Whole Foods employees walk out, demanding paid sick leave

Whole Foods Market Inc. employees called in sick on Tuesday to demand paid leave for all workers who stay home to self-quarantine during the coronavirus.

The U.S.-based employees are also asking for free coronavirus testing for all workers, as well as hazard pay of double the current hourly wage for employees who show up to work during the pandemic.

According to USA Today, the employees had originally scheduled May 1, International Workers’ Day, as the date to stage a “sickout,” in which they call in to say they won’t come to work that day. But concerns about contracting and spreading the coronavirus between co-workers and customers led them to move up the daylong strike.

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On Twitter, a former Whole Foods cashier said he experienced firsthand how a lack of paid sick leave can affect a person’s life, noting his particular situation wasn’t even during a pandemic. “Hopefully, this strike can bring change for these workers who are risking their lives to keep their jobs.”

In the past weeks, the multinational supermarket chain implemented a number of measures to support its employees during this time. For example, all part- and full-time hourly employees at the company’s stores and facilities in Canada and the U.S. are receiving an additional $2 per hour on top of their current hourly rate through the month of April. In the U.K., part- and full-time employees in the stores and facilities are receiving an additional £2 per hour through the month.

In addition, all part- and full-time hourly employees are receiving double their regular hourly base rate of pay for every overtime hour worked in a workweek from March 16 through May 3, 2020. Whole Foods noted on its website it only activates enhanced overtime pay during high-volume holidays, emergency situations or natural disasters. It also said all employees placed into quarantine or diagnosed with the coronavirus will receive up to an additional two weeks of paid time off.

Read: Some large retailers maintaining pay, benefits for store staff amid temporary closures

Whole Foods has also increased the funds available through its Team Member Emergency Fund, which is available to all employees faced with an unforeseeable emergency or critical situation. The organization’s parent company, Amazon.com Inc., has committed an additional US$1.6 million to support the fund, bringing the total to US$3.34 million.

“As we address unprecedented demand and fulfill a critical need in our communities, Whole Foods Market is committed to prioritizing our team members’ well-being, while recognizing their extraordinary dedication,” wrote a spokesperson in an email to Benefits Canada. “We have taken extensive measures to keep people safe and, in addition to social distancing, enhanced deep cleaning and crowd control measures, we continue rolling out new safety protocols in our stores to protect our team members who are on the front lines serving our customers.”

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