In response to public pressure and increasing scrutiny over the pay of its warehouse workers, Amazon enacted a $15 minimum wage for all its employees on 1 November, including workers at grocery chain Whole Foods which it purchased in 2017.
All Whole Foods employees paid less than $15 an hour saw their wages increase to at least that, while all other team members received a $1-an-hour wage increase and team leaders received a $2-an-hour increase.
But since the wage increase, Whole Food employees have told the Guardian that they have experienced widespread cuts that have reduced schedule shifts across many stores, often negating wage gains for employees.
“My hours went from 30 to 20 a week,” said one Whole Foods employee in Illinois.
Workers interviewed for this story were reluctant to speak on the record for fear of retaliation.
The Illinois-based worker explained that once the $15 minimum wage was enacted, part-time employee hours at their store were cut from an average of 30 to 21 hours a week, and full-time employees saw average hours reduced from 37.5 hours to 34.5 hours. The worker provided schedules from 1 November to the end of January 2019, showing hours for workers in their department significantly decreased as the department’s percentage of the entire store labor budget stayed relatively the same.
“We just have to work faster to meet the same goals in less time,” the worker said.
An internal email shared by the employee from their department manager cited the across-the-board shift cuts as “the direct result of guidance from our regional team”.
In Maryland, another Whole Foods worker said their regional management is forcing stores to cut full-time employee schedules by four hours, to 36 hours a week. “This hours cut makes that raise pointless as people are losing more than they gained and we rely on working full shifts,” the worker said.
Another Whole Foods employee in Oregon noted: “At my store all full-time team members are 36 to 38 hours per week now. So what workers do if they want a full 40 hours is take a little bit of their paid time off each week to fill their hours to 40. Doing the same thing myself.”
The labor budget and schedule cuts at Whole Foods in the wake of the minimum wage increase appear to be similar to changes Amazon made after it raised the pay of warehouse workers to a minimum wage of $15 an hour. That move was widely praised but Amazon also cut stock vesting plans and bonuses that had provided extra pay to some workers.
Some Whole Foods workers say the cuts have led to understaffing issues. “Things that have made it more noticeable are the long lines, the need to call for cashier and bagging assistance, and customers not being able to find help in certain departments because not enough are scheduled, and we are a big store,” said one worker in California.
“Just about every person on our team has complained about their hours being cut. Some have had to look for other jobs as they can’t make ends meet” they added.
In September 2018, several Whole Foods workers organized the group, Whole Worker, with the goals of forming a union and providing workers a resource to organize since Amazon took over. Whole Foods began training management to fight back against union organization shortly after the group went public with a mass email to Whole Foods employees throughout the United States.
“There are many team members working at Whole Foods today whose total compensation is actually less than what it was before the wage increase due to these labor reductions,” said a Whole Worker spokesperson in an email to the Guardian.
Whole Foods did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
Amazon also did not respond to requests for comment.