Whole Foods workers in San Francisco’s South of Market (SoMa) neighborhood scored a partial victory late last week as management agreed to their demands for a wage increase. Whole Foods’s Northern California regional President Rob Twyman announced a $1.25 pay rise for all San Francisco employees at the lower wage tier.
This means they will earn $12.75 an hour beginning January 1, four months before the city’s new $12.25 minimum wage ordinance kicks in. The increase comes after workers initiated a brief work stoppage on November 6 to deliver a petition to management that asked for, among other things, a $5 pay rise for all employees. Employees involved in organizing are celebrating the $1.25 increase despite getting a less than they had hoped for.
Workers also demanded better working conditions and a comprehensive health plan with affordable premiums and deductibles, but these calls have thus far gone unanswered.
“Whole Foods is rolling out the raise months before they even have to adjust to the new minimum wage. We’ve never seen that happen,” said Nick Theodosis, who has worked at the SoMa store for 10 years.
Low wages, inconsistent schedules, understaffing, and unaffordable healthcare plans are rampant at Whole Foods stores companywide, according to the workers at the SoMa store. Nevertheless, the fact that Whole Foods recognized the legitimacy of the workers’ organizing effort is significant. The events of last week mark a precedent that has the potential to encourage workers to organize at other Whole Foods stores across the country.
“This is a significant gain for non-traditional union drives taking on enormous corporations like Whole Foods to win higher wages and improved working conditions,” Michael Hellman, one of the organizers at SoMa, told ThinkProgress. “Whole Foods’s concession could encourage workers across the continent to join the chorus for dignity and a wage they can thrive on.”
Hellman worked at the Whole Foods in SoMa for three years, until he quit five years ago and joined Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the union behind the organizing efforts in SoMa. IWW is in contact with Whole Foods workers around the country.
“There are other organizers in the Bay Area, as well as nationally,” Tim Maher, another IWW member behind the efforts in SoMa, told ThinkProgress. Maher worked at the store in SoMa for three years and now works at a Whole Foods in Boston. “There are definitely some people who are taking notice and paying close attention the situation in San Francisco,” he said.
IWW is not sure what the next step will be, but claims that it will keep fighting for the full $5 wage increase and fairer business practices. Maher told ThinkProgress the union is weighing the possibility of further action during the busy Thanksgiving period.
Joaquim is an intern at ThinkProgress.