The Austin Chronicle

Whole Foods’ Labor Market

U.S. Sens. Sanders, Warren probe Austin grocer’s labor relations

By Mike Clark-Madison, October 26, 2018, News

Austin's favorite Amazon unit got unwanted attention last week from two idols of its fan base: Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who'd like Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to explain a recent Whole Foods Market team-leader training on "the tools that you need for success when it comes to labor organizing." The animated video, first leaked to Gizmodo in September, is clearly an Amazon product but follows in the grocer's long tradition of tetchy labor relations, dating back at least to founder John Mackey's "Beyond Unions" broadside in the early 1990s.

"We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers," the cartoon narrator (wearing an Amazon-fulfillment-center reflective vest) tells managers. Those team leaders are warned to avoid clearly illegal behavior like threatening or spying on employees, but also to listen for "warning signs" of incipient organizing. These include workers using terms like "steward" or "living wage" or displaying "an unusual interest in policies, benefits, employee lists, or other company information."

The team leaders are assured they can say anything, no matter how derogatory, about unions short of directly threatening workers, but the senators disagree, citing multiple ways in which the content described by Gizmodo would likely violate the decades-old National Labor Relations Act. Sanders and Warren want Amazon to ship their entire order of WFM union-busting material, and any legal opinions used to justify Amazon's approach, to them by Nov. 1.

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