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Under Amazon, Whole Foods Layoffs Spark Union Discussions

Jeff Bezos’ corporate giant has a history of squashing unionization attempts

Whole Foods Launches Produce Rating System To Highlight Environmental Impact Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Amazon’s Whole Foods takeover has brought discounts galore for customers — but some employees and suppliers of the Austin-born grocer haven’t been quite so lucky.

Today is the last day of work for hundreds of Whole Foods’ in-store marketing staff, the Wall Street Journal reports. The layoffs affect staff “who filled out chalkboard signs and organized local events.”

Whole Foods has historically operated its individual stores more like independent grocers, allowing each location to have a significant amount of autonomy. Earlier this year news surfaced that the company was moving away from the use of local buyers, instead leaning more on executives at the home office to select inventory to stock its shelves. (The company has stated that it is not getting rid of its regional buyers and that its new system should actually give its buyers more time to find local products.) Centralizing its operations is “making the company nimbler and saving money,” per the WSJ, but critics say it further corporatizes what shoppers once believed was a store that supported local purveyors.

In the wake of these new layoffs, some Whole Foods employees are pushing for unionization. Like most giant corporations, Amazon has never been a fan of unions, and has succeeded in squashing more than one union organization attempt over the years.

Under its new leadership, Whole Foods has also drawn ire from its suppliers: The grocery chain now charges food producers more to carry their products, and higher fees are felt especially hard by the kinds of small artisan suppliers that have long been a major draw for shoppers.

Meanwhile, the Amazon-Whole Foods monolith continues to send other grocers scrambling to keep up, and not just in the U.S.: Two of the world’s biggest grocery chains, the UK’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour SA, just announced that they’ll begin jointly sourcing products in order to lower prices and expand their selections. Though there are only a handful of Whole Foods stores in Europe, Amazon’s Prime Now grocery delivery recently expanded beyond London and is set to debut in France this year.

July 2, 5:03 p.m.: This story has been corrected to more accurately reflect the types of employees affected by the Whole Foods layoffs.

New Era at Amazon’s Whole Foods Grates on Some Suppliers, Employees [WSJ]
Whole Foods’ Relationship With Small Purveyors Is Not Going Well [E]
Amazon Is Sort of Ruining Whole Foods [E]