As Marge Simpson once put it, "We can't afford to shop in any store that has a philosophy." And the same might easily be said of anyone considering working at one, too. Welcome back to the Whole Foods Experience, where Whole Foods workers past and present—newly liberated by one Canadian employee's explosive kiss-off memo gone viral—reveal to Gawker what truly goes on behind the doors of the world's most "humanity-friendly" supermarket chain.
We lead with this message from the original epic-resignation-letter-writer himself, who we've succeeded in tracking down in South Korea:
I appreciated your article. Even the criticisms. However, this wasn't supposed to go public. I don't really want any attention or to intentionally publicly humiliate anyone. Even Whole Foods, as much as I obviously can't stand them. I didn't really consider, when sending it out to the mid-west region, that someone might take it public. Obviously, in hindsight, that was quite the oversight. Haha. I've worked in a lot of retail jobs. Zellers, Wal-Mart, Loblaws, Rogers Video. Not a single one even came close to making me feel the way Whole Foods did. Primarily because they don't misrepresent themselves to the extent that Whole Foods does. They were also filled with much more stand-up, honest people. I wonder if the Whole Foods "culture" somehow breeds this... Anyway, yeah, I would have changed a lot in that email if I had known it would go public. There are things in it that only employees would understand. And even some that only the store I worked at might understand. So I completely get why someone might think I'm a "dick" for sending it. I also would have spent a little more time proof reading! Hippy -> Hippie. Hah. Also, the letter was also a collaborative effort. Quite a bit of it is from other employees. I just edited it to keep them anonymous.
Thank you for removing all the personal details. I really appreciate that. I kind of just want this to pass so I can forget about that place and enjoy my time in South Korea.
Haeng-un-eul bibnida! (That's Korean for good luck.)
Now, here are excerpts from the literally hundreds of anecdotes we've received over the past few days from Whole Foods workers across North America. (See here for the first installment.) We've grouped them according to theme.
Waste Lots, Want Lots
As to the wastefulness of Whole Foods... it must've been one of the most appalling experiences of my life when I spent a day working in the Bakery, and at closing time threw away enough food to feed a hungry mass. Not only did we throw the food out, but it was thrown into a trash compactor so as to eliminate any possibility of salvaging the food. Occasionally, they would give some bread to nonprofits, but don't believe what they say... they are throwing tons of good food away.
Spoiled food galore. If a piece of produce is slightly bruised, a tad over ripe, or just not pretty, it's deemed unsellable. also, if any bulk product is removed from a bin, it is considered unsanitary to return to the bin. if one egg is cracked in a dozen, it's not sellable. all these things are thrown away. up until a week or so ago, team members had access to some of these products as "cull" that they had to pay 25 cents per item for. or if you knew someone, the right someone, they might give it to you. this is no longer at my home store. all produce is now composted, as is bulk products. day old baked goods, dented boxed products (alternative milks, soups, etc), canned goods and various other products are said to be donated to the sf food bank, but I have often witnessed them just being tossed.
Recycling - I'd say roughly 80% of the time it does go in the trash.
And waste, it wouldn't be nearly as much of a smack in the face if the company wasn't doing so much chest pounding about conservation and recycling. I could say much more but I'm short on time. More should be done to expose this and force a change.
The don't recycle properly. I worked at 3 different stores and the last one I worked at didn't have a recycling program at all. Some overly committed team members took it upon themselves to take some recycling every week, but the majority of it went in the dumpster. OH! And the recycling bins that were in the cafe for the customers to use were for appearances, that stuff went in the regular trash too.
Some stores donate some food to food banks. However, my last 2 stores did not, it went to prepared foods so they could make overpriced garbage (quite literally) or it went into the trash. This is how they make money. Produce does it with rotten fruit and vegetables and then they charge extra money because someone cut it up and arranged in in a plastic cups.
You're Sick, You're Fired
The story that really epitomizes this place is the one about a girl who had cancer. She had chemo every Friday. She would feel ok on Saturday, but would wind up feeling incredibly ill on Sunday. She asked if she could have Sundays off because of this. They denied her over and over. She received point after point. The HR person told her that she could take a leave of absence and come back when she was better. Seriously? It's important to note that people request Sundays off, and are granted Sundays off, for church, art club, don't-want-to-work-because-they-go-out-on-Saturday and are routinely granted this availability. They just couldn't handle letting the one person who probably needed it more than anyone have Sundays off. She got fired and lost her insurance.
Worked at the whole foods in downtown Portland for two and a half years. I rode my bike to work as I lived less than 5 minutes away. Some asshole cuts me off while on his cellphone. Fool hits me and I'm thrown from my bike. My bike gets stuck under this guy's car, I tumble and get all kinds of road rash. Needless to say, I am late to work. I called almost immediately and told them what happened and that I would be late. I eventually show up to work and I start feeling very funny. Super spacey. Leave work early, go to the hospital to get checked out to find that I have a minor concussion and that I should take the next two days off. Days later I'm called into an office and get written up for being late to work. I explained why I was late only to be told that it was "policy". (I'm confident other WF employees have heard this BS before. As if all decision making is out of their hands and managers are just there to enforce the rules.) Well, I thought the decision was unfounded and fought it. It was not an easy battle to say the least. First I talk to my team leader. No luck. Then I'm talking to my team leader and the assistant store team leader (dubbed: "shiftys"). Still no result as it is "policy" for any truancy over 30 minutes. Get into an office with the shifty, my team leader, and head of human resources. I explain what happened for the umpteenth time and how it wasn't my fault, had a concussion and whatnot. The HR lady has the audacity to tell me that I should have given myself enough time from leaving my place to be hit by a car and deal with the whatever happened afterwards to get to work. I look around at the other two people in the room as they nod their heads in agreement.
I got pregnant while working there. I'm not even going to get into all the passive aggressive, verbal & emotional abuse that took place the entire time I worked there. Anyway, I had to bring in two doctor's letters to state what was obvious & legal to everybody else. The first letter at 7 months along, stating that I could not be on ladders or step stools. The second letter while I was heavily knocked up at 8 months stating that I couldn't lift or push anything over 35 lbs. My "team leader" continued to disregard these letters.... bitch "forgot I was pregnant, since she never has been pregnant herself."
Employees are fired for getting injured on the job (oh they made up another reason, but that's why they got fired). If they're injured off the job they are told that even minor, easily accommodated changes cannot be made to help them avoid aggravating the injury. You do it exactly like we tell you or you get fired, your health and safety be damned.
Watch What You Eat
Rats were always a problem at my store. Obviously the presence of rats would be a major health code violation, regardless of how you feel about animals. If the public found out about rats being present at a store, they would probably not visit the store anymore. So, here's the dilemma for management: How do we get rid of a rat problem without anyone knowing we had a rat problem in the first place? Do it yourself. Drop rat bait in the bushes around the outside of the store, on the roof of the store, in isolated areas of the stock room and near the garbage cans. Then have the Mexican immigrants from the produce department work late, collecting rat bodies from around the store on a more or less regular basis after closing. That way we're addressing the rat problem, saving money on exterminators, and we don't have to explain to the customers why there is a pest control van parked in front of the store. But what happens if the health department drops by? Isn't having poison in the stock rooms against regulation even though you isolate it from product? Why yes, but that's what the Maintenance Team is for. Have the manager stall the health inspector at the front and send the janitors to yank all the poison from the back room and replace them outside where it does comply with regulation.
I am a former chef, so the whole Prepared Foods department is rather scary. Employee rule is NEVER eat off that hot bar unless you microwave the hell out of it to kill any bacteria. A plate at the hot bar pretty much means the trots later.
The politics are mind-numbing: you better be a head-nodding bobblehead willing to agree with all that is shoved in your face or you are pretty much blacklisted.I went waaay over the line at one store and sent 2 weeks worth of documentation regarding unsanitary conditions and food-handling in the kitchen and sent it directly to Home Office in Austin. Was close to being fired by the store manager for going over his head.Nevermind what was going on in the damn kitchen, just don't make the store manager look bad, you know?
Prepared foods- you know that expired cheese and the still edible but expired meat - they go in to the prepared foods... it's not going to kill ya, or even hurt you, but it's not quite legal or kosher.
When this program was implemented, it constituted seating as many employees in the conference room as possible, and giving a 45 minute-long power point presentation on the evil of unions. I'm not pro nor against unions, I am fully aware of both the good and the bad associated with unions. But there is a difference between educating employees on unions and manipulating the facts to vilify a possible threat to management power. Theme of the meeting: Stay away from unions, we pay better than them, we treat you better than them, you'll be able to advance quicker under non union, your jobs are better protected under us, they will lie to you every chance they get, they will take your hard earned money and give you nothing in return.
Ultimately I was terminated after becoming involved in the unionization effort, but I certainly don't miss working there.
Employees are fired for trying to unionize. Everyone in the store knows not to even say the word union or they'll make up a reason to fire you.
A fellow co-worker who served the company for 15 years was fired for "stealing" as he was "caught" by a security guard drinking a kombucha in the checkout line before he paid for it.
But if they want you out, tracking your attendance is the easiest way to get rid of you. Policy note; if you leave work early for an emergency before the 4 hour mark, it is considered an "absence" - which will then count against you as they tally the "events" that occur over 30, 60 and 90 day periods.
Rates of pay (minimums and ceilings) were never adjusted in the 5 years I worked for WFM. However, their rates of pay far exceed the market for this type of job.
Personally, I don't think that resignation letter was nearly harsh enough. I've been working at Whole Foods for a few years now, and it just keeps getting worse. Just a few of the things I've seen:
- Supervisors refusing to let subordinates go to the bathroom, sometimes for as long as 30-40 minutes.
- Store leadership telling employees that they have to work without pay on their lunch breaks or anytime they're off the clock and in the store "if a customer needs help"
- Employees being written up for "insubordination" after asking why a certain task needs to be done. Note rudely or defiantly, mind you, but with well-intentioned curiosity.
- Employees being written up for "insubordination" for asking to go to the bathroom too frequently.
- Leadership telling employees that they have to pretend to be happy to customers or they will be fired. Those smiling cashiers? Yeah, they don't love their jobs, they just know they don't get to eat this month if they don't sing the company's praises.
-An employee being fired for saying "respect is a two-way street." to a supervisor after being repeatedly and aggressively questioned about nonexistent "behavior disrespectful of authority". Seriously.
Many thanks to anyone who took the time to share their Whole Foods experience. You're all champs in my book.
Special thanks to Gawker editorial assistant Leah Beckmann.
[Photo via David Shankbone/Flickr]