Server Not Servant

‘Greed is Good,’ right, John Mackey, Whole Foods CEO & Jeff Bezos, Amazon Chairman? 9+ year veteran, 72-year-old employee denied severance after Whole Foods in Brookline, MA abruptly closes. #DoTheRightThing #PayTheSeverance

Early on Friday morning, April 29, I walked over to ‘The (St. Mary’s) Village’ to visit Whole Foods, an almost daily ritual. Immediately upon entry, a worker came over and whispered, “Hey, they just told us the store is closing.” A regional VP had gathered the staff and informed them moments before that May 6th was the last day. The landlord was informed the same day. The staff was told that even long-time, veteran employees would have to reapply for jobs at other WF stores, and more details were forthcoming from HR. Naturally, I tweeted:

The next day, everything in the store was sold at 50% off. Despite the rabid frenzy (shitshow), there was no ‘hazard pay’ for the staff. And after the store was picked clean over the weekend, they shut down for good on Monday, May 2nd, 4 days ahead of schedule…

After first hearing the news, I walked the aisles of the store on Friday–the abrupt closure was raw, still being absorbed the staff. The emotion in their eyes, and tears on the familiar faces of several people I had come to know, precipitated a very anxious and somber mood.

Whole Foods issued a statement quoted in an article in the Boston Globe on April 29 by Annie Probert:

“As we continue to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success, we regularly evaluate the performance and growth potential of each of our stores, and we have made the difficult decision to close six stores,” a statement from the company read. “We are supporting impacted team members through this transition and expect that all interested, eligible team members will find positions at our other locations.”

One of the staff members I often chatted with was Ken Scales. Ken often saw me with an elderly (sometimes feisty/demanding) neighbor he took a liking to. “How’s our girl?” he’d ask when he didn’t see her as the plague raged. Despite his cordial engagement, Ken was a quiet, shy guy, head down, and conscientious, steady worker.

According to Sean P. Murphy for the Boston Globe on June 22, Ken (part-time employee) said “he didn’t realize he would forfeit a payout by agreeing to work through June at another location.” And he did, at the Whole Foods Symphony/’Fenway’ location.

From the Globe piece:

At age 72, Scales said he still needed to work to pay the bills, so he moved to a similar position at another Whole Foods store a few miles away.

But then some friends suggested he had made a mistake. They told him he should have left his position at Whole Foods and taken the $11,000 in severance pay that he was owed after almost 10 years on the job, Scales said.

Stocking shelves pays about $20 an hour. At that rate of pay, the severance package he had been offered was the equivalent of about six months of pay. For the first time in his adult life, Scales could have enjoyed an extended period of time off without losing income.

Plus, because of the high demand for low-wage workers in today’s economy, Scales could have easily found another job for similar pay whenever he wanted, his friends said.

Persuaded he had made a mistake, Scales asked Whole Foods to let him leave his job and take the severance. At that point, Whole Foods had not yet formally eliminated Scales’ Brookline position.

But Whole Foods, owned by Amazon, one of the world’s richest corporations, said no. By accepting a part-time job at another store, Scales had forfeited his right to leave the company with severance pay. The store treated his choice as irrevocable, he said.

Scales said he has been a good, reliable worker. His manager at the Brookline store thought highly enough of him to recommend him to the Whole Foods Market Symphony store in the Fenway, where he wound up.

“I was counting on that severance payment to help me regroup, pay down some bills, and to decide what I want to do next,” he wrote in an appeal for reconsideration to Whole Foods. 

The appeal was denied. I called Whole Foods Symphony/’Fenway’ this morning and spoke to a manager (Matt) informing him that I was writing this blog post, and asked if WF had an updated statement. He referred me to corporate…

[I encourage you to read the entire Globe piece for more detail.]

Globe reporter, Sean P. Murphy adds:

Scales has worked all his life, mostly in unglamorous positions at retail stores. He gets a modest monthly Social Security check and lives in a tiny apartment in Chinatown. He’s not asking for much.

It would be nice if Whole Foods could see its way to giving this guy a break. It’s not too late.

Amen.

I was chatting with a worker a few doors down from the now-closed Whole Foods about the awful PR, negative word-of-mouth/’bad will’ being generated from this story. In addition to the adverse impact on ‘team’ morale of existing employees, he added, “And what about the impact of this story on all of the people thinking about working for Whole Foods or Amazon?!?” Yup, not optimal recruiting material, or consistent with WF stated ‘Long-Term Thinking’ …

From the Whole Foods website:

In addition, Whole Foods has years left on their Brookline, MA lease and is seeking a tenant to sub-lease the space. Their abrupt closure left a significant void in ‘The Village,’ that was already dealing with multiple vacancies on the block. The closure, without a transition plan and replacement grocer, did not sit well with neighboring businesses and residents. This story about a veteran employee has punctuated that rancor.

When I first saw the online story from the Globe on twitter via @markpothier, I responded:

Since then, I’ve reviewed the Whole Foods website and incorporated some of their “Core Values,” “Leadership Principles,” and “Declaration of Interdependence” into a Twitter appeal for Whole Foods to pay the severance for Ken Scales:

That was in response to this tweet from @blueeyedgirl:

“Us versus them.”

Final Thoughts (WF Website):

Our Declaration of Interdependence reflects the hopes and intentions of many people. We do not believe it always accurately portrays the way things currently are at Whole Foods Market so much as the way we would like things to be. It is our dissatisfaction with the current reality, when compared with what is possible, that spurs us toward excellence and toward creating a better person, company and world. When Whole Foods Market fails to measure up to its stated vision, as it inevitably will at times, we should not despair. Rather let us take up the challenge together to bring our reality closer to our vision. The future we will experience tomorrow is created one step at a time today.

John Mackey, Whole Foods and Jeff Bezos, Amazon, take up the challenge, #PayTheSeverance.

If you agree, please help spread the word to your network. Thank you.

PS-Join the battle/challenge on twitter @PatrickMBoston.

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