Whole Foods ‘sick-out’ doesn’t reach Palo Alto

Whole Foods at Emerson Street and Homer Avenue in Palo Alto. Google photo.

A national Whole Foods “sick-out” was planned for today, but Palo Alto’s Whole Foods appeared unaffected.

Some Instacart and Amazon warehouse workers walked off the job yesterday demanding greater safeguards against the coronavirus, even as both companies are speed-hiring hundreds of thousands of new workers to handle a surge in delivery orders.

The one-day strikes had little impact on consumers, but the unrest called attention to mounting discontent among low-wage workers who are on the front lines of the pandemic, serving the needs of those who can keep safe working from home.

The starting wage at Whole Foods is $15/hour. In April, workers will get an extra $2 an hour because of the coronavirus.

Whole Foods is nonunion, but a group called Whole Worker, which says it advocates on behalf of the store’s  employees, called for a nationwide “sick out” today.

Palo Alto’s Whole Foods was open this afternoon and was operating as usual. There were no protesters or signs outside of the grocery store.

A cashier who was handing out hand sanitizer to customers outside Whole Foods told the Post that he hadn’t heard much about the sick out and thought it was just happening on the East Coast.

Many workers are part-time or contracted employees, lacking in benefits such as paid sick time off or health care.
Whole Foods employees are paid an hourly wage and have more regular schedules compared to people working for grocery delivery services like Instacart. Neither group of workers is unionized.

In addition to demands for more protection against coronavirus, workers are citing longstanding grievances over practices that keep wages low and part-time workers from getting more hours.

Online grocery-delivery service Instacart and Amazon say they are working to equip their workers with sanitation gear and have taken steps to increase pay and extend paid sick time. Instacart said Sunday that it would make hand sanitizer available to its workers upon request and outlined changes to its tip system, but strikers said it was too little too late.

“They need to give us hazard pay right now and it should be guaranteed,” said Shanna Foster, a single mother who stopped working her Instacart gig two weeks ago out of fear of contracting the virus. “It wasn’t worth the risk.”

But a rush of hiring is likely to dilute any attempts by existing workers to organize walk-offs. Many people are applying for the new jobs as layoffs surge in restaurants, retail, hospitality, airports and other industries that have shut down. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, almost five times the previous record set in 1982.

From staff and wire reports