When the pandemic began last March, grocery stores across the country were pressured into giving their workers, who were classified as essential, some better protections. There was extra “hazard pay,” as well as paid sick leave and other benefits extended to part-time workers. But that all died around July, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued (and continues) at record rates. Now, Amazon-owned Whole Foods — a chain that’s continually shown its disregard for workers — is allegedly making things even worse by limiting paid breaks from 15 minutes to ten.
Whole Foods just reduced their paid break time from 15 minutes to 10 minutes.— Whole Worker Union #BlackLivesMatter (@WholeWorkerWFM) January 10, 2021
This includes the time when you are coming and returning from the break room. pic.twitter.com/OszaeiDWtR
According to Whole Worker, a member-led union of Whole Foods employees that the company refuses to recognize, Whole Foods announced that team members are now permitted to take “at least one paid 10-minute rest break per shift.” According to CBS, it’s because the company wants to create a uniform policy across stores and states, but the change means employees in some regions, including Southern California, the Midwest, the Mid-Atlantic and the South will see their break time reduced. Whole Worker also notes that the new policy is inclusive of the time it takes to get to and return from the break room, meaning even less time will be allotted for the actual break.
A Whole Foods spokesperson told CBS that “this updated policy will provide the vast majority of team members with more break time throughout their work day,” which is pretty bleak when you think about it. Unfortunately the bar for breaks is woefully low: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, federal law does not require coffee or lunch breaks, and only requires that breaks from five to 20 minutes are counted as “compensable work hours.” States have their own laws — for instance, in Massachusetts workers are entitled to a 30-minute meal break for each shift that lasts over six hours — but employers can easily get around those by lowering shift durations.
The reduction in break hours is the latest frustration for Whole Foods workers. Earlier this year they called for a “sick out” to demand better treatment and protection in the face of the pandemic after CEO John Mackey said workers should “donate” sick days to each other. A new dress code made some feel like the company was cracking down on “overall enjoyment.” Amazon Prime shoppers are making it even harder for them to do their jobs. And of course Mackey recently said that if everyone ate more fruit we wouldn’t need healthcare.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has has profited off the pandemic, adding $72 billion to his net worth last year. Wonder if he ever took a 15 minute break?