That's cold, Whole Foods: Polar vortex firing spurs Chicago strike

Workers walk off the job to support a co-worker who stayed home in the snowstorm with her special needs son

By Josh Eidelson

Published February 5, 2014 2:42PM (EST)

       (AP/Steven Senne)
(AP/Steven Senne)

Whole Foods workers in Chicago walked off the job Wednesday in support of a co-worker they say was wrongly fired after staying home with "her special needs son" during last week’s polar vortex.

“We’ve been fighting for this new attendance policy that allowed for those kind of emergencies for almost a year, and we had just won it, and so she thought it’s no big deal,” Whole Foods employee Trish Kahle told Salon before going on strike. “And then when she came back to work she was fired.” Whole Foods did not respond to a Tuesday evening inquiry regarding the termination of the employee, Rhiannon Broschat. Organizers say Broschat missed work because she had no one to care for her son when public schools shut down due to the extreme weather Jan. 28.

The Wednesday walkout, which will include a rally headlined by Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis, is organized by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago, that city’s arm of the national fast food workers’ effort backed by the Service Employees International Union. It’s the latest in a series of smaller one-day strikes called in response to store-specific grievances – including the firing of a Domino’s union activist and extreme heat at a McDonald’s – that have drawn less fanfare than the campaign’s coordinated nationwide work stoppages. “It’s starting to become a trend, as people see that it’s effective,” said Kahle. WOCC expected at least 20 employees from two Whole Foods locations to join today’s walkout by day’s end. (Unlike most counterparts in other cities, WOCC includes supermarket and retail sites as well as fast food.)

As I’ve reported, workers at the same two Whole Foods stores mounted a one-day November strike, which they say won them the right not to work on Thanksgiving (a company spokesperson told Salon during the strike that that option had already been available, a claim contested by employees). Today’s strike also comes days after WOCC declared victory in its protest campaign against Snarf’s, a sandwich company that workers said agreed to reinstate them with back pay after previously announcing, via a Dec. 22 email, that the whole workforce was being terminated due to renovations.

“We’re not ‘union workers’ in the sense that we don’t have a contract – we certainly would like to have one eventually,” Kahle told Salon. “But the reality is that the union is you deciding with your co-workers to actually join together and exert collective power against the boss. That’s what the essence of a union is.”

Josh Eidelson

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