This week, a group of Whole Foods workers in Cambridge, Massachusetts, withdrew after being told they could not wear the Black Lives Matter masks because they were not part of the “company dress code.”
This article first appeared in Salon.
Before the incident, wearing masks with other symbols or logos, including those featuring the New England Patriots, was reportedly acceptable.
This is according to a report in the Boston Globe, detailing how Whole Foods worker Savannah Kinzer and some of her colleagues wore BLM-themed skins on Wednesday. A manager told them that they had to remove the masks or go home. Seven of them came out. On Thursday, Kinzer appeared and handed out more masks, but they met the same fate. Dozens of workers were sent home again.
Visitors to the Whole Foods Market website are greeted with a prominent message that says, “We support the black community and meaningful change in the world.” “Racism has no place here,” says the site owner.
The Boston story is simply one of many reports of many of the Whole Foods workers sent home for wearing masks with the phrase or iconography of “Black Lives Matter.” There are similar reports of workers at Whole Foods stores in New Hampshire and Seattle, Washington. In Philadelphia, protesters protested in front of Whole Foods after a similar incident occurred.
In a statement to Salon, a Whole Foods Market spokesperson said:
To operate in a customer-centric environment, all team members must comply with our old company dress code, which prohibits clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are unrelated to the company. Team members with face masks that do not comply with the dress code are always offered new face masks. Team members cannot work until they comply with the dress code.
Whole Foods is one of several companies that publicly pays tribute to the civil rights movement while cracking down on black-clad workers or protesting.
Earlier this month, “Boycott Starbucks” was trending on Twitter after BuzzFeed released a report on how the coffee retailer stated that its employees were also prohibited from wearing BLM apparel due to the “dress code policy” of the company.
“The color of my skin incites violence at Starbucks. Shouldn’t you come to work? Calvin Bensen, a 22-year-old barista, told BuzzFeed News. “He is silencing and Starbucks is complicit. Now more than ever, Starbucks needs to be with us. “
After the backlash, Starbucks announced that it would allow employees to wear BLM attire. The company also announced that it would provide 250,000 Starbucks brand Black Lives Matter shirts for baristas and other employees.
“Until they arrive, we have heard that you want to show your support, so be you,” the company said in a letter. “Wear your BLM pin or shirt. We are very proud of their passionate support for our common humanity. “
More recently, as Salon previously reported, the Trader Joe’s grocery store in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood put up signs that they had closed “indefinitely” after dozens of store employees earlier that week asked for permission to take time off. to attend Black Vive Materia protests. The workers told Salon that their manager appeared to agree to the request at the time.
“We were told that our participation would be a kind of excused absence, and we would not be punished or anything for going to the protest, and as I said, management approached me and others directly,” said Erin, a crew member at Merchant Joe. . Or I told Salon. “It was like this idea that ‘okay, we want you to go, this is something you should do, and it’s good to support this movement.'”
Since the store closed, employees have gathered nearly 25,000 signatures to reopen the store, which is said to take place on July 1. The company spokesperson denies that the surprise shutdown was in retaliation or had anything to do with employee-approved leisure time to attend a march.
However, store employees believe the company is not telling the truth and that the unexplained closure was suspicious.
“There is a great lack of transparency between management and the crew that has caused me unnecessary anxiety that prevents me from doing my job to the best of my ability,” O said at a press conference this week. She added that she has been singled out and faced consequences that her white coworkers have not had. “Due to the lack of communication and the inconsistent disciplinary policy, I feel that any mistake or lack of communication at work can lead me to lose my job.”
In fact, transparency around job expectations and disciplinary processes are one of five demands that store workers request in writing.
Outside of Seattle, there have been more reports of workers facing repercussions from wearing BLM clothing. These reports follow other stories of labor unrest at a variety of Trader Joe’s across the country; Many workers believe that the company has been putting customer comfort ahead of worker safety during the pandemic.
These stories speak of another social change: Service workers and supermarket employees seem to have more political capital than before the pandemic, which has led more of them to speak publicly about corporate hypocrisy and inappropriate conditions. In the case of corporations that “support” Black Lives Matter, many observers believe that cases like Whole Foods’ embody the performative alliance.