Whole Foods Uses Tracking Technology to Detect Unionization

By Sandra Harris

An interactive heat map was revealed earlier this week by Business Insider used by Whole Foods to track stores at risk of unionization. The map, which tracks all 510 Whole Foods stores across the United States, calculates a score with categories to rate the likelihood of their workers to join a union.

This information comes after Whole Foods employees across the country called for a “sick out” almost a month ago to protest lack of guaranteed paid sick leave for workers who self-quarantine or isolate, lack of sanitized equipment, lack of health care coverage, among other issues during the economic crisis.

The map develops a score based on several categories. One area includes “external risk” meaning the number of families within the store’s zip code that fall below the poverty line and the local unemployment rate. It also includes local union membership size, distance between the store and closest union, charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board alleging labor-law violations, and an incident tracker related to ongoing organizing and union incidents.

Another area they identify is “store risks” which include average store compensation, average total store sales, and a “diversity index” that represents the racial and ethnic diversity of every store. According to Whole Foods, stores at a higher risk of unionizing have a lower diversity and lower employee compensation, in addition to higher total store sales and higher rates of workers’ compensation claims.

The last category they identify is “team member sentiment,” which is pulled from internal employee surveys. These assess feedback on the quality and safety of their work environment and whether employees feel supported and respected.

Whole Foods responded to the finding of the map stating it “enables resources to be funneled to the highest need locations, with the goal of mitigating risk by addressing challenges early before they become problematic.” They also spoke directly against unionization, claiming an “overwhelming majority” of their employees prefer a “direct relationship” with the company over union representation.

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man, has invested his funds into this tracking technology to monitor his employees and the communities they live in, while his company Amazon, which owns Whole Foods, has a long track record of efforts to suppress worker organizing to improve their conditions.

Even prior to Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods, the grocery store’s founder, John Mackey, was notoriously anti-union and resisted calls for improving worker health benefits, fashioning himself into a media personality to press anti-worker propaganda.

Most recently, Amazon worker Chris Smalls made national news when was fired for leading a walkout at a New York facility where workers demanded Amazon clean the facility after they found out multiple employees had tested positive for coronavirus. Several other strikes have occurred at Amazon facilities, and two additional employees were fired in Minnesota for speaking out against Amazon’s employment practices while working during coronavirus.

Intelligence gathering on behalf of companies has been utilized frequently by large companies to monitor the labor activity among employees. In 2008 when organizing efforts increased at Walmart, they utilized intelligence-gathering services from Lockheed Martin to rank stores by labor activity when union activity was emerging, so they could track and repress the efforts.