Whole Foods plans layoffs as part of reorganization involving merchandising, operations, HR, and tech teams

whole foods market

Whole Foods is planning layoffs as part of a larger restructuring of its business, the company confirmed to Insider on Thursday.

Whole Foods told Insider that it expects the layoffs to impact a small, but at this point unknown, number of corporate employees, and that employees who work at its stores and distribution centers will not be impacted.

In a press release, the Amazon-owned grocery chain said it’s planning changes involving its merchandising and operations, team member services, and technology teams in order to sustain its pandemic growth.

“These changes are designed to improve support for our stores and distribution centers as we remain committed to delivering an exceptional customer experience in stores and online,” Whole Foods said in the release.

The company said it plans to merge its global and regional merchandising teams, “realign” its team member services group, and shift its technology team “to focus more on skills required for software engineering and technical product and program manager roles.”

Whole Foods has seen explosive growth during the pandemic, with online grocery sales tripling during its second quarter of 2020 as the pandemic forced Americans to stay home.

The company has also faced pushback from its front-line store and warehouse employees, some of which who say it hasn’t done enough to keep them safe from COVID-19 and have criticized its hazard pay and healthcare policies.

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Amazon installed hand scanners in Whole Foods stores that lets shoppers pay with a palm print. Here’s how they work.

Amazon One payment system
  • Amazon installed hand scanners at Whole Foods that allow people to pay with their palm print.
  • The Amazon One system is being unrolled at seven Seattle Whole Foods stores.
  • The company first released the new payment system last fall.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is installing a system that allows customers to pay for goods using the palm of their hand at Whole Foods stores in the Seattle area.

The company announced the payment system, called Amazon One, would be available at its Whole Foods store on Madison Broadway on Wednesday. The new system will be available across seven Seattle stores in the coming months.

The payment system works by scanning people’s palms to identify distinguishing characteristics like wrinkles, veins, and bones. An individual’s palm acts as a unique signature that is tied to their credit or debit card at the participating stores.

Shoppers can enroll in the new payment system at an Amazon One kiosk, or using one of the devices at the Seattle Amazon stores.

The sign-up process takes about one minute, according to the company. It requires shoppers to insert their credit or debit card and hover their hand face-down over the palm reader.

Amazon One
The payment system uses biometric scanners.

The kiosk then goes through a series of prompts that ties the card to the individual’s distinct handprint. Customers can use both palms or even tie their Amazon Prime account to their palm print, in order to get special Prime services at Whole Foods.

The company patented its Amazon One software in 2019. The new payment system was first introduced at the company’s Amazon Go stores in Seattle last fall. Since then, the Amazon One service has been added to several of its other stores, including, Amazon Books, Amazon 4-Star, and Amazon Pop-up.

Amazon said the palm scanner has multiple security measures for protecting shoppers’ identity and the information is stored separately from customers’ other data.

“The Amazon One device is protected by multiple security controls, and palm images are never stored on the Amazon One device,” it said on Amazon’s website. “The images are encrypted and sent to a highly secure area we custom-built for Amazon One in the cloud where we create your palm signature.”

The palm print can also be deleted if a customer chooses to deactivate their Amazon One ID or does not use the service for over two years.

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Dozens of Whole Foods employees at a Detroit store have tested positive for COVID-19 and health officials are now sending a warning to customers

Whole Foods
A Whole Foods Market worker moves grocery carts in Durham, N.C., Wednesday, April 15, 2020.

  • A Whole Foods store in Detroit is being pummeled by COVID-19 after 24 employees tested positive.
  • So far, no customers have reported catching the virus as a result of the outbreak.
  • Detroit’s health department is asking shoppers who visited the store to check for potential symptoms.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

A Whole Foods Market in Detroit is being pummeled by COVID-19 after 24 employees tested positive for the virus, Detroit’s health department said in a public health notice.

So far, no customers have reported catching the virus as a result of the outbreak, but the city’s health department is asking shoppers who visited the store from February 12 to 22 to monitor themselves for potential symptoms.

Employees are not allowed to return to the store until they’ve quarantined, showed no symptoms, and tested negative, according to the health department. It’s now also working with the Amazon-owned grocer for vaccine access and safety procedure monitoring. 

“The safety of our team members and customers remains our top priority, which is why we are taking comprehensive action to address this issue and have rolled out extensive measures to keep people safe in our stores,” a Whole Foods spokesperson told Insider in an email statement. The spokesperson also noted the mandatory negative test result before workers can return to the store.

Marc Perrone, the international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, has called the Detroit Whole Foods outbreak “another wake-up call to grocery companies and elected leaders.” 

“The fact is that this pandemic is far from over and national grocery companies are failing to do what is necessary to protect essential workers and the customers who depend on them every day,” Perrone said in the press release.

In December, a worker at the afflicted Whole Foods store sent a mass email to employees asking the grocer to update its policies to better protect its employees. In the letter, the unnamed employee asked for several changes, including the reintroduction of hazard pay and health benefits, and a face mask or shield mandate.

“If we allow this to continue, the company will remain completely disconnected from the interest of their workers, taking advantage of our fear and desperation in these trying times,” the email read. “No one would argue that the COVID outbreak is … Amazon’s fault, but the company has no excuse for such a cruel reaction to this pandemic.” 

In response to the letter, a Whole Foods spokesperson told Insider in December that safety is a high priority for employees and workers. 

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A Whole Foods employee sent a company-wide email calling on Amazon to reinstate policies like hazard pay and health benefits, saying the company ‘has no excuse for such a cruel reaction to this pandemic’

Whole Foods worker protest
A protest in April outside the Whole Foods Market in the South End of Boston to demand personal protective equipment, added benefits, and hazard pay during the coronavirus pandemic.

  • A Whole Foods worker in Detroit sent a mass email on Thursday calling for the Amazon-owned grocer to reinstate hazard pay, health benefits for part-time workers, gain-sharing, and the company’s previous dress code
  • The employee also asked Whole Foods to make face masks or shield mandatory for customers visiting its stores, according to the email, which was sent to the entire company and later published by worker group Whole Worker.
  • The employee’s email comes as the retail industry’s frontline workers across the country call for hazard pay amid the coronavirus pandemic and a busy holiday season. 
  • Whole Foods previously paid workers an extra $2 an hour, but that program ended in June. Several current and former employees told Business Insider earlier this month that morale is low at their stores and some safety measures, like social distancing, have been relaxed.
  • A Whole Foods spokesperson did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment as of publishing.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

A Whole Foods worker in Detroit sent an email to the entire company on Thursday demanding that the Amazon-owned grocer change its policies to better protect workers during the pandemic. 

The mass email, which was published by worker group Whole Worker, outlines what the worker sees as Whole Foods leadership’s “complete lack of respect and caution for team members’ general welfare,” including removing health benefits for part-time workers, changing the company’s dress code policy, and what the employee sees as a failure to be transparent about COVID-19 cases at Whole Foods stores.

The employee’s name was redacted to protect their identity, Whole Worker said. 

“If we allow this to continue, the company will remain completely disconnected from the interest of their workers, taking advantage of our fear and desperation in these trying times,” the email read. “No one would argue that the COVID outbreak is … Amazon’s fault, but the company has no excuse for such a cruel reaction to this pandemic.” 

The email included a list of requested policy changes, which the employee said have received “widespread support” from other team members. Topping the list was hazard pay, which has been widely requested among frontline workers throughout the pandemic. While Whole Foods workers were given an extra $2 per hour in hazard pay in the early months of the pandemic, that program has not been reinstated since it ended in June.

Amazon has offered employees two bonuses this year: a $500 bonus in July and a holiday bonus of up to $300

Other requested policy changes in the email included reinstating health benefits for part-time employees – a program that was cut last year – and expanding PTO to factor in workers’ risk of exposure to COVID and the possibility that they have to care for family members.

Additionally, the employee is asking that Whole Foods mandate face masks or shields for customers, give yearly raises to employees, reinstate gain-sharing (where employees benefit financially when they save the company money), and reinstate the company’s previous, more flexible dress code, which changed November 2.

A Whole Foods spokesperson did not respond to Business Insider’s request for comment as of publishing.

Read more: Whole Foods is adopting a new employee dress code, and some workers say it’s a move to ‘sterilize’ the company

Whole Foods
A Whole Foods Market worker moves grocery carts in Durham, North Carolina, in April.

The letter mirrors sentiment from several current and former Whole Foods employees who spoke with Business Insider earlier this month. Employees described feeling threatened by rising COVID cases at their stores and frustrated by the lack of response from company leadership. Those workers said morale at their stores is low, their teams are understaffed, and that they feel that customers often ignore social distancing guidelines. 

A Whole Foods spokesperson said at the time that stores are “diligent in their efforts to maintain a safe working and shopping experience” and that the company has been conservative in limiting how many people are allowed in its stores.

The letter suggests that unionizing is the best way to achieve policy changes like hazard pay and store safety, a solution the employee sees as “not an outrageous goal to anyone, except perhaps to those who run the company.”

According to previous reporting from Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson, Whole Foods actively tracks stores at risk of unionizing using an interactive heat map that calculates a risk score using metrics like employee “loyalty,” racial diversity, violations recorded by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and more.

The company has said that an “overwhelming majority” of Whole Foods employees prefer a “direct relationship” with the company rather than union representation.

Got a tip? Contact Business Insider reporter Avery Hartmans via email (ahartmans@businessinsider.com), or Twitter DM (@averyhartmans). We can keep sources anonymous.

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