Whole Foods stays open after workers call a sick-out strike

A labor action Tuesday highlighting workers' lack of PPE is yet to have an effect on Whole Foods management

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published April 1, 2020 5:13PM (EDT)

A pedestrian wears a mask while walking past a sign for a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
A pedestrian wears a mask while walking past a sign for a Whole Foods Market in San Francisco, Tuesday, March 31, 2020. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Whole Foods is staying open even though employees at multiple stores have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, events which precipitated a "sick out" strike on Tuesday led by the company's workers.

An employee at a Whole Foods in San Francisco was diagnosed with the coronavirus on Saturday, confirming that the disease has spread among workers at the Amazon-owned grocery store chain, according to the NPR-member radio station KQED. A spokesperson for Whole Foods told the network that the company prioritizes the safety of its workers and customers and takes steps to sanitize its stores. Some employees at the San Francisco store do not feel the same way.

"I'm super concerned because regardless of whether or not I am a healthy young man, I don't know how the coronavirus is going to affect me or the people that I know, and the people who I live with," one worker told KQED. "They don't want us to tell customers. They want us to direct customers to our store team leader."

A number of Whole Foods employees went on a "sick out" Tuesday to protest, among other things, the lack of guaranteed paid sick leave for workers who self-quarantine or isolate during the pandemic, the lack of adequate sanitation equipment and procedures in every location, the lack of health care coverage for part-time and seasonal workers and the fact that stores remain open even after employees test positive for the virus. This week strikes also occurred among other delivery and grocery workers, including at there have Instacart, Trader Joe's,and among Amazon warehouse employees. A major grocery union, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, is calling for grocery store employees to have access to coronavirus testing and protective gear.

A Whole Foods employee told CNBC that the criticisms of its store's policies come from "a small but vocal group, many of whom are not employed by Whole Foods Market."

The spokesperson added, "So far today we have seen no operational impact and we continue to operate all of our stores without interruption. There is no higher priority for us than taking care of our Team Members."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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