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In the wake of the ever-rising numbers of infected, numerous tech companies have announced generous benefits to their workers to help them avoid falling ill and also infecting each other with the COVID-19 virus.
Amazon for example committed to continuing to pay all hourly employees that support their campus in Seattle and Bellevue – from food service to security guards to janitorial staff – during the time their employees were asked to work from home.
It seems however that generosity did not extend to employees of their wholly-owned subsidiary, Whole Foods.
In an email to employees from the desk of Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, he suggested employees may want to donate their unused vacation hours to fellow employees who fell ill.
Whole Foods is only offering two weeks paid time off for workers who test positive for COVID-19, and unlimited time off during the month of March for everyone else. The first benefit is limited to the few who can procure a $3000 paid COVID-19 test, while the latter is of little help to people already struggling with low income.
To address the latter issue, Mackey reminded staff that:
“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours, not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country.”
The reaction of Whole Food employees to this suggestion was predictably unenthusiastic.
“You’ve got the richest man in the world asking people who are living paycheck to paycheck to donate to each other. That’s absolute bullshit,” noted Matthew Hunt, a former Whole Foods employee. “With the amount Jeff Bezos makes in one day, he could shut stores down and pay employees to stay safe.”
“Considering [Whole Foods] is a billion dollar company, I think it is selfish asking the retail workers to figure it out within themselves,” a Whole Foods cashier told Motherboard. “The response from [Whole Foods and Amazon] has been quite poor, being a front end cashier I feel like we are the most exposed to the situation…Some of us have sick family members [whose] immune system is weak and [it] could be quite dangerous if they catch this virus.”
Pundits on Twitter noted that the main outcome of this measure would be that front-line Whole Foods employees will continue to come to work when they feel ill, meaning it is much more likely that customers coming to Whole Foods will be exposed to COVID-19 than other retailers who paid for ill employees to stay at home.
You are responding very badly, most big companies are covering employees sick time for the duration, you cover a maximum of 2 weeks for those actually diagnosed with coronavirus so people will still come to work when sick, not a good way to protect your employees or customer
— Love VGK Hockey (@ourvalues2017) March 13, 2020
Others have been more direct.
Or… OR… and hear me out on this… the Whole Foods CEO can just go fuck himself forever
— carlo (@im_carlo24) March 13, 2020
Likely more worrying for Whole Foods, many are threatening a boycott.
The episode highlights the greater value technology companies place on employees, with Apple making around $2 million per employee and Microsoft more than $870,000. Each Whole Foods employee generates less than 1/4 that amount.
Whole Foods have responded by saying they have a Team Member Emergency Fund available to all Team Members faced with an unforeseeable emergency or critical situation to which Amazon has committed an additional $1.6 million. Given the scale of the crisis and the wealth of the company, this seems wholly insufficient, however.
Read more at Vice here.