Whole Foods workers sent home for wearing Black Lives Matter masks

On Thursday, Kinzer showed up for his 11 a.m. shift and handed out more masks. And once again, they sent her home, along with at least a dozen others.

The employees of the River Street store are part of a wave of workers trying to spread the Black Lives Matter message and meet resistance from major companies that have publicly rejected racism.

Whole Foods workers in Bedford, NH, Philadelphia and Seattle were sent home for wearing phrase masks, as was a Publix employee in Fort Myers, Florida. A Taco Bell employee in Youngstown, Ohio posted a video that went viral of being fired for wearing a mask with the slogan, prompting the company to declare that it does not prohibit such merchandise and that it believes “the Black Lives Matter movement it is a human rights problem and not a political one. “

After Starbucks banned the outfit and faced a backlash, the company announced it would allow it, and began printing shirts for workers to wear to support the movement.

Earlier this month, Amazon, the owner of Whole Foods, said it would donate $ 10 million to organizations dedicated to racial justice, and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos posted a letter on social media from a customer attacking the company’s support for Black Lives Matter, responding: “You are the type of customer that I am happy to lose.”

However, Cambridge store managers told employees that they were unable to wear the Black Lives Matter masks because they were not part of the dress code. This despite the fact that the Patriots’ masks, and a mask that Kinzer wore earlier this week that said, “The soup is good,” was not questioned, Kinzer said. (On Thursday, Kinzer said, workers were told to remove the masks with the Red Sox and Narragansett logos.)

In a statement, Whole Foods said: “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 not related to the company. Team members who do not comply with the dress code always have an opportunity to comply. If a team member wears a face mask that is outside of the dress code, they are offered a new face mask. Team members cannot work until they comply with the policy. “

23-year-old Kinzer, a recent graduate of Northeastern University who started working as an Amazon Prime buyer at Whole Foods in April, hoped the masks would make the company back up his words with actions. He created flyers to spread the word about the movement, noting: “We are normalizing the BLM statement not just for the company but for every individual who walks through the doors of our store,” and expect a big presentation Tuesday, when most of workers are in the store

“We can’t just put a label on this and say we care and not let our own workers use things to support the movement,” said Kinzer, who is white, noting that Whole Foods has just announced that it was creating a group of inclusion work. and is temporarily matching employee donations with racial justice causes. “Until we see it as a white people problem and not as a black problem that white people have to empathize with, racism will persist.”

When companies take a stand against racism, there is no point in preventing their employees from making the same argument, said Dan Cence, chief executive of Boston public relations firm Solomon Mccown & Cence.

“Why wouldn’t you let the people who agree with you express it themselves?” he said. Companies can’t trust Michael Jordan’s old adage: Don’t take a stand because ‘Republicans also buy sneakers.’ “

Leavar Michel, another main buyer at the Cambridge store, was one of those sent home for wearing a Black Lives Matter mask on Thursday. Michel, 19, said most of the managers at the store are white, while the employees he sees when his 6-hour shift starts are almost all people of color. Michel, who is black, is delighted that a white woman is leading the charge.

“It makes it easier for us, personally, to fight and really say what we want because we know we have the support of other races,” he said.

Still, some employees are afraid to wear the Black Lives Matter masks for fear of losing the income they need to pay for college or support their families, said Michel, who also works as an independent stock trader.

“Employers understand what power they have due to a lack of available jobs, and I think they are using it to compel people not to spread the message to avoid offending customers,” he said. “It is not that we are making riots or doing something. We wear masks. “

Katie Johnston can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.