with a Luddite bent. His work has also appeared on the Guardian and CounterPunch. You can find him using Twitter reluctantly: @AmienChicago

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