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Whole Foods Workers Launch 'Fight for 15' Higher Wage Campaign

By Serena Dai | July 31, 2013 2:22pm
Whole Foods Halsted Protest
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DNAinfo/Serena Dai

LAKEVIEW — More than a dozen employees and 50 activists marched outside the Whole Foods on Halsted Street and Waveland Avenue Wednesday, demanding that the organic food grocer treat its workers better.

The company makes billions, protesters said, so its employees deserve at least $15 an hour in wages.

A point system that penalizes employees for being sick or missing work to care for a sick loved one should be eliminated, they said. And workers have a right to unionize and demand better treatment, they declared.

"We live every day on a razor's edge," said Matthew Camp, who's worked as a cashier for two years.

Many of the 15 or so Whole Foods employees also protested low wages in April as part of a citywide fast food and retail worker campaign called "Fight for 15," spearheaded by the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.

 About 15 employees and more than 50 activists rallied outside the Whole Foods on Halsted, 3650 N. Halsted St., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.
Whole Foods Halsted Protest
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Management responded by saying in May that it would look into eliminating the point program, Camp said. But since then, workers have heard nothing, he said.

Whole Foods management at the store had no comment.

The Austin, Texas-based company's CEO, John Mackey, has been a vocally anti-union, and the company has squashed earlier attempts to organize at other stores.

However, the company said it has been named by Fortune magazine as one of America's top 100 places to work in each of the last 15 years. Whole Foods called its pay and benefits "competitive," with the average pay for "team members" being $18.63, said spokesman Keith Stewart.

Whole Foods also pays the health insurance premiums for its "team members" and offers discounted stock options, the company says.

"Whole Foods Market supports fair wages for all workers [in and outside of Whole Foods Market] and are proud of our team members and the things that we do to support them," Stewart said in an email statement.

But Whole Foods Lincoln Park employee Trish Kahle said management responded to complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace after April's protest by blaming her clothing. Women frequently experience sexual harassment, and management does nothing about it, she said.

Bosses once stood by as a customer invited her and three female co-workers to join him in a limo if one performed fellatio on him, she said.

"We can't tell a creep to go away," she said. "The second I complained about it, he said I shouldn't wear the shirt I was wearing." 

Even though the company has not made changes locally, April's protest "emboldened people" to ask for what they need — "dignity at work," she said.

Fewer than 100 people work at the Lakeview Whole Foods, Camp said. About 20 people signed on to organize, he said.

Inside the Lakeview Whole Foods, 3640 N. Halsted St., people still milled about during the lunch hour, and a handful of cashiers were still working. An employee who was not part of the protest said influx of customers was "steady" and that he was surprised to see the march outside.

"I didn't know it was a situation," he said.

Later in the day, the Fight for 15 campaign protested outside a McDonald's at 38th and Archer in Brighton Park, according to the campaign's Twitter. The campaign, denoted on Twitter with the hashtag #strikefor15, has reportedly spread to low-wage jobs in other cities.

Whole Foods employee Ramon Quinones said employees planned to protest as long as necessary.

"Trust me," he said, "They're going to be wishing I was there today."