OK: Hi everyone, this is OK Fox. Just wanted to apologize for the really bad audio quality of this episode. We just weren’t prepared to have in-studio and call-in guests at the same time, so we just improvised, and had this really, like, weird room mic, and then recorded it on Skype, so it sounds not great, but it’s a podcast, and it’s audible and it’s a good interview and like, you know, I can say that we’ll – we can release a transcript for it if people are really having trouble hearing it.
So just bear with us, we’re still learning how to deal with guests and figuring all that stuff out. But it’s a great episode, and I hope you guys enjoy it. See you soon.
OK: Hi everybody, welcome to another episode of art and labor, we have a full house tonight, so that’s why the audio is a bit different than normal. I am OK Fox.
LL: And I am Lucia Love. And we’ve got three guests.
OK: Yes, we have three guests today. The theme of the episode is Whole Worker, so that is a group trying to organize the Whole Foods grocery store chain. And in studio we have Matthew,
OK: And do you want your last name out there too?
M: That would be all right. Matthew Hunt.
OK: All right. So we met Matthew Hunt at an anti Amazon community rally thing at a church in Astoria, and Matthew is the spokesperson for Whole Worker, he –
Matthew: Not official spokesperson.
OK: Well, I mean, you’re the one who was fired and can like, be out there in public
M: I can’t be fired again, which is why – (laughs)
T: That’s what you think, Matt.
OK: So Matthew is here with us in the studio, and in Skype we have Tyler, if you wanna say hi.
Tyler: Hi, my name’s Tyler, thanks so much for having us.
OK: Oh you’re welcome. And we have Glamazon.
G: Yes, hello.
OK: So that’s everyone’s voices So we hopefully, you know, we’re going to do a lot of listening with episode to stories of you know what it’s what it’s like, 1) to try to organize a workplace, and 2) specific, like, Whole Foods jargon and garbage and philosophy that we got kind of into a hole about that’s like interesting to us…
Lucia: Yeah, I mean, I’m endlessly excited to hear, first off, what the experience was like to be in a workplace where it’s company culture to propagate anti-union rhetoric.
Matthew: Well I guess Whole Foods is – they’re not unique, I think that’s just built into American business.
OK: Yeah, me and Lucia were talking a little bit on the train over here about how it became like a sort of cartoon trope of like, a character getting hired somewhere, getting sit down and showed up the HS of anti union propaganda.
Matthew: Although I think Whole Foods is unique in comparing unions to herpes.
Matthew: You know, we’re trying to give you know Whole Foods herpes…
Lucia: You have that great Mackey quote – what was it – “unions are like herpes, it won’t kill you but it will make people not want to become your lover.”
G: So creepy.
OK: That is so Creepy.
Matthew: That’s why he’s always wearing those short shorts. (laughter)
OK: So we’re talking about the C.E.O., John Mackey, who’s like a weirdo libertarian freakazoid who runs Whole Foods and has a whole… philosophy about it.
LL: YThey started from the ground up, bunch of hippies in Austin, Texas, and now look at ‘em, straight from yuppie to corporate shill.
Matthew: That’s true.
OK: So Matt, we were talking a little bit before we started recording about how you’ve got like –your union experience, I don’t know if you wanted to go over any of that on mic now.
Matthew: yeah, so I started working there in 2014, and then I was fired January of 2017 along with my fiancé on the same day, I might add. So that–
OK: So that I didn’t realize your fiance worked there to think that everybody. oh I missed that. wow
Matthew: and even another friend of ours who would you can wear a union pin openly, we both did too, me and my fiance. They quit to go get a better union job, and they were sent a letter later on saying that “you actually you didn’t quit, you were fired, and you could never be rehired again.”
Matthew: So I think like Ty was saying they are uniquely anti union in a certain way. You know, I don’t know why they went so intense when I and the others tried to organize it. Maybe it had something to do with the election and they felt emboldened because we had this neo-fascist in power, maybe they felt that they could get away with want to let me live in open fact
OK: Well, I remember even like 8 years ago, when when whole foods was starting to spread more in New York City, they were trying to organize and they just kept shooting them down and shooting them down.
Matthew: there is a history of – yeah they do have a long history of union busting.
LL: Yeah it seems like it fits in with their company culture, because a lot of what they’re talking about is the same jargon where it’s like, oh, well we’re innovators, we’re interested in disruption, and we’re obsessed with the customer, that’s a huge red flag – like, they want to drive down costs. And over the past few years, they’re experiencing like, a loss in profit margins, and that is also like, completely non compatible with the concept of paying people more if you’re losing money. I think that then you enter into this whole like, merger with Amazon and start to see that they’re probably just like a sinking ship, doesn’t want to support its crew members.
OK: Yeah. So, Glamazon, do you want to talk about, like, Whole Worker at all? Because you do a lot of social media for them.
Glamazon: Yeah sure. So, well these two were kind of in on the ground floor. And so yes Whole Worker is sort of like a loose coalition of Whole Foods employees who, I don’t know, were nominally like working towards a union I guess, but also just kind of trying to establish solidarity and, like, compare notes kind of on the various ways in which we’re getting jerked around and like, I don’t know, ways that we can have each other’s backs ,ways that we can like, potentially use the media to sort of establish some leverage with the company. But yeah, I mean it basically just sort of – I mean, my history with Whole Worker was a sort of mass e-mail was sent out to people in leadership positions from Matt and Tyler.
OK: Wow! Wow!
Glamazon: Yeah, super cool, and it was like, very cloak and dagger, but also like very, like, kind of inspiring rhetoric, just sort of like laying out some of the problems that have been plaguing the workplace, which are sort of taboo to talk about, you know, when you’re on the clock. And so yeah, so I –
LL: Can you just give us a breakdown of what was in that e-mail?
Glamazon: Absolutely, yeah. Well maybe Matt and Tyler, you guys wrote it, so –
Matthew: Yeah, I actually –
OK: Yeah, you guys are the two founders?
Matthew: Yeah I wrote most of our initial things we sent out, it was funny when we sent hte first letter out, there was a draft that was like a lot more aggressive that like leaked, and that one actually kind of went viral for a minute in the media, it was on a couple websites, like the entire PDF was actually already sent out, but we had we had sent a mass e-mail out to buyers and leaders and kind of mid-level people at every store in the company, and that’s kind of how we got started.
Glamazon: And then those e-mails kind of got passed around a little, which was sort of the idea, right.
Glamazon: Because if I was not in one of those positions. I did not personally receive the e-mail, but it just kind of got put in my hands, and it was all like ooh, the revoluton’s happening.
LL: Haha, nice!
Glamazon: I just got like a little crumpled print out, and yeah, so like Phase one, I can talk about the Slack channel, right?
Matthew: absolutely, sure.
Glamazon: so like, phase one was to just sort of shepherd as many like minded parties as possible into like a Slack channel where we could all just kind of like share frustrations, and yeah, phase one was just sort of establishing a line of communication with Whole Foods employees around the world. So I, you know, the second I got home from work, was in on that, and immediately started just shitposting memes, angry socialist memes, and I guess that’s how I got the role of Instagram Queen.
OK: I also wanted to invite Glamazon because she’s literally our neighbor. She’s the reason we found Whole Worker and everything.
Glamazon: Yeah, well, something really funny, I found both of you groups at the same time, and this was – so I became aware through a friend of your work with the Festival Workers Association. And this was at the same time there was all the controversy about Amazon sponsoring S.P.X.
Glamazon: Which, I don’t want to get too inside baseball, but to listeners, this was
OK: That’s our listener ship so this is our listeners. So.
Glamazon: It’s like an art festival. That is you know
OK: We’ve talked about on the show before
Glamazon: You’ve talked about it on the show before, OK so I don’t need to catch that up.
LL: so going back the Matthew Thurber episode
Glamazon: Yeah, oh my god, that one was so good. Anyway so there is this real sense – this was also just at a point where my job had really like steadily gotten worse and more soul crushing over like, the last few months. And then hearing that Amazon was, you know, trying to get its greasy mitts on my precious zine culture really made me feel like literally like Amazon was just like slowly infecting every facet of my life, because you know, you like to think of your art life and your work life as separate things that can’t affect each other, but – yeah, so I was just tweetin’ all spicy about Amazon, and my friend Brad recommended both the FWA and your podcast. And then I started listening to it. And literally like 2 days later I got this communique from Whole Worker. So it really felt like some kind of divine providence. And then I started listening to the backlog of you guyses’ episodes, just getting full radicalized –
OK: there’s really no better memester than a zinester, so you’re great on the Instagram – it’s really great.
LL: Mutual appreciation abounds.
Tyler: Seriously. Well no like, we met glamazon that it was just a. You know she’s kind of been just like a godsend because we’re trying to figure out all the so their stuff and how to grow the movement and where it’s going to go, and we do lots of stuff in the media and and she just like owns the social media it’s just – we love her, we really appreciate it’s not.
Glamazon: Aww, thanks guys.
OK: Well that’s why our whole thing with like art labor is so odd, and that’s why we have that develop this whole show about it, because like nobody not really knows where to put it. So like Glamazon talking about this group called the Festival Workers Association where we’re trying to reform independent arts festivals and keep Amazon out of them, is basically the idea, because they, just, you know – they want to just kind of make every festival as big as like a Comic Con or something like that, when it’s like, we have our own community and we do things our own way.
Matthew: And stay the fuck out.
Glamazon: yeah. I mean there’s something like super sinister about Amazon like dipping its toes into like culture, even like them kind of angling for the whole like T.V. network slot feels super sinister to me. Yeah, it’s just like, I don’t know, yeah, keep away from our frickin’ media.
OK: And our food! I mean, they didn’t always own Whole Foods, That was fairly recent .
Matthew: Yeah. That was a year ago. I remember when they bought twitch. I guess that’s another – all together but,
Glamazon?: And that’s why you don’t have a Twitch account!
LL: And Jeff Bezos has AirBnB and Uber,
LL: oh, and Twitter! He gives money to Twitter also.
Glamazon: right, which is why I deleted those tweets.
Matthew: I believe that’s really a lot of services Yeah.
LL: Yeah. I mean those that was their initial like company party line, though, was like to have a universal – what was it? Like a universal outlet for all of culture.
OK: I mean, and that’s why they want to come to New York City, right. We talked about this in the community meeting that we were at that us in the room were all at, once one of the speakers was talking about how and you know Amazon employees, they want to come to Queens, and like, participate or partake in all of this culture, they’re not going to move into the big luxury towers in LIC, they’re going to move in where all of the working people are –
Matthew: They’re going to go where it’s cheap.
OK: They’re going to go where it’s cheap, and there’s “culture,” quote-unquote.
LL: My God, what if Jeff Bezos builds one of those Buckyball terrariums like they have in Seattle.
OK: Oh no. (laughs) And don’t let anyone in.
LL: Yeah, just only for the Amazon workers.
OK: Okay, so I live in Queens and I got the mailer – did you get the mailer, Matthew?
Matthew: I didn’t get the mailer, I feel like I was singled out for some reason… (laughter)
Glamazon: You’re on the block list.
Matthew: I’ve looked – am I on the block list?
OK: So, for those who don’t know, Amazon sent out a mailer to like, a lot of people in Queens, being like “hey, we’re going to be your neighbor soon! We’re just your friendly Amazon!” They’re so scared. It gave me a lot of hope actually because I was like “oh they’re scared.”
Matthew: I just saw that, RWD was tweeting about that. It’s t super gross.
OK: Yeah I was like oh man it’s yeah it’s gross but I’m also really psyched they’re scared. Because also that that thing that that whole worker posted about – that they hired a PR firm?
Matthew: SK Knickerbocker, I think it is? So this is – it gets ridiculous at this point. So I was interning at the city council person and by the name of Mark Webber’s office back in 2015 while I was secretly organizing at a Whole Foods. Mark Webber is one of the new people working for SKD Knickerbocker that Amazon just fucking hired.
OK: Oh my god…
Matthew: And this is after he probably had this cushy job, I think it was with Andrew Cuomo. SO it’s Amazon controlling–
Glamazon: Amazon Cuomo…
OK: I saw that De Blasio announced today, I don’t know if you guys saw this yet but a couple hours ago De Blasio announced that he’s going to ensure that all New York City residents can get health insurance.
G: Oh yeah, I just saw that like right, you all called.
OK: I think it’s a paying him off thing. I think –
G: yeah 100 percent, but still, tight, I’m jealous.
OK: And I think it’s like a – “well see, this is why we need Amazon to come in, because they’re going to pay for this.” (someone blows a raspberry) I think like, a thing like… maybe it’s my cynicism, I haven’t read a lot about it yet, but–
Matthew: I mean we have the New York health care act that’s moving through.
OK: Oh, finally?
Matthew: I don’t know everything you know but you know it’s like it’s moving forward, it should happen if the the Democrats want to pass universal health care – *cough* bullshit. I’m sorry.
LL: That’s winter, there’s a lotta head colds.
OK: Well you know, I literally yelled at De Blasio in person – there’s an art and labor episode about this, but one time I was coming out of the subway and he was just there.
OK: And he had like. a press conference. And me and Lucia just stayed and watched the press conference.
LL: Yeah, it was depressing that was just about the L train shutdown. But that’s in the past.
OK: That’s in the past now!
LL: Now I’m curious to hear more about the organizing efforts that you all have been undertaking. So I think we left off in your story at the point where you created a Slack channel that everybody could start communicating through, and I think it’s really awesome that technology has enabled us to create these like, offsite hubs and these like, ways of remaining anonymous, but yet like, communicating on a mass scale of our own, against these exploitative employers. And I’m interested to hear the next steps that you all undertook.
Tyler: Yeah, actually, that’s actually something I’d really like to talk about. It’s interesting. I’m kind of a techie myself, but just in the years since all the Edward Snowden stuff, of course he used Signal to leak a lot of the stuff out, and we use Signal as well, but Slack was kind of stage one, and I guess you know what I – just for anyone who’s listening to this, particularly Whole Foods or Amazon employees, there are a lot of amazing free tools now. We’ve done this whole movement thus far at zero cost on old smartphones and old Chromebooks and old PCs, and we use tools like – Signal and Telegram, are probably the two I most recommend.
And the thing that I really try to convey to anyone we’re trying to work with when we’re organizing is – people are very intimidated, people are scared, to speak out, to step out of line, because it can really be like a black mark on their career. They’re worried about losing their jobs, and if they lose their jobs, you know, what are they – most people I know are worried they’re going to, you know, end up driving Uber or delivering food with no health insurance, or something like that, but so they’re terrified of speaking out.
But with a lot of these new tools, it is much easier, and it’s safe, and it’s – people are intimidated by technology, but in 2019 now, it is easier than you think to blow the whistle, to be an activist online, to organize – it’s a lot easier than it’s ever been before with a lot of these free tools, and I hope anyone who’s interested in this stuff, you know, [will] learn how to use just simple messengers like like Telegram and Signal, which is what we primarily use now for organizing. I guess the Slack was kind of the first step although that channel still there.
OK: Yeah. That’s great. We have a Discord for Art & Labor, and I enjoy it because it has a great search. It’s like a half Twitter and half, like, a Slack or something, or I don’t know, but it’s not as a secure as a Telegram or a Signal. But that’s all really interesting.
OK: Matt, how did you and Tyler meet?
Matthew: Just online. I was at home recovering from an accident and just trying to find shit to do, and I was just combing through the Department of Labor’s website going through interesting documents and behold, I see Whole Foods and I’m like “holy shit.” I click on it, I see that year that it’s in, and I’m like “oh my God, was this for what we were doing it at our New York store?” And it wasn’t. It turns out that there was organizing attempt down in Florida in Miami at a distribution center to unionize. And Whole Foods actually hired a literal third-party union buster, a guy whose name is Peter, he’s actually a far right-wing activist who was involved with this weird – I call it a proto-Trumpian movement, it’s called Groundswell. And their whole thing was to go after progressive groups, the Republican establishment, sounds very Trumpian – and obviously just go after the Democrats. And this included this guy, Peter List, Frank Gaffney Jr, an infamous Islamophobe, even Steve Bannon was on the periphery there, I believe so –and you know. And I’m just fascinated that a lot of money is spent on these unionbusters, whether or not it’s some kind of third party, like this guy, or it’s a union busting law firm like Jackson Lewis, who donated to a lot of Democrats in New York City. That includes De Blasio and Cuomo and Jimmy Van Bramer.
OK: Yeah, Jimmy Van Bramer, who –
Matthew: Who takes union-busting money.
OK: He takes union-busting money and then he’s out there being like “we’re anti-Amazon! We’re the front line!”
Matthew: Ugh. And he signed the letter begging them to come here too, which is just…
OK: Fuckin’ psychotic, honestly.
Matthew: Oy gevalt.
Tyler?: Barely a year ago.
OK: Okay, who’s got the microwave on?
Glamazon: Oh sorry, that was me.
OK: If you need to mute yourself you can.
Glamazon: OK sorry, I haven’t been Skype in a while.
OK: You know it’s fine, it would be fine, it’s we’re all in one channel.
Glamazon: I’m so hungry. Yeah, sorry.
Matthew: Yes. So I wrote this tiny article for Medium, just put those documents up, did a little bit of editorializing, and I just messaged it to a bunch of people online, and I found Ty, and we just connected through there and… yeah, now we’re here!
Tyler: Yeah, I do a little Twitter account called fake John Mackey, and I think he saw some of my stuff, and I saw some of his stuff, and we started talking on the phone and then he helped us launch Whole Worker a few months after that.
OK: Oh, that’s great. Oh man, I mean, that’s the thing too, is like in New York City, there’s a lot of art related industries or writing or journalism related industries that are all on these like, garbage 1099 contracts, or like, bullshit things. They make temporary contracts, they make you sign, and like, but then the problem is so then people have second jobs, like working in retail or working at a grocery store, but if those jobs also have no security and no health care, we’re just all going to die young and overworked, and it’s just garbage.
So I know a lot of people who are like, “I really need a second job, I work in nightlife but it’s not paying enough of my bills, so I’m going to get a day job,” but then they’re all garbage too. So I don’t know, I just wanted to acknowledge that there’s probably a lot of art and labor listeners who have like, you know, a Whole Foods-type job and I just want them to know that like, this is something worth organizing because it’s like, if art is taking so fucking long to organize, we need to at least organize our day jobs.
Matthew: Please reach out to us if you need help organizing or just like people, I’m serious –
Tyler: A ton of Whole Foods employees, especially ones like you know like where I work are all part of the music scene over here. So I think a lot of Whole Foods employees could relate to that for sure.
OK: Yeah, I literally know several people who have worked for Whole Foods or work for Trader Joe’s or whatever. Trader Joe’s – it seems a little better to work there.
OK: We’ve heard some stories.
Matthew: Also they did fire an employee for trying to organize, and they claim that he wasn’t smiling enough, so…
OK: It happens.
Glamazon: But also, they used to employ a lot of artists –
OK: You know, that’s why I got fired too.
Matthew: Yeah, for not smiling?
OK: But that was the reason given for like – my job really wanted me to quit, and they were just like “you just don’t seem happy here.” And I’m just sort of like “Who the fuck is happy here? There’s been like a huge sexual harassment scandal, and morale is like, in the toilet and you expect me to like, be happy here?”
Matthew: “I’m not a sociopath, I’m not gonna smile.”
Glamazon: Yeah, I mean the emotional labor demanded of a Whole Foods employee is huge, because of the sort of like progressive new year that the companies adopted. But as that’s been stripped away on the corporate end, and we’re like losing our hours and you know, benefits, we’re still expected to kind of prop up the illusion. And it’s – you know, I mean, like we’re not supposed to stop smiling, but they can.
Tyler?: Yeah, I’ve been at Whole Foods for 10 years and that’s, I mean, you nailed it, there’s a colossal amount of hypocrisy, because it does have a kind of progressive veneer. And a lot of the people who go to work there are, you know, very progressive, very liberal, myself included, and I’ve been there for a long time, and have really seen the change. And it is a soul crushing –
OK: Everyone who I know who has worked fo Whole Foods – because in preparation for it. I was talking to a friend of mine who worked there for a really long time, who doesn’t work there anymore, but she was telling me that like, there was a co worker of hers who worked there for even longer than she did, and that coworker was like, “this used to be a decent job. Like, I liked my job, I liked being here, and it just keeps getting worse and worse.”
Matthew: That is what I’ve heard from a lot of people. It was decent and then it’s just progressively gone down.
LL: well that’s also a lot to do with the way that the company is structured and a lot of the issues that they had when like stocking and dealing with different purveyors, like there’s so many cases that they have had to deal with of like, carcinogens in the to-go boxes that they were using in the food bar. And there were issues with like prison labor farming Tilapia and cheese –
OK: Yeah. And in the United States, they’re using prison labor in the United States.
LL: And then yeah, sort of like dealing with all of the unsafe bacteria-ridden facilities, and now that Amazon has started to deal with them, we’re seeing a lot less of the different artisanal product lines being sold in stores, because there isn’t, like, enough of a metric to support their being in the store, and they’re relying more now on the 365 brands.
Which is just sort of more like, then, edging into competing with people, you know, Costco runs, and they’re like Trader Joe’s runs, and it’s just like “well, why am I going to go to Whole Foods for something I can get–“. It just seems like the whole company is sort of dissolving and like losing focus, and what they’re going to start edging more towards is the cashierless stores, like they’re going to just start replacing people with robots, they’re going to start – actually, just, they’re developing that app now, where it’s like they they will take pictures of produce and you get like a photograph or like a 360º of a tomato to see if it has any like, issues with it before it’s mailed to you like FreshDirect. So this is like cutting out most of the grocery store –
OK: –my god –
LL: –And turning it into you actually like a facet of Amazon and that’s what they’re projecting.
Tyler?: Yeah that’s a lot of the stuff that I’ve been learning about recently just from leadership where I work.
LL: Yeah. So I think a lot of the reason maybe in developments are difficult for you guys is because they’re thinking of going to this full automation route, and you know, it’s really like, if we’re able to talk about factory floor unionizing in all of these packing plants, that are, you know, shipping centers and everything, then maybe you will be able to think more clearly about the ways to more even – like, fortify the position of Whole Foods workers and like try to get them some solidarity too.
OK: You know, this is why it could be good for you guys to talk to the Tech Workers Coalition, because they might be able to do some sort of actions of solidarity, of like against, like we’re not going to build this technology if you’re going to use it to replace workers. We don’t want to be a part of that.
Glamazon: You’re seeing pushback from the tech people to Amazon, right. There was that thing recently where they were supplying cops and armed forces, and ICE, with this totally untested, like, very mysterious facial recognition technology and surveillance equipment. And you had some pushback from the tech community. Like, they’re actually in a very unique position to like, have leverage over these companies in a way that we just don’t, you know.
LL: But it’s on its way because, you know, when you see the way that business has its interests in undercutting any opposition and finding, you know, something to like bolster itself instead of, you know, dealing with sustainable regulations or something like –.
LL: We can assume that the worst is possible.
Matthew: Going back to what you’re saying before, you know, it’s like the mask is essentially off, like – they’ve embraced the fact that they’re going to sanitize their brand in a sense.
LL: And this is something that’s interesting to you like overseas, is looking at what was it Amazon in like Spain or whatever, was trying to enlist the police forces to break up the protests of the workers there.
Matthew: And the police literally told them that like, “no, we don’t do that.”
LL: But you can imagine here.
Matthew: It seems to be a fascist country in the 70s, and you have police in a former fascist country, a few decades ago, to inform an American business, that says a lot, I think. The mask is not just off of the Whole Foods, I think this is a societal thing now. We see what’s in the White House, we see what Jeff Bezos is, he is –
OK: An iguana-eating freak.
Matthew: He’s skynet in human form.
Glamazon: So the thing I wanted to say earlier is that before I worked at Whole Foods, I worked for a smaller, more provincial grocery store chain that had totally, like, modeled itself on Whole Foods’ business model, and was experiencing the same thing in the few years I worked there, on like, a micro scale, with the mask sort of like slowly slipping off, and, you know, wages and benefits slowly being pulled back, while still trying to sort of maintain this delicate balance of keeping the, you know, the progressive face up.
And I think it’s really interesting that there has – I don’t know, Whole Foods has sort of always had a sort of wave of imitators for that kind of business modem, of being kind of like touchy-feely capitalism. And like – I feel like that’s why we’re in like, kind of a unique position, where I feel like any kind of wins we can get over Whole Foods Corporate will maybe come down to like, a lot of the smaller businesses who are all like, kind of gunning to be the next John Mackey, you know.
OK: Doesn’t John Mackey call it like conscientious – conscious – capitalism?
LL: We all love that one.
Tyler: Well I was trolling on Twitter – it disgusts me. What drives me crazy, honestly, is especially in terms like the cutting back in labor and benefits, is Whole Foods is never not profitable. You know, most businesses that cut back and cut costs, it’s not that they’re not profitable. Whole Foods is always extremely profitable, it’s that their rate of growth, you know, was 2% and not 3. It’s that they – in trying to compete with –
Glamazon: but there’s also like just sort of like a major scale like gaslighting that happens where is the employees were made to feel like it’s our fault, and that’s why our quality of work is slowly getting worse and worse, when in fact it’s just like this sort of, like, ever-moving goal post, where the definition of profit is I would say – sorry, what were you saying?
LL: Oh no, you go, sorry.
Glamazon: Oh, it’s a good thing that, you know, the definition of profitability is constantly changing, and you know, we don’t really hear about these goals until we’re finding out that we’re falling short of them. But I mean, it’s just sort of used as a general technique to put employees on the defensive and, you know, make us fear for our jobs. And it works.
Tyler: One of the things that’s been, like, fascinating to me, is when when we launched it, I knew that our message – and kind of what I thought kind of my read of things the company, I knew was accurate – you know, the stores near here and in our region and in our metro, people I’ve talked to. And once we launched it, and now that we have – I’ve talked to Whole Foods employees all over Canada and Britain, there’s a group that’s trying to organize in Hawaii right now actually. The problems are the same, they’re seeing the same thing. And the profitability thing is ultimately one thing we’re really interested in.
And I was hoping to have some time to do more research [on this] before the call, but I just didn’t. There’s – it’s not uncommon in European countries for – you know, in American capitalism, the board of directors serves the shareholder, it’s all about maximizing shareholder value. And there’s a lot of European countries, particularly German corporations, where workers’ groups or employee unions or groups have representation on the board of directors. And their business imperative is not only to only maximize shareholder value, but to balance that with the employee value. And that’s something that doesn’t exist in this country.
LL: We have the activist shareholders, actually, that actually held Mackey’s feet to fire when they were kind of pushing to sell the company. And there was a little bit of this like, call for the lower end of their corporate structure that says like, you know, in the field, it is incredibly exploitative, but if they don’t maintain some sort of lead on a market that is like highly competitive, then they are going to you know, dissolve, and then no one will have anything. And the way that they conceive of their benefit to the community is like while a CEO might be making X amount of billions of dollars, they’re supposedly like somehow quote unquote “creating value” for the community around them, and this is – well, then, the shareholders are like, starting to take it up on as their own cause.
Tyler: Yeah, I was right there when that happened at Whole Foods. I always forget the name of the company that was buying up their shares, but they own almost a third of the company. And this is like, the year after Wal-Mart and Costco sold more organic and natural food than Whole Foods. That was a huge wake-up call, you know 2013, 2014. Then this company started like buying up shares, and a lot of the toxic work environments, from my perspective, started during that period. Like, a lot of people talk about how Amazon’s changed Whole Foods, but Whole Foods has been toxic for a long time.
OK: And then there was the asparagus water incident! Remember that?
Glamazon: Wait, what’s the asparagus water incident?
Tyler: There’s a great Stephen Colbert segment on the asparagus water incident. It’s hilarious. This is a couple years ago.
OK: What I was going to bring up, before it was like, you know, people, like I always think about how Spain’s entire economy is structured around them taking at least like a two-hour break in the middle of the day.
OK: Like, I mean, we could do that.
Matthew: I mean, speaking to what I was saying, it’s called co-determination, So it’s kind of – like, well you’re saying, it speaks to the fact that we have just such a terrible labor laws. And that’s also part of the reason why it’s so hard to organize in this country, because the companies are not, as a whole, held accountable when they fire people for organizing, or for harassment.
Matthew: And I mean just – so this is something like elected officials that sort of put themselves out there as friends of labor, or who take donations from labor unions – why the fuck aren’t they proposing legislation? What do they have to lose? Because they would lose money from their corporate donors.
OK: That’s what they have –
Matthew: That’s what they have to lose. And they would no longer be in office. If you actually had an environment that’s worker-friendly, labor-friendly officials could be in office, they would cease to be there.
OK: Right, and who refuse corporate donation, which is like something that people are starting to demand now, so we have like two people now, maybe.
Matthew: But it’s still not enough because we see I think with the whole Pay Go thing you see a lot of these “progressives,” which is just fucking depressing, but not surprising.
OK: It’s so depressing. The deficit’s fake garbage, fake like just a fantasy.
LL: Well, scarcity is real, even though it’s manmade.
OK: Yes, it’s manmade.
Tyler : Yes, this is part of like our strategy going forward is really kind of part of how we started. Matt and I and our other partner and kind of co-writer, we were talking and like, it might be impossible to organize Whole Foods, you know, like we have goals and things we want to see, and things were like working towards, and there’s, you know, we have a couple of committees here like trying to organize on the ground right now in a couple cities, but all that’s really complicated.
But part of our strategy has been coordinating with the media, and trying to, you know, apply political pressure, which is what we did with the anti-union videos. We may never be able to realize the full Workers’ Union, but given, you know, the tools available to us today, and the things we can do, we can put pressure on Whole Foods. And this goes back to what I was saying about people wanting to get involved. You know, the thing about Whole Foods is, I think most consumers, most people in the U.S. are, you know, good people. Most people, like, strive to be conscious, you know, good people. So when they see that–
OK: Well that’s Whole Foods’ whole brand, right, it’s like a conscientious –
Tyler: Yeah, yeah, they’re a conscious brand.
OK: You’re conscientious to your food, not your people.
Tyler: Yeah. Because when we point out that they’re not are whole that’s kind of how we’ve tried to bring people to our cause, that’s kind of how we’ve tried to put pressure on them. One thing we’re working on right now actually is about Whole Foods’ recycling programs because they used to be great.
They used to have really great recycling programs, they had, you know, team members who were –and this is a whole other thing, I guess, but you know, if you go to a Whole Foods today and you see in their cafe, you know, glass, plastic, compost, landfill, whatever, most of the time, in most Whole Foods, that’s just going to the landfill.
LL: That’s a larger issue with the way that we are dealing with waste disposal, on a national level and on a state level, though, and like, more recent findings [have shown that] the ways that we’re like getting rid of plastics, especially, it’s just that they’re actually not able to be broken down the way we thought, and they’re just gonna continue to pile up.
Tyler: But in most municipal regions, recycling agencies are for-profit.
OK: Yes, people actually don’t know this. So I want to reiterate to our New York listeners that a lot of Brooklyn trash collectors are literally mafia, like –
Glamazon: Yeeeeeah! Sopranos!
OK: Like straight up, that’s still true, they’re not really – like most of the trash collection if not actually run by the city at all, and who the fuck knows where it goes.
LL: Hey, it leaves ya in the yahd.
Tyler: Just going back to us, we try to organize by exposing that, like, Whole Foods actually isn’t a conscious organization. And you know, we’ve got
OK: Yeah – that’s a great campaign. that’s a great way to campaign. I just wanted to add that like, because I just think that like if we could culturally get to a place where it’s like it’s as culturally unacceptable to treat – to not give your workers benefits and, you know, like not paying them a living wage, if that was not as acceptable as it was to like, you know, not carry fair trade organic coffee–
LL: Well, those are those are 2 things that are not on the spectrum though, because the way that John Mackey, he talks about his own company, he’s saying like it’s not necessarily like – “oh, we need to make unions more acceptable,” it’s like we need to talk about the way that the consumer is being discussed. Because at the end of the day, most of these businesses are just saying like no, don’t you want to be a customer whose goal is to purchase exactly what you need, whenever you need it? And actually, no, if it’s at the expense of me, also a worker. And so the minute that we can like connect those wires and just say like wait, I am a consumer that wants to be in a union, then we can get some traction. Because there there’s like, you know, CEO’s, they stand up there with a weird little microphone that’s attached to their face, and they talk to a bunch of say, like, Google workers, you know, and there’s just hundreds of young, like, entrepreneurial types, and they think that if they make an investment of their own time and energy into their company, that they’re going to be given something back. They’re going to be given the fruits of their labor, and they should be like, unified around the concept of their employers’ divine right to give them what they need to live. Breaking that concept is important.
Tyler: I feel like they just mercilessly exploit that, because they know that so many of their employees are very food-conscious, environmentally conscious, you know, very progressive. They’re, you know, very aware. So like, they gaslight them, you know “you should be grateful to be a part of Whole Foods. we’re doing things for the greater good you know so it’s acceptable that like your labor is being cut, because then like the store survives, because you know we can serve, you know, poor customers.”
OK: that’s insane. I didn’t think that they were like treating their employees as like, self sacrificing for the environment. I didn’t even – they’re crossing that wire instead of the other way around, trying to process – oh my god.
LL: Also have this weird biometric program –
Tyler: Yeah, the people, we’re not part of the environment.
LL: there’s a weird biometric program for people who work at Whole Foods,t here’s like a thing where if you reach a certain like body fat mass index thing, like you get discounts and there’s a whole incentive program.
Glamazon: They’re just trying to have preserve their property, which is the people. You know, they want us to keep working.
Tyler?: You know, I mean, I took advantage of it.
Glamazon: Yeah, I really should too, because I’m healthier than I was a year ago. But ugh. It’s really creepy, right? It’s proprietary of our bodies in a way that I do not like.
OK: They could use the information they’ll sell the information they’re getting about your health.
Glamazon: and also yo can tell you that like you know I’ve seen Whole Foods, like, erode the health of so many employees because of this the stress and gloom. That goes with this job. So many whole foods employees are chain smokers or have a drug or alcohol problem, and it’s like it’s like there’s a very obvious cause and effect here. It’s like a job really pushes you in that direction.
Tyler: When we launched, one of the I think maybe the biggest thing that surprised me when we did this 1st round of e-mails, and even since then, is that we didn’t feel – like I didn’t think that team leaders. So in a Whole Foods store, so there’s a store team leader that’s the store manager, there is an associate store team leader, sometimes there’s two, and then there’s team leaders. And the team leaders are like, you know, the Produce team or the Grocery team or the Dairy team or the Whole Body team whatever.
Glamazon: We didn’t think that
LL: You can’t really have any cross interfacing, right. You can’t like, fraternize with the other teams or something?
Matthew: I mean, you can…
Tyler: No, that actually is kind of is how used to be, but like nowadays, because they’ve reduced labor so much, grocery freight throwers have to cashier, cashiers have to throw freight, and everyone has to like, pull together just to keep the ship afloat.
But the one of the things that surprised me was when we launched, just how many team leaders kind of flocked to us and reached out. And like, a lot of our first members that kind of helped get it off the ground were people in leadership positions – people who probably, I mean, they could unionize, but they would more likely have to be in a separate union than like, just a normal hourly team member, just a base level whole team member. But like, those are the people that were like reaching out, because they were, you know, if you’re a team leader at Whole Foods, you know, you’re working 12 hour days, you know, 6 days a week. It’s brutal.
Glamazon: Well yeah, it’s like the middle management types who are really being forced to like, you know, carry out, and enforce these draconian policies, and they’re also the ones who benefit from it at least. So really, people in leadership positions seem like they’re getting squeezed the most, which is so sad. I’m not one of those – but you know, I’m at the bottom.
OK: Yeah a lot of times management is – all it means is that they have been conditioned to take the abuse. And they know that and they recognize that by promoting them to management.
Tyler: And to abuse themselves too.
OK: Hurt people… hurt people!
LL: I just thought to bring in a little conversation we had before we started recording, about the way the unions are structured, that there are organizational issues on the union side too that like, link up to the management and everything else.
Tyler: Unions themselves are this whole other –
Matthew: Unions themselves can have problems.
Tyler: Unions are very patriarchal and old fashioned, and they have their own politics. It’s hard working with a lot of them, frankly. We’re still trying to figure it out.
OK: Yeah, I mean a lot of unions are bourgeois socialism, bureaucracy that aren’t necessarily working, and people do need to recognize when that’s happening too.
Well, I wanted to just like, go around if there’s anything that we forgot to touch on, because we’re near the end of the episode now. I want to thank everybody for talking to us. And putting yourselves out there like this, it’s like, incredibly hard to do.
Me and Lucia were both in these situations where we had to do it, and you know, I lost my job for speaking out. And like, people, it’s important to do, especially if – especially if for myself, I took stock of where I was, and I was like, well if I lose this job it’s going to fuck me up, but I’m ultimately going to be all right. And there are other people who aren’t in that position, so I’m going to go for it.
Glamazon: Yeah, good on you.
OK: But also I would encourage people to if they do get fired to file for unemployment and try again, and appeal, like and really just get on unemployment you know it’s like yeah that’s a buffer and something to use.
Matthew: So I was actually able to collect unemployment, based, off of my Whole Foods, which was them essentially admitting they fired me for organizing because that’s what I contested.
Tyler: Can I touch on a couple things before we finish up?
OK, LL: Totally, yeah.
Tyler: I really think, like my personal belief, and I kind of you know get passionate about it, is that I really believe Labor is poised to make a big comeback, you know, not just in this country, but you know, a lot the Western capitalist world. It is easier than ever before to speak up, and to organize, and to whistle blow, and to do it in a way that doesn’t compromise your job, you know, using tools like Telegram and Signal and even Slack. It’s easier to do that than ever before.
OK: Yeah, that’s really great.
LL: And also, long term view of these things. Like immediate failures don’t necessarily mean that there can’t be a win down the road.
Matthew: Organizing always has – it has an ebb and flow, you think it’s over and all of the sudden out of nowhere it’s like “holy shit, that just happened.”
Tyler: It’s a long game. But there’s groups – like I got involved organizing initially because there’s a lot of unionization happening in the video game industry. And I reached out to a reporter who does a podcast, and he connected me with some people that had organized his workplace. And there’s a lot of unionizing happening in, you know, the tech industry. There’s, you know, Google employees speaking out and like, I really believe, like, you know, I’m a parent so for me, it’s personal and I don’t want my children to grow up in this corporatist nightmare. But like, the tools are there for people to get involved and to fight back. And even if we can’t have an ultimate union, we’re finding ways to fight back, we’re finding ways to have a voice, we’re finding ways to compel you know our employer in a in a better direction.
LL: Glamazon, final words? Take us out.
Glamazon: O shit, pressure’s on. I would say that Whole Foods has landed in a really unique position, in terms of like the weird kind of labor wave that’s happening as we roll into 2019. Because like we are part of the Amazon corporate family now, but I mean Whole Foods itself is still kind of in the process of like stripping away that like, progressivist mask. So I don’t know, there’s still like, this sort of vestigial remains of a moral compass in Whole Foods, at least in terms of the way it’s branded. You know, so like, I feel like that gives us as workers some leverage to appeal to the conscience of the consumers.
Matthew: And Amazon can’t, because like everyone kind of knows that Amazon is evil like shops there anyway.
LL: That’s a monopoly for ya.
Matthew: Yeah exactly, but I think as the progressivist wing of this monopoly, I think we actually have some power. And like any kind of victories that whole foods can score, they will, down to smaller businesses, but they’ll also like, you know directly impact the way that other arms of Amazon do their business. Right like, if we can get Union in Whole Foods, we can get a Union in Amazon. and you’re seeing all these localized pockets of resistance all over the world in different Amazon factories and warehouses.
OK: As Amazon is trying to expand into countries that have stronger labor conscience, it’s not working totally
Matthew: Totally, they’re all like, what the fuck. Like in America it’s totally taken for granted but it’s wild. Yeah, a lot of European countries, the police are like, “no, we’re not going to enforce your like, Dickensian factory policies, why would we do that?” Whereas like, yeah, you can imagine how that would go over in America, it would probably be fine.
OK: Well, thank you both so much for joining us and thank you Matt for coming to our studio. And Tyler, do you have anything else too?
Tyler: Just touching on what Glam was saying, you know capitalism has the seeds of its own destruction built into it. And I think, related to what I was saying with Whole Foods having this long term PR to make themselves look progressive, we can use that against them. So depending on what state you’re in, one thing you can do – you can actually record while you’re in the workplace. And what companies hate more than anything, it’s bad PR. So if you’re an employee take pictures of health violations. Do that, leak it to the media, put it up online, do something with it –
OK: Send it to me!
Tyler: If you have an abusive manager, you go to an anti-union meeting, you put it up online, leak it there’s always something you can do without putting yourself out there.
Matthew: So yeah, that’s literally what we’re doing with
Tyler: So do something.
Tyler: Please, yeah. So that’s what we’re doing with the recycling thing. We have team members talking to a couple reporters that we’re talking with on signal. And they’re totally protected, and you know even like the reporter needs to kind of verify you’re a Whole Foods employees, and they see like the pictures and stuff but they’re totally protected, their location IP is secure, they’re identity’s secure and it’s not possible for it to come back to them at their jobs. It’s easier than ever before to to do something.
M: Go to an internet cafe. Do it there, you have no excuse, do something.
Tyler: If I can say just one more thing too,I’ve done a ton of leaking on my own. And I’ve done most of it on Whole Foods public wifi. I use Signal and Telegram on Whole Foods public wifi every day, because it’s not – it can’t come back to me it’s not visible. You know like people are so afraid if they do something they’re going to get caught, it’s gonna compromise their jobs, and that’s a totally valid fear but…
OK: And remember, apply for unemployment.
M: yeah you can get away with a lot.
Glamazon: I was going to say if like, the messaging – I mean that is definitely the safe and good way to do leaking and stuff like that, but like, if you’re feeling intimidated by like, Slack or by all these other apps, if you want to just, you know, shoot me a DM on Instagram, I can get you connected with the right people.
OK: That’s @Whole Worker WFM
Glamazon: @WholeWorkerWFM on Instagram and everywhere else I think.
Tyler: Yeah, we’re at @WholeWorkerWFM on Twitter, @WholeWorkerWFM on Instagram, anyone can reach me on Twitter at –
Glamazon: And email too.
Tyler: And email, it’s WholeWorkerWFM on Gmail or Proton mail.
OK: I think Tyler cut out there a bit, but it’s @FakeJohnMackey. And Matthew what are you?
Matthew: I’m at @TheSerpicoSide, he was the only good cop that ever existed, and that’s why he got shot in the face, unfortunately. He’s still alive, living upstate.
OK: And I’m going to put links to everything in the show notes as we always do, I think a lot of our newer listeners don’t realize that we have extensive show notes. And if you go to the site, artandlaborpodcast.com, you can just scroll through them and just read the links you want, listen to the show as you read.