Union leader: Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods accelerates race to the bottom

The leader of a retail workers union said that Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods is “a rotten deal for workers and consumers.”

Amazon announced on June 16 that it was purchasing Whole Foods for $13.7 billion. Whole Foods is an upscale national supermarket chain with 460 stores in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It reported sales of $16 billion in 2016.

The business press reported that because of Amazon’s competitive advantages, its acquisition of Whole Foods poses a threat to the US’ largest retailer Walmart and also to national retail chains such as  Target and Costco as well as to regional grocery chains.

Stuart Appelbaum, president the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU), described the acquisition as a “game of Monopoly” that will lead to the loss of good jobs for workers and fewer choices for customers.

“The latest move by Amazon to establish itself as the dominant retailer—both online as well as in the physical world of brick and mortar retail—shows the lengths it will go to destroy competition at any cost in its longstanding battle with Walmart to become the nation’s largest retailer,” said Appelbaum. “This disruptive and destructive battle between two of the nation’s leading low-road employers like Amazon and Walmart can only mean bad news for workers, and ultimately consumers, who in the future will almost certainly be faced with fewer options and no real competition in the retail and grocery industries.”

Like Walmart, Amazon has a dubious record where worker rights are concerned.

In 2014 when a small group of electricians and machinists at an Amazon warehouse in Middletown, Delaware wanted to form a union, Amazon called in a union avoidance consultants to quell the union drive.

According to John Carr, a union organizer who was interviewed for a Time magazine article entitled “How Amazon Crushed the Union Movement,” the workers trying to form the union “faced intense pressure from management and anti-union consultants hired to suppress the organizing drive.”

The New York Times reports that a turning point in the organizing drive came when an Amazon manager told the workers how his family was deserted by a union when his father died while on strike.

After the union lost the vote, it came to light that the manager’s sad story was a lie. The events he described were fabricated and never happened.

In November 2000, 50 workers at an Amazon call center in Seattle began efforts to organize a union. In January 2001, Amazon announced that it was closing its Seattle call center.

Working at Amazon can be arduous and pressure to produce is relentless.

The company closely monitors its employees every move. In Amazon’s cavernous warehouses, workers are constantly pressured to keep on the move in order to meet production goals.

In 2011 when conditions at an Amazon warehouse near Allentown, Pennsylvania got oppressive because of the summer heat, the company showed little interest the workers’ safety.

When temperatures inside the warehouse reached more than 100 degrees, workers requested that the warehouse’s doors be left open to help cool them off. Amazon managers refused.

Workers started coming down with heat related illnesses. A local doctor who treated some of the workers at an emergency room contacted the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration to report an “unsafe environment” at the warehouse

 

Instead of taking steps to make the warehouse safer, Amazon stationed ambulances and paramedics in the parking lot to treat people overcome by the heat.

Appelbaum said that as Amazon and Walmart vie for a bigger share of the retail market, more good retail jobs will be sacrificed as the two companies compete to lower labor costs.

Other competitors will also be affected by Amazon’s merger with Whole Foods. For example, after the merger was announced, the stock price of Costco, a retailer that pays decent wages and treats employees with a modicum of respect, dropped sharply.

One reason given for the precipitous fall was that Amazon’s competitive advantages will make it difficult for Costco to maintain its share of the retail market.

It’s quite possible that Costco and regional retail grocery stores may feel pressure from investors to lower labor standards to keep up with Amazon.

“(Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods) will only accelerate the trend of low-wage employers like Amazon increasing their market share and profits by destroying good jobs–and their competition–in a race to the bottom,” said Appelbaum.

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