Whole Foods Reverses Sick Leave Policy After Blowback (Video)

One thing the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is going to demonstrate is how this country will respond to economic strain.

European stock shares dropped more than 8% Monday.

Despite Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell dropping interest rates to near zero, Wall Street stocks fell six percent on Monday.

The markets were already precarious. The virus shutting down businesses, reducing daily commerce, is compounding the problem.

Society is shutting down as confirmed cases mount.

We will now witness how the almighty “free market” holds up.

With this pandemic just getting started, however, we are already witnessing the grotesque  level to which capitalism inevitably lowers itself when confronted with crisis.

Examples of price gouging abound.

Amazon.com made headlines last week when it pulled more than a million products suspected of inflated pricing or being falsely advertised.

Yet while Amazon executives were granted two weeks’ paid leave amid the pandemic outbreak, founder and CEO Jeff Bezos-owned Whole Foods originally asked workers to help pay for colleagues’ medical leave.

After being placed into the spotlight, though, the following statement from an Amazon spokesperson recently began circulating:

This is a longstanding Whole Foods Market program from prior to the acquisition. Amazon is matching all funds to the Whole Foods Fund since the acquisition to support the team needs during this unprecedented event, and all Whole Foods team members have access to the 2-weeks paid time off related to coronavirus that was announced for all Amazon employees.”

On Friday, Vt. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted:

Trish Zornio, a Democrat running for a Colorado U.S. Senate seat, said:

“Runaway capitalism is when Whole Foods suggests employees trade vacation time to address coronavirus rather than offer paid leave, all while the CEO rakes in ~$15 million a year in stocks, benefits, and more.”

This came to light last week after Whole Foods CEO John Mackey sent an email to grocery store employees with six suggestions, one of which was for employees to “donate” their paid time off (PTO) to coworkers confronting medical emergencies:

“Team Members who have a medical emergency or death in their immediate family can receive donated PTO hours, not only from Team Members in their own location, but also from Team Members across the country.”

In the same message, Mackey said the company would offer unlimited, unpaid time off during March and two weeks of paid time off for workers who test positive for COVID-19.

Amazon announced the policy, as did tech companies Uber, Lyft, and Instacart.

Congress may have turned the heat off Bezos just in time when the House of Representative passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to “to bolster the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak and address the severe impacts of the coronavirus on Americans’ personal safety and financial security.”

It has not yet passed the Republican-controlled Senate, the final step before reaching Donald Trump to sign.

This legislation is another example of why we need a strong social safety net to prop up capitalism when it fails.

Image credit: ourfiniteworld.com

Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been in featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to Op-Ed News, Liberal Nation Rising, and Zoedune.