Whole Foods Becomes Amazon Hell Foods as Employees, Managers Quit, Cry on the Job….and These People Want to Run Your Healthcare?

As we’ve said, Jeff Bezos clearly hates people, except as appendages to bank accounts. All you need to do is observe how he treats his workers.

In a scoop, Business Insider reports on how Amazon is creating massive turnover and pointless misery at Whole Food by imposing a reign of terror impossible and misguided productivity targets.

Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to Amazon will see its abuse of out of Whole Foods workers as confirmation of an established pattern. And even more tellingly, despite Whole Foods supposedly being a retail business that Bezos would understand, the unrealistic Whole Foods metrics aren’t making the shopping experience better.

As we’ll discuss below, we’d already expressed doubts about how relevant Bezos’ hyped Amazon model would be to Whole Foods. Proof is surfacing even faster than we expected.

But first to Bezos’ general pattern of employee mistreatment.

It’s bad enough that Bezos engages in the worst sort of class warfare and treats warehouse workers worse than the ASPCA would allow livery drivers to use horses. Not only do horses at least get fed an adequate ration, while Amazon warehouse workers regularly earn less than a local living wage, but even after pressure to end literal sweatshop conditions (no air conditioning so inside temperatures could hit 100 degrees; Amazon preferred to have ambulances at ready for the inevitable heatstroke victims rather than pay to cool air), Amazon warehouse workers are, thanks to intensive monitoring, pressed to work at such a brutal pace that most can’t handle it physically and quit by the six month mark. For instance, from a 2017 Gizmodo story, Reminder: Amazon Treats Its Employees Like Shit:

Amazon, like most tech companies, is skilled at getting stories about whatever bullshit it decides to feed the press. Amazon would very much prefer to have reporters writing some drivel about a discount code than reminding people that its tens of thousands of engineers and warehouse workers are fucking miserable. How do I know they’re miserable? Because (as the testimony below demonstrates) they’ve told every writer who’s bothered to ask for years.

Gawker, May 2014 – “I Do Not Know One Person Who Is Happy at Amazon”

….

The New York Times, August 2015- Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace

….. 

The Huffington Post, October 2015 –The Life and Death of an Amazon Warehouse Temp

For a good overview of the how Amazon goes about making its warehouse workers’ lives hell, see Salon’s Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon’s sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers.

Mind you, Amazon’s institutionalized sadism isn’t limited to its sweatshops. Amazon is also cruel to its office workers. The New York Times story that Gizmodo selected, based on over 100 employee interviews, included:

Bo Olson…lasted less than two years in a book marketing role and said that his enduring image was watching people weep in the office, a sight other workers described as well. “You walk out of a conference room and you’ll see a grown man covering his face,” he said. “Nearly every person I worked with, I saw cry at their desk.”

While that paragraph was the most widely quoted from that story, some reporters reacted strongly to other bits. For instance, from The Verge:

Perhaps worst of all is Amazon’s apparent approach when its employees need help. The Times has uncovered several cases where workers who were sick, grieving, or otherwise encumbered by the realities of life were pushed out of the company. A woman who had a miscarriage was told to travel on a business trip the day after both her twins were stillborn. Another woman recovering from breast cancer was given poor performance rankings and was warned that she was in danger of losing her job.

The Business Insider story on Amazon, ‘Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal’: Employees say Whole Foods is using ‘scorecards’ to punish them, is another window on how Bezos thinks whipping his workers is the best way to get results from them:

Whole Foods has a new inventory-management system aimed at making stores more efficient and cutting down on food waste. And employees say the retailer’s method of ensuring compliance is crushing morale….

Some employees, who walk through stores with managers to ensure compliance, describe the system as onerous and stress-inducing. Conversations with 27 current and recently departed Whole Foods workers, including cashiers and corporate employees – some of whom have been with the company for nearly two decades – say the system is seen by many as punitive.

They say many employees are terrified of losing their jobs under the new system and that they spend more hours mired in OTS-related paperwork than helping customers. Some are so fed up with the new system that they have quit or are looking for other jobs.

Notice the key point above, that the OTS system mires workers in tasks that reduce how much time they can spend with customers…rendering many of the requirements below counterproductive. The stress is made even worse by another Bezos-induced change, that of headcount cuts. Again from From the Business Insider account:

If anything is amiss or there is too much excess stock in storage, departments lose points on their scorecards…

The walks also involve on-the-spot quizzes, in which employees are asked to recite their departments’ sales goals, top-selling items, previous week’s sales, and other information.

Failing scores – which qualify as anything below 89.9% – can result in firings, employees said….

Employees who spoke with Business Insider said the walks have instilled fear across every department of Whole Foods’ stores.

“I wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about maps and inventory, and when regional leadership is going to come in and see one thing wrong, and fail the team,” a supervisor at a West Coast Whole Foods said. “The stress has created such a tense working environment. Seeing someone cry at work is becoming normal.”….

“The fear of chastisement, punishment, and retribution is very real and pervasive,” another worker said.

What good is it to have perfect knowledge of where items live (as opposed to the usual “Aisle three on the left toward the rear”) if you are too frantic to stop and answer customer questions? This is the Silicon version of the classic management joke of the bus operator who is so obsessed with keeping his schedule that he can’t take the time to stop and pick up passengers.

Of course, Amazon flacks tried making the patently absurd claim that the employees were enthusiastic about the new OTS system because, among other things, it purportedly allowed them to spend more time with customers. Again from Business Insider:

“On my most recent time card, I clocked over 10 hours of overtime, sitting at a desk doing OTS work,” a supervisor at a West Coast Whole Foods said. “Rather than focusing on guest service, I’ve had team members cleaning facial-care testers and facing the shelves, so that everything looks perfect and untouched at all times.”

Some employees said recent labor cuts have made it difficult to keep up with the demands of OTS. “It’s running everyone into the ground and they absolutely hate it,” a high-level employee of a Midwest Whole Foods said…

An employee of a North Carolina Whole Foods said: “No one really knows this business model, and those who are doing the scorecards – even regional leadership – are not clear on practices and consequently are constantly providing the department leaders with inaccurate directions. All this comes at a time when labor has been reduced to an unachievable level given the requirements of the OTS model.”

Although the article doesn’t focus on quality issues, it does provide support to our thesis that the Amazon inventory management model doesn’t fit well with the grocery store requirements of availability, and for many items, freshness. For instance:

In addition to hurting morale, OTS has led to food shortages across Whole Foods stores, they say.

While the plural of anecdote is not data, some NC readers report that food quality has gotten worse under Bezos’ reign. But at least as important is the “food shortages” issue.

I go to Whole Foods rarely (we have an excellent Fairway nearby; I shop at Whole Foods only
for a particular item that Fairway does not carry). Even though the store has a terrible, I sometimes wander around out of general curiosity. I’ve noticed items not in stock and even heard customers asking about them (“I’ve been here for each of the last two days for brownies…”). And despite the PR claims about improved housekeeping, one aisle on my usual route always has clutter (ladders, stock stacked in boxes) to the degree that at least twice I’ve had to do bona fide moving and hauling to be able to get at a particular shelf.

We’d predicted that Bezos wouldn’t adapt well to the demands of fresh food…because he’s already shown to be bad at it. From a post last August, and this section discusses a scathing, recent Seattle Times review of the Amazon Fresh delivery service:

She ordered six items. Two were pretty good. The parsley, got four stars, and the asparagus, five. But the four were not good to awful, and the worst items were the most expensive.

A lousy lemon. How can you stick someone with a two star lemon? That verges on being a cosmic bad joke.

The baguette choices were frozen (ugh!) or from a local baker. But get this: there was no fresh bread option! You have to buy a shrink wrapped baguette thingie and cook it yourself, for the premium price of $5.69…

So how did this fake baguette measure up? Rating: two stars, “Very very weird!”…

Here is the piece de resistance. This is supposed to be halibut:

If you don’t buy or cook fish, the significance of this picture will be lost on you.

This is an abomination. It should have been thrown as unfit to sell at least two days prior. Fish with visible small cracks is old. This piece has a monster cracks and is dry. I’ve said before that Whole Foods has terrible “fresh” fish, so it looks as if Amazon is already down with that.

Instead of focusing Amazon’s micromanagement on things that will improve food quality, Whole Foods has lost the plot. Employees are supposed to know precisely where things are, be able to recite current promotions (pray tell why, are they supposed to be carnival barkers and call out to passing customers) and keep the shelves perfect all the time. Because most stores “level” as in tidy up their shelves and move all the items to the front only once a day, in the evening, a story with full shelves at all times creates the impression that no one every buys and the items could therefore be really old due to lack of turnover.

The article also mentions a point in passing and the authors may not have recognized its significance, that the new system also reduces the power of regional manager in buying decisions so that the stores will become more like traditional grocery stores, meaning more uniform. That means they’ve just lost me at a customer at a couple of the Whole Foods I visit when on the road, in Birmingham and Portland, Maine. The Birmingham store had a phenomenal plain grassfed milk yogurt that I’ve seen only there was phenomenal and I would go out of my way to get that. No reason to go to that Whole Foods any more. Similarly, the Maine store had some local items I liked, but between the nasty treatment of workers and the promise to have “same everywhere” stock and not support local/regional purveyors, I’ll cater to all, as opposed to some, of my health food fetish shopping at the terrific little Morning Glory store in Brunswick.

Whole Foods has the temerity to have this pitch at the top of one of the pages of its site:

Do you want your beauty routine to be cruelty-free?

Cruelty-free is a concept that has peculiarly been limited to animals not being harmed in the production and sale of goods. The time is overdue to include human-type animals.

Vegans, if you are true to your beliefs, you must never shop at Whole Foods. That should go for everyone else too. Amazon may have bought Whole Foods to engage in yet more human experiments, but there’s no reason for you to help fund them by shopping there.

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175 comments

  1. voteforno6

    I have yet to hear of anyone who has actually enjoyed working for Amazon. I know several people who have worked on building out their data centers, and it’s the same type of experience – demanding, long hours, must be responsive to calls and emails 24×7. Even people who are otherwise highly skilled, highly competent workers are treated as disposable items. It’s no surprise that they treat grocery workers the same.

    Reply
    1. sgt_doom

      Here in the “socialist hellhole” or what some of us realistically refer to as the corporate-loving s***hole, the rubes who belong to some LBGTQ or other group just claimed that Amazon is a “champion of equality” — identity politics to the obscene max!

      Reply
    1. JohnnySacks

      I might buy that halibut at $8 a pound and cook it that same day, but I imagine from my visits to Whole Paycheck it was around $24 a pound. Not your average supermarket by any means. We avoid at all costs, much more efficient to flush a 20 down each time you use the toilet. Amazon bought a warehouse robotics firm north of Boston (Kiva) and the glassdoor.com reviews immediately went to scathing about what am utter shithole it became. Seems to be a common theme, probably setting a model for other corporate operations, neo-serfdom here we come.

      Reply
        1. bob

          They very carefully hand de-wormed it with a hammer and a clam knife, then let it age.

          No one recognizes quality anymore. /s

          Reply
        2. gracie

          Our cat is the household tester as to whether a piece of fish is good to eat, and I can tell you she wouldn’t even bother to sniff that.

          Reply
      1. Jeff N

        there is a recent non-fiction book called “Nomadland” which has some funny anecdotes about the incompetence of their robots

        Reply
        1. sgt_doom

          During the 1999 WTO event/riot in Seattle, I was temping at their south Seattle warehouse while seeking employment after my last layoff (#23rd job offshored).

          They believed they had a failesafe system in place, but I readily saw a big hole which allowed for frequent mistakes, which the Amazon sluts constantly and erroneously blamed on the production line.

          They refused to listen, as they believed in Bezos “perfect” system set in place.

          You be the judge . . .

          Reply
          1. Lars Kariniemi

            as an employee of rival company Supervalu, what former employees of Amazon have told me about the company is that it’s just a bit boring but in other ways is quite similar to Supervalu. U are in one place the whole shift. They do the whole 1st shift, 2nd shift, 3rd shift thing too just like nurses do. But ya all that other stuff too I guess maybe could be true. Anyways, take it all with a grain of salt as this is all gossip, rumors & lies! No one can say for sure how much of all that talk to take seriously & how much to think of as nonsense.

            Reply
      2. L

        I don’t think that is Halibut. Looking at it from this angle it looks like a bad cut of some other whitefish like pollack or cod. Whatever it is, however, it has been abused, clearly mangled during cutting, and was likely frozen for some time which would account for how crushed and smooth the meat appears to be. Either that or it was farmed which leaves meat with less actual muscle.

        Reply
          1. jrs

            Well whole foods was said to be pretty reputable on their fish sales an arena with a lot of fraud, back before they were bought by Amazon anyway. But who knows now. It doesn’t really look like Halibut to me either.

            Reply
  2. cnchal

    That poor Halibut.

    Oil was used to catch it, kill it, chill it, ship it, sell it, deliver it and it’s best fate, lest it make one ill, is to use moar oil to trash it. Not one calorie of food is the result, but a barrel of oil got burned to get there.

    Reply
  3. Collapsar

    According to this Business Insider article the OTS inventory management system was something brought in by whole foods management; not amazon. Employees are actually hoping amazon fixes the issues created by OTS. Things are definitely bad when workers are hoping things will get better with Bezos in charge.
    I can’t remember where I read an article in which an amazon employee said people at the company joked that amazon is where overachievers go to feel bad about themselves.

    Reply
  4. Croatoan

    Amazon makes money like slavery makes money.

    Have a close friend who is getting into becoming an Amazon Reseller, tried to talk me into it. Like I would not stand to profit off of slavery, I will not stand to profit off of Amazon.

    Reply
  5. John A

    There was a puff story in the Guardian this week about the new Amazon bracelets, that guide workers to the location of the next item to be picked. to save time of course, not to mention the cow prods the worker gets from the bracelet if a bit sluggish, plus exact data on every step the worker has taken.

    Reply
        1. Bukko Boomeranger

          C’mon, it takes a lot of energy to produce electric shocks that are adequately painful. The battery in a small wristband doesn’t have enough juice to do that more than once or twice a shift. Whacking a bigger battery onto a wristband would make it harder for the shelfslave to reach for things at proper speed. You’d have to get them to tote batteries in something like a backpack so they could be shocked properly. That’s the ticket — make proles carry their own punishment machines! Synched to the band with Bluetooth, because workserfs might figure out a way to disconnect any wiring. I’d start working up a patent application, but Amazon would just steal the idea before I could become an evil squillionaire from it…

          Reply
          1. animalogic

            And dont forget the wisdom of the Victorians: fine workers for even the slightest deviation from the work task. This is a great idea because not only do you punish workers (an end in itself) but you save Co money. WIN WIN

            Reply
      1. flora

        first thought: the old (new) time and motion studies * man, now updated for the coming (dreamed of) age of robotics and AI. (I see a “Doctor Who” episode in here somewhere.)

        *https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_and_motion_study

        Reply
      2. norm de plume

        Can they take them off when they go to the rest room? Assuming they are allowed to go to the rest room. (Sound of mind, boggling)

        Reply
    1. EoH

      Exactly. The geographical patterns from each individual will generate mountains of data as the three dimensional movement expands from fingers to aisles to shelves to store, all measured to the microsecond. It will be as if tracking an individual’s movement from self, to land, to earth, to rotation, to orbit, to solar travel.

      Will workers be allowed to take them off, for how long and for what purposes? The resulting data will be food for Amazon’s analysts. They will generate a perfect norm and use the haptic feedback to guide and reinforce it. Hope the batteries don’t generate too high a voltage.

      Reply
      1. albert

        “…Hope the batteries don’t generate too high a voltage….”

        A 6V battery, with the proper circuitry, can generate 80V. It won’t kill you, but it’ll “shock your socks off”, as they say. Very unpleasant to say the least.

        . .. . .. — ….

        Reply
    2. karen

      Marshall Brain described this exact scenario–and it’s future trajectory–in his short story Manna in 2003. To describe it as chilling is an understatement.

      Reply
  6. David Carl Grimes

    If working conditions are so bad at the warehouses (heatstrokes from lack of air conditioning), then why hasn’t the Department of Labor gone after them? Surely the DoL or some local labor bureau most have gotten hundreds if not thousands of complaints?

    Reply
      1. Left in Wisconsin

        Where are the unions? The Teamsters or UFCW should be all over this. Their complete absence from the story is telling. When the first three conclusions to be drawn from this story are:
        1. That boss (and company culture) are awful
        2. Why doesn’t the government do something?
        3. Maybe the workers can do a class action
        … then it’s really not surprising that things are this bad.

        Reply
        1. Ransom Headweight

          Where are the unions? They’ve been systematic eradicated or are being led by “pro-business” stooges. About the only union worth a damn and bucking the system is the Nurses Union led by Rose Ann DeMoro. If you have the inclunation, take a look at labor during the first Gilded Age (late 1800s early 1900s) to see what it took to get the modest reforms of the New Deal enacted — the very policies that are almost extinct now.

          Reply
        2. jrs

          Well even trying to unionize fast food failed badly is my impression. So often the laws make it hard but the workers also have to *WANT* to unionize.

          Reply
        3. Anon

          An article in The Atlantic provides an explanation for the absence of unions:

          Efforts to get Amazon to change its labor practices have been unsuccessful thus far. Randy Korgan, the business representative and director of the Teamsters Local 63, which represents the Stater Brothers employees, told me that his office frequently gets calls from Amazon employees wanting to organize. But organizing is difficult because there’s so much turnover at Amazon facilities and because people fear losing their jobs if they speak up. Burgett, the Indiana Amazon worker, repeatedly tried to organize his facility, he told me. The turnover was so high that it was difficult to get people to commit to a union campaign. The temps at Amazon are too focused on getting a full-time job to join a union, he said, and the full-time employees don’t stick around long enough to join. He worked with both the local SEIU and then the Teamsters to start an organizing drive, but could never get any traction. He told me that whenever Amazon hears rumors of a union drive, the company calls a special “all hands” meeting to explain why a union wouldn’t be good for the facility. (Lindsey said that Amazon has an open-door policy that encourages associates to bring concerns directly to the management team. “We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce,” she wrote, in an email.)

          This is a common anti-union trick among low-wage jobs these days — intentionally abuse your workers as much as possible to ensure the highest possible turnover (and even better, turnover in the form of voluntary quits, which do not qualify for unemployment benefits or impact the employer’s UI tax). Workers who have zero investment in their jobs and who intend to quit at the earliest possible opportunity are less likely to go through the trouble and risk of supporting a union effort.

          As a bonus, the high turnover results in many of the workers not ever becoming eligible for benefits. Most common tax-advantaged benefit plans, like health insurance and 401(k), are required to be offered to all employees with only a few limited exceptions. The permitted exceptions differ depending on the benefit type, but usually include criteria like length of service (often no more than 12 months or so) and in some cases, minimum work hours. The plan will lose its tax-advantaged status if it excludes more employees than the law permits, which can cost the employer back taxes and penalties. Firing employees for the purpose of interfering with their ERISA-regulated benefits is illegal, but treating them so poorly from day 1 that they are unlikely to last long enough to qualify for benefits is not.

          From a policy perspective, we need to realize the instability created by high-turnover and fissured work environments and penalize it accordingly. A beneficial side effect of this is that it would likely incentivize employers to train and promote low-level workers upwards; low-level jobs like warehouse workers probably inherently have higher turnover than average, just because most workers don’t want to do that for the rest of their lives (and some are successful in finding a way out), but when there’s a path for the janitor to become CTO you can reduce that turnover.

          Reply
        4. Amanda

          Unions are being eliminated by state governments right and left. Requiring they have a certain level of membership or they be decertified, etc. Anti-union legislation is rife right now. We are swiftly revisiting a modern version of the working conditions of the industrial revolution. The Jetson’s dream world of 10 hour work weeks and automation making life better for individuals is definitely NOT reality.

          Reply
        5. Marcie

          Are you serious??? Reagan went after the unions in the 80s, when he fired every air traffic controller in the nation for striking over obsolete, failing equipment (still hasn’t been replaced, btw). After that, it was The Purge be in labor unions. Police, nurses, the Postal Service, teachers (they’re still trying to destroy them)…Unions were demonized & blamed for high prices & low wages, both lies.

          Reply
        1. flora

          adding: demonstrated willingness to publish unvetted fake news (Propornot) to achieve other ends no doubt had an “educational” effect on the politicians.

          Reply
    1. nycTerrierist

      Might be the DoL and other agencies have incentive to turn a blind eye?

      IANAL but is there a class action case here?

      Reply
    2. Fraibert

      Pretty sure, at least at the federal level, it would be OSHA jurisdiction issues.

      With that said, OSHA has received complaints, and done investigations: e.g., https://www.osha.gov/news/newsreleases/region3/01122016; https://www.recode.net/2017/11/9/16629412/amazon-warehouse-worker-killed-deaths-osha-fines-penalties

      I found these just by Googling “OSHA amazon”. Keep in mind, the low amounts of the fines doesn’t necessarily reflect the severity of the underlying issues–my understanding is that OSHA has relatively weak abilities to fine violators in the first place.

      Reply
      1. Pespi

        OSHA has been neutered. If you’re lucky enough to get someone to come without also being fired, they’ll fine the business an ant’s eyelid and be gone.

        Reply
    3. maria gostrey

      the salon article referenced above perhaps is indicative of regulators’ attitude toward those we expect them to regulate:

      june 2, june 10 & july 25 – the days OSHA received complaints abt the 100+ weather in the allentown warehouse.

      nothing abt any sort of OSHA response.

      Reply
      1. Adam

        Cooks at restaurants routinely work in similar heat with similiar levels of exertion. I know, because I was a cook at multiple restaurants.

        Now I am a machinist, and temps like this are routine during the summer in most shops I worked.

        The reason OSHA doesn’t care is because working people in extreme heat is SOP for scores of industries that you may not even realize.

        Reply
    4. m

      Check out this old Frontline, workers have no chance DOJ & labor are bought off. At this company people routinely lost limbs and were killed. Oopsy
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MH5mAH5BhDk
      Cannot tell if it is because of Amazon, but this FL Whole Foods store is awful! Thank god there are tons of little local health food stores. Maybe Wild Oats should try to come back.

      Reply
    5. diptherio

      That would be OSHA, not DOL, and guess how many inspectors they have, and how many businesses they’re supposed to be keeping an eye on…and then guess how likely an overworked, underpaid OSHA inspector is to go after the biggest company in the nation.

      Hate to burst your bubble, but our regulatory system exists solely as a cover for the bad behavior of corporate actors. Most of the people on the ground are trying to do the right thing, but the point of OSHA isn’t to provide safe working conditions, it’s to allow companies like Amazon to claim that they are, since if they weren’t, surely OSHA would be doing something about it.

      Reply
    6. EoH

      Government regulation and enforcement? In an earlier generation, that would be an excellent question. But since then, we’ve seen the distribution and adoption of the neoliberal memo that such things are always and everywhere bad. Nor would they be high on the current administration’s to do list.

      Reply
    7. Elizabeth Burton

      Amazon doesn’t employ the workers. It employs temp agencies who supply the workers. This is a standard procedure these days for high-turnover workplaces, because in the end no one is responsible for what happens to the workers.

      Reply
    8. mcarson

      In the overheating warehouse (midwest summer with all doors and windows locked for “inventory control” the local ER complained to OSHA about the workers brought there in shock. Bezos hired private ambulances to treat them on the property. The ER Drs. contacted OSHA about maximum temperatures up to 120 on higher floors, OSHA said they had low temp regs but no high temp regs, just suggestions to provide adequate water and rest breaks. Amazon made an air conditioned cooling room for employees to use, but if they did it screwed up their items picked per day and they’d be disciplined or canned for poor performance.
      We need more OSHA inspectors and better laws.

      Reply
  7. Mikerw

    To quote: “the beatings will continue until morale improves”

    A service business that gives crappy service will not prosper. There is a high touch rate between customers and employees in this industry. Also, this is an industry with many options and competition; unlike airlines for example. We shop at WF from time to time, partly due to the experience being more pleasant. We have no issue moving (and no love of Amazon).

    Reply
    1. visitor

      A service business that gives crappy service will not prosper.

      … if and only if there are preferable alternatives.

      If that business is cheaper, a monopoly, or if all other businesses deliver crappy service too, then it may well prosper. Case in point: the telecommunications market in the USA.

      Reply
      1. Fraibert

        This is an important reason why the notion that market competition will increase social welfare isn’t inherently true. It’s long been understood that in concentrated markets (oligopolies) the market actors might implicitly coordinate their prices without a price increase. For example, Companies A, B, and C sell widgets; Company A announces a price increase via press release; B and C follow with similar increases a week later.

        But companies can also implicitly coordinate on the quality of goods. If Company A pursues crapification, that can cover B and C for doing the same.

        It’s akin the the Greesham’s Dyamic that Professor Black has written about extensively on this blog and in other places in connection with finance creating a criminogenic environment. Under the right circumstances, cheap bad quality can drive out good quality, leaving only bad.

        Reply
        1. EoH

          Indeed. A “market” focusing solely on profitability would consider human values an inefficiency. It would remove them, along with what produced them, from the system, using routine failure modes and effects analysis. (An interesting point for promoters of AI.)

          California witnessed considerable consolidation in its grocery business ten years or so ago. Similar, if somewhat less draconian conditions, resulted. I don’t believe the “market” will generate a different result this time.

          In addition, there’s the question of Jeff Bezos’s purposes in buying WF. It would not be to learn from another industry; I don’t imagine Bezos values that concept. It would more likely be to expand his own methodologies and priorities to another industry, one that gives him access to a human activity outside the already extensive reach of his current business.

          WF may be an experiment, whose survival might not be dictated by immediate notional profitability. Besides, the utility and profitability of the data flow from this experiment might never be visible.

          Reply
          1. Marcie

            Bingo. Only you’re still just a scintilla away from the heart of the bullseye.

            “A “market” focusing solely on profitability would consider human values an inefficiency. It would remove them, along with what produced them, from the system…”

            Eliminating Medicaid, Medicare, housing assistance, heat help, food stamps, meals on wheels, education, child care, cutting Social Security, privatizing all basic human services (water, power, roads, sewer)… exactly what do we think the plan has been all along? Since the New Deal Republicans and their wealthy donor/owners have been working to put the worker class back in their place where they belong. And that’s NOT anyplace “equal” to where they’re at, what they have, & what they do. They’ve resented the cheek of the lower classes to presume to think they, too, deserve health care, cell phones, rewarding jobs, meaningful lives… it’s chafed them for decades, watching us buy nice cars, eat at restaurants they patronize, go on vacations, send our kids to college. But they worked patiently, turning us first against each other, and then our government and the services and agencies & regulations that protected us from them, and finally against everything we have left… now they’ve got their massive tax increase (all those $$ cuts in services are earmarked for funding a huge war) so it’s time to start the process of elimination in earnest. First the elderly & sick; the poor, minorities will starve and perish. Next send everyone 18+ to die overseas; some will be kept for breeding stock to produce more soldiers and workers, and females to service and serve the men of course; and a few to perform the service tasks necessary to support the oligarchs’ lifestyles. After 7 decades it’s not difficult to connect the dots, and we’re currently hurtling perilously near the end of the line.

            Reply
        2. Wisdom Seeker

          This is an important reason why the notion that market competition will increase social welfare isn’t inherently true. It’s long been understood that in concentrated markets (oligopolies) the market actors might implicitly coordinate their prices without a price increase.

          I agree, except that the situations you describe are not “market competition”. Any marketplace with fewer than about 7 truly independent competitors is not a competitive market.

          But as you say, when there are few participants there is a lot of implicit signaling and coordination, which work to benefit the few participants at the expense of the general welfare.

          We have a lot of faux markets, and a lot of faux competition. This is not helped by the prevalence of multiple “brands” owned by the same small number of large conglomerates. You could shut down just 2 or 3 companies in each product line and the supermarket shelves would lose 90% of their items. That ain’t a competitive marketplace, even though the proliferation of brands provides the illusion of freedom of choice.

          We need a populist wave to take back our democracy.

          Reply
          1. jrs

            Yes it’s not textbook competition, but while textbook competition with many small players may be good for the consumer, there is no evidence that it is good for the worker. In fact I suspect it’s bad for the worker as super competitive industries will nearly kill their employees just to stay in business. I’d rather work for an oligopoly (but it all depends on which one) as the freedom from relentless competition enables better working conditions in theory (again does not always materialize).

            Reply
      2. animalogic

        Case in point: re crappy, employee rorting over priced nearing monopoly company – OTR ( on the run) One of the more southern states of Australia. (To be fair, not as bad as Amazon).

        Reply
  8. Dave

    I spent 25 years in the grocery business with 20 of them in management. The expectations stated above were industry standards (except the minutiae of sales goals). Only in Whole Foods was this model ignored.

    When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar you have to be a TIGHT operator to turn a profit or you are doomed. As a department manager my entire job depended on how I managed my P&L report on a quarterly basis….. if I was over on payroll hours I DAMN well better be cutting back on other areas such as shrink, supplies or payroll mix (high paid FT vs low paid PT)

    I guess the Whole Foods employees are learning this now.

    Reply
    1. hemeantwell

      Thanks for bringing up the industry baseline! Bezos’ intense exploitation of labor merits a spotlight, but what’s happening off in the shadows in other corporations? I recall seeing Costco held up as a + example, but what about others?

      Reply
    2. pretzelattack

      if the industry standards decimate the work force and make customers unhappy, maybe it’s the standards that are at fault.

      Reply
    3. Fraibert

      To me, it doesn’t make sense to penny pinch if you’re a quasi-monopolistic supplier due to a special brand position. Whole Foods was associated with high quality goods, and was clearly able to charge a substantial price premium. Changing its operations as described above appears to reduce the justification for the price premium and destroy the company’s unique market position.

      It is almost like McDonald’s deciding that beef patties cost too much, and that it would only serve chicken going forward.

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        It seems to me that in the grocery business (like many), you either make money by being more efficient and cheaper than your competitors, or by having a unique selling point that allows you charge a premium (high quality, great service, etc).

        If you look at the car industry, when mass market brands have bought high value brands (for example, Ford buying Jaguar), the sensible companies have been very cautious about ensuring that the brand aura (and hence high profit margin per car) is not tarnished by crudely cutting costs. Mercedes made that mistake in the 1980’s with excessive cost cutting and it took them more than a decade, and billions of DM in investment, to win back their brand value when it became apparent that their cars were often less reliable than cheap Asian compacts.

        It seems to me that Amazon are a one trick company (albeit, a very good trick), and they are likely to get burned very badly if they extend their predatory model to high value brands..

        Reply
        1. EoH

          In scale, WF is a hobby business for Bezos, little more than a personal tax deduction. If it does not go as Bezos intends, it is not likely to have an effect on his primary business.

          Reply
    4. bob

      “When the industry wide profit margin of grocers is less the 3cents on the dollar”

      This figure is complete nonsense. It means nothing.

      It’s the “profit margin” after paying themselves rent, which is where the profits in grocery stores end up.. No one is in business for a 3% return. It does make good for PR though.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        Thanks for pointing this out. I have had many conversations with my conservative father cut short by his insistence that slim profit margins are the proof that business owners are really heroes who deserve every cent they extort from workers.

        Reply
      2. Chuck W

        A 3% margin isn’t the same thing as a 3% return. Maybe think about it this way, 26 turns on a 3% margin (once every 2 weeks). Without compounding that’s a 78% return on average inventory level, before fixed and variable costs, interest expense and equity returns. You’re right nobody is in the business for a 3% return!

        Reply
        1. bob

          “A 3% margin isn’t the same thing as a 3% return.”

          I know this. But the way that figure is trotted out, relentlessly, is to leave the masses, and employees, with the idea that they only ‘make’ 3%, which is nonsense. Whatever they “make” is carefully chosen in accounting fairytale land.

          The point about rents still stands. Most grocery stores/chains are REITs with captive retailers. No one ever sees the REIT side of things. Rite Aid is well know for being the captive retailer in this practice. Rite Aid doesn’t ‘make’ any money (118M ‘income’ over 25 billion in sales = .004 Less that half a percent).. They ‘make’ the landlord LOTS of money. Tax dodge or money laundering, which does it better fit the definition of?

          Reply
          1. Chuck W

            Agreed. I think they trot out the 3% meme so nobody pushes them too hard on their “providing a public good” nature.

            And on rent and landlord’s, I absolutely agree. Regrettably it seems most of us are making our commercial landlords a lot of money (before we ever get to equity returns). So many small business owner’s would loose their minds if they thought about that thoroughly. And to answer your last question, “I’ll take Tax Dodge for $500, Alex”

            Reply
            1. Mel

              The way I read it way back when was that that 3% markup is on fresh produce and what not. So the turnover is necessarily high. So their return on invested capital might get as high as 3%/day, if they’re lucky.

              Reply
      3. Dave

        bob,can you direct me to an article and/or site which backs your claims. I would be most interested to read it. Perhaps my information is incorrect, but multiple google searches have articles in which independent grocery business analysts confirm my number.

        Reply
        1. run75441

          Dave:

          You are correct and I agree with you.

          Inventory costs money and to have it sit longer than necessary outweighs the profitability of a business beyond Labor and Overhead costs. I am going to guess inventory for a grocery business costs more than the standard manufacturing company and is in the realm of 60+%. Inventory has been the biggest drag on business over the years. Think of it that way.

          My own $200 million in sales automotive warehouse turned 21-24 times per year. We were sticklers on lead times to inventory and final shipment. Lead times for inventory to stock add to your inventory costs. Sitting on the shelf costs money. Bringing inventory in on a timely basis once an order has been placed for it is paramount.

          Understanding demand patterns are critical to the inventory plan. A quick story and then I am done. I consulted at Catapillar (Peroria) for Ingersoll Engineers a life time ago. The company could not understand why their costs were so high. They would build up their tractors and wait for the orders to come in so they could ship quickly. They would get the order alright; but, the order would not be for the one they had sitting out in the storage area.

          They would bring one in and strip off the parts not needed, add parts needed, and ship to the customers. The stripped off parts were lost as no one re-inventoried them. That was the end result. Master Scheduling base models fixed the issue as long as you paid attention to the component/options in high demand. It also created a lot of flexibility.

          Trashing people for inventory does not make a whole lot of sense as they are the throughput mechanism for moving orders and a critical component of inventory and increased sales to get to the net profit you are talking about.

          Most people have no clue!

          Reply
    5. rd

      Its not clear to me that OTS originated with Amazon. Amazon only completed the Whole Foods purchase around Labor Day in 2017. It usually takes more than a month or two to come up with an entire computer-based software system and roll it out company-wide.

      My guess is that Whole Foods was able to conceive of this all by themselves and since it fits into the Amazon way of doing things, they didn’t stop them.

      Corporate America is capable of coming up with bone-headed implementations of what could be good ideas without the need to get Amazon, Google, Facebook, or Apple to push them to it. Wells Fargo was able to come up with “Eight is Great” for new account generation even with the guidance of Warren Buffet instead of Jeff Bezos.

      Reply
    6. Whiteylockmandoubled

      Oh please. I shop at two of the major branded grocery chains, and while the staff is generally good and competent, they exhibit none of the hyper-awareness expected under OTS.

      If you run into an employee and ask them where certain items can be found, they’ll usually know and usually direct you to an aisle that has the item. But they will generally not know the exact location in the aisle, shelf, blah blah.

      And the stupidity of corporate management is beyond belief. Due to niche marketing, items can be found in 3, 4 or even 5 different places. (My favorite is canned beans – organic and other high-end brands in the specialty fancy food aisle, a bunch in the Mexican/international/Spanish aisle, run of the mill murican brands and the same Goya brands that are in the international aisle in the general canned vegetable aisle, sale displays at the end of any random aisle. And dont even get me started on gluten-freeness).

      At stop and shop they replaced the end of the checkout counters with a carousel for bagging, meaning a) that checkers had to bag each item as they went, b) no more baggers c) customers couldn’t help bag stuff, and, my favorite, d) making it nearly impossible to use reusable bags. Talking to workers about it is simultaneously hilarious and enraging. “They said it was supposed to make it easier for us, but *shrug*”. Everyone understands that it’s designed to fail, slow things to a crawl, and piss customers off so they’ll use the self-check line.

      So spare us the tight-ship, low margin Whole-Foods-and-Amazon-are-just-just-learning-how-intense-the-business-really-is-and-too-bad-for-those-whiney-workers old school macho bullshit. Yes, it’s not the most profitable industry in the world. But amazon is a whole other level of abusive monitoring of workers everywhere it goes.

      Reply
      1. Dave

        Whiteylockmandoubled,

        Not sure if this reply was meant for me, but I will try to clarify my prior comment. My comment is meant to enlighten others who may have never had to manage at a large grocery retailer. I did for many years and 3 different chains and the description I gave in my original post was the dominant (actually exclusive mindset) of the chains I worked for. As a manger this was pounded into you on a weekly basis. As were the expectations to control ALL aspects of the P&L. It was also made abundantly clear that failure to do so was unacceptable and there was always someone to replace you. I did this job for over 2 decades because I had no education and had to support my family. I hated the way people were treated in the business and always did the best I could to treat my people well and accommodate their needs as people.

        “-learning-how-intense-the-business-really-is-and-too-bad-for-those-whiney-workers old school macho bullshit”.

        All I was doing was trying to offer was some insight to those not in the business. I was neither condoning or endorsing the the business practices I described. I eventually left the business and never liked having to depend on it as a career because it was a heartless and thankless profession.

        So my point is, if that offensive and mean spirited comment was directed at my original post then you can imagine where I would like you to stick that comment…… and the sun does not shine there.

        Reply
  9. Tony Wikrent

    Makes me wonder what’s happening at Washington Post. Quick search results are that Post has been “revived.” Note that Bezos stays out of editorial process, but is heavily involved in tech ops.

    Reply
  10. Huey Long

    I happened to stop by the Whole Foods in Columbus Circle, NYC yesterday for some produce and something is definitely different there.

    It was around 4 pm, the store was packed, and apparently management had people out there with brooms and dustpans sweeping up what appeared to be clean floors. Between the crowds, the sweeping employees, and the boxes of stock on the floor it was much harder to move in there.

    After navigating the aisles, I grabbed a bottle of cold beer for my subway ride home, and then proceeded to the in-house ramen/draft beer spot. The employees there seemed absolutely miserable and kept wandering away to talk in hushed voices about what was clearly some sort of work problem in the store from what I could gather. To the employees’ credit however, they treated me with courtesy and respect even though their body language and demeanor screamed misery.

    Following my mediocre Ramen and yummy draft beers, I wandered back over to the beer aisle to exchange my now warm subway subs for a cold bottle. I was shocked to find that the entire cold reach-in beer shelves had been re-stocked while I was in the ramen bar. After several moments of digging through freshly stocked warm beer I found a cold one, paid, and departed Whole Foods.

    Thanks for this article, as it ties together all the oddities I observed today. It is really sad what happened to Whole Foods, particularly that location. I used to work on the Time Warner Center maintenance staff and frequently interacted with employees in that particular store and they used to be a jolly bunch.

    At any rate, I won’t be frequenting Whole Foods any longer as I find worker abuse nauseating.

    Reply
    1. bob

      It sounds like your ‘shopping’ needs would be better met by what a lot of people people call a ‘bar’ or ‘pub’. Some ‘restaurants’ offer both food and drink. Many of these establishments have specialists dedicated to selecting and delivering beer, at many different temperatures, to where you are offered a complimentary ‘seat’.

      If all of the above fail and you are still looking for some place to walk while you drink, try a ‘paper bag’ and a ‘bodega’. Many have big signs that advertise the coldness of their beer, making them easier to find.

      Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

      Reply
      1. Huey Long

        Eh, the aforementioned establishments generally don’t stock organic produce. Looks like I’m gonna hafta start hitting up Trader Joe’s and shift my subterranean paper bag consumption of alcohol to two buck chuck.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Even outside NYC, I see a lot of chain stores having a surprising amount of organic produce, dairy, meats eggs, even specialty products like kombucha. Now they may not be to the same standard of organic (USDA organic is pretty minimal) but it’s not the “Whole Foods or Trader Joes or nothing” world.

          Reply
    2. jrs

      but it was packed, that’s what I don’t understand either, the quality of Whole Foods has clearly gone down since Amazon bought it, but it seems to be doing MORE business. But it’s cheaper. Yea and anyone who hasn’t noticed that the cheaper is coming from crappifying the product is blind. For instance a roast chicken is cheaper now, but it is much smaller now. That’s often how cheaper seems to have been achieved at the new WF, although there may be a few things they actually did cut prices and keep the product the same.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That particular store is usually packed. It’s in an extremely high end residential building (Lloyd Blankfein lives there) with no other grocery stores within blocks.

        Reply
        1. Octopii

          Ate lunch there for a few weeks once while in NYC from my much smaller town, working at a Central Park West construction project (an apartment for a VC). Their high-capacity checkout system was like I’d never seen — the maze of a line moving almost at walking speed, staff on radios directing the next in line to a numbered register…it was incredibly efficient and speedy. The store was huge and really cool. And packed, yes. Sorry to hear it’s being terrorized by the new owner.

          Reply
  11. SufferinSuccotash

    So much paperwork that there’s no time to deliver the food, hence empty shelves.
    A situation instantly recognizable to anyone who ever lived in the USSR.

    Reply
      1. Wyoming

        Interesting you mention Wallmart.

        I live in central AZ and our local Wallmarts (3 ea) for several years had empty shelves, few workers – and they did not know where anything was, the greeters were gone, litterally 1-2 actual cashiers – they were trying to force you to the self-checkout.

        Recently the stores are almost like they used to be with more workers, greeters back, still not enough cashiers though, and better stocking.

        Has anyone else noticed this. It does seem to coincide with the Amazon purchase of WF. Correlation is not causation and all that but it might be a reaction to some extent.

        Reply
        1. Carolinian

          I’m probably one of the few people around here that shops at Walmart and yes they have cleaned up their act although it depends on the store. I’d say the thing people don’t get about Walmart is that they are responsive to public opinion and customer gripes even if they supposedly treat their employees like disposable parts, easily replaced (but then they have lots of company in that department). For example a few years ago they took the clutter out of the aisles and did away with the craft/sewing section–trying to be more like Target–and then reversed all those changes because their customers hated it.

          Seems to me Bezos is taking on a much bigger challenge trying to reinvent brick and mortar than he did by innovating mail order. Here’s betting he’s not up to it. Perhaps his top honchos–meditating in their new waterfall equipped Seattle biosphere–will prove me wrong.

          Reply
        2. Pespi

          You didn’t hear it from me, but from a friend who was a cashier at a grocery store, a small way to fight back against self checkout is to be creative in naming your produce to get a 95% discount

          Reply
      2. diptherio

        Just FYI, that article is 5 years old. I remember discussing it here on NC. Unfortunately, it didn’t portend the end of Wally World.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Yeah, that one was 5 year old but I chose it because it gave a bit more info in it. There are plenty more from last year. Just go to Google and punch in the search term walmart shelves empty and see what come back, especially Google images. This means that this problem is not a one-off but has been a running theme for at least a four year period. Amazing.

          Reply
  12. Eureka Springs

    People who shop at Whole Foods want to look at employees with that NPR vegan faux-hippy gaze. Not a lot of difference from the evangelical gaze, imo. Some sort of self hypnosis involved? Now that gaze will be replaced with the look of a desperate near homeless employee all Wal-Mart shoppers have grown accustomed to ignoring, Wal-Mart can man-up with a new ad campaign – Our Employees Don’t Cry… they get food stamps.

    If I were a rich man I would give everyone of these people a T-shirt which says – I am not a robot.

    Reply
    1. Fraibert

      I wonder if Wal-Mart will discover increasing in-store staff, as well as an upgraded store experience, will actually improve its competitive position versys online retailers. That’s pretty much what Best Buy has to do.

      Reply
    2. Marco

      Is this just an Amazon/WF issue or something larger for grocer chains? I find myself shopping at a Meijers (big Midwest chain) superstore whilst visiting my mother and noticed the same kind of strangeness with not just employee morale (they are clearly miserable) but stocking issues. Items that were ALWAYS available are no longer there. I needed pasta shells the other day. They had none. How can a super grocer NOT have pasta shells. Larger than normal sections of shelves are bare. Pallets haphazardly placed. Meijors used to be a somewhat pleasant and orderly experience with happy workers now approaching a WalMart experience.

      Reply
      1. Marcie

        OMD, give it a rest already! The election is over, neither of those people has any position of authority,and WHO CARES? What do either have to do with Whole Foods, Amazon, or this article? What’s wrong with you people? Enough is enough. The only ones still kvetching about the election are Republicans and they won…

        Reply
    3. Adar

      Re the NPR vegan faux-hippy gaze, The WF near me in suburban Philadelphia, has a very upscale clientele. Once, in the produce section, they had set up a booth where a Hispanic woman would mix guacamole using just the ingredients the customers wished, without any extraneous chatter on her part. Wow! Your guac would be mixed by an ACTUAL MEXICAN PERSON! Just gotta be good, eh? Conservatives might say she was happy to have such a nice job. I thought it was downright creepy, like those catalogues where people beam as they demonstrate expensive vacuum cleaners. Yuk.

      Reply
  13. lakecabs

    Our Soviet style master planners hard at work. At least the Soviets had 5 year plans that they would abandon after 5 years.

    How many years of failure can we tolerate?

    What ever happened to profit?

    Reply
  14. McWoot

    Not a fan of Bezos, Amazon, or their practices, but strict planogram scorecarding is not uncommon in grocery, auto parts and similar retail orgs. The only part of that section of the article that strikes me as out of the ordinary is the employee’s reaction to it.

    Reply
    1. diptherio

      Translation: “Employee abuse is the norm, so I don’t see what everyone is complaining about. Back to work, peasants!”

      Reply
      1. McWoot

        The framing of the article suggests this is Amazon-ian behavior. Just pointing out that I don’t believe that’s accurate because the practice is commonplace in the industry.

        Reply
        1. diptherio

          I’ve got more than a few friends who have worked in grocery stores recently, and while they had many complaints, having to know last week’s best selling item or this week’s sales goals weren’t among them. Just sayin’….

          Reply
  15. Chuck

    Thank you for highlighting Amazon’s continued abuse of its employees. I’m amazed at how many people choose to simply ignore the fate of Amazon’s employees in order to receive free shipping. My favorite people are the type that by books on late stage capitalism and plutocracy through their Amazon prime accounts.

    Reply
    1. Bukko Boomeranger

      “I’m amazed at how many people choose to simply ignore the fate of Amazon’s employees in order to receive free shipping.”

      Sad but true, Chuck. My daughter, who’s a total Social Justice Warrior type (speaking as a progessive, I’m proud of her for that) and her long-time boyfriend are proud Amazon customers. They have Amazon technobuttons on the walls of the house they bought so that all they have to do to re-order toilet paper and kitty litter is touch the device. (Suggesting that AMZ is a sh*t business.) A day or two later, it’s delivered, for free, because they are Primes! Daughter’s BF, who luuuuuvs him some tech, revels in this because it’s so futuristic. When I suggest going to the store to buy some — it’s quicker — or simply thinking ahead and purchasing stuff before they run out, I get the eye-roll given to Olds who old-splain oldways. They’re Jellbylically concerned about the plight of abused North Koreans and the like. When I mentioned why I was buying their Christmas book gifts via Barnes & Noble rather than Amazon due to its mistreatment of workers, their ears glazed over. I’ll forward this post to her, but I doubt it will get read, since it wasn’t on her Fakebook feed.

      Reply
      1. J-Mann

        heh

        I like the cut of your jib: “…to Olds who old-splain oldways.”

        Grampa Simpson classic –

        One trick is to tell ’em stories that don’t go anywhere – like the time I caught the ferry over to Shelbyville. I needed a new heel for my shoe, so, I decided to go to Morganville, which is what they called Shelbyville in those days. So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. “Give me five bees for a quarter,” you’d say.

        Now where were we? Oh yeah: the important thing was I had an onion on my belt, which was the style at the time. They didn’t have white onions because of the war. The only thing you could get was those big yellow ones…

        Reply
        1. Marcie

          That’ comment deserves an Olympic gold medal for best online comment of all time…not sure I’ll ever stop chuckling…

          Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        Maybe you just need to talk to your daughter in her own Social Justice Warrior vocabulary. I gather that one of the words of abuse used by SJWs is “shitlord”. There are many images findable of what is meant by “shitlord” in this context.

        https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=A0LEVyggyHZa15UAQ09XNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyanNvNWYzBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQjQ4NTNfMQRzZWMDc2M-?p=shitlord&fr=sfp

        I suppose the definition of “shitlord” can also be found on urban dictionary and other such places.

        So . . . perhaps you could try asking your daughter why she buys things from a “Social Injustice Shitlord” company, and see how she reacts.

        Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      Local co-ops are a great idea but (sorry for the but) in much of the country wholesale food distribution has been decimated or wiped out over the years due to competition from Wal-Mart, Target, Whole Foods, the legacy grocers or Sysco (on the restaurant side).

      Geographically, few areas in the US are fortunate enough to have an independent and thriving food/produce wholesale market which helps bring down price and bring up quality to be competitive with the vertically integrated big boys.

      Reply
    2. Arizona Slim

      Well, here’s Slim from drought-stricken AZ. And I’m about to rain on that co-op parade.

      When I lived in Pittsburgh, I worked at a food co-op that was the lone survivor after its main competitor went under. And we got REAL busy.

      We also had a bit of a management problem. Ours was a drunk who often came to work hungover. All the better way to abuse the rest of us.

      After a staff revolt (yes, I took part in it), he left and took a job as manager of the regional co-op warehouse in Columbus, Ohio. Where he treated the warehouse gals as his harem and got one of them pregnant.

      To our utter and total amazement back in Pittsburgh, he took responsibility for his son and tried to be the best father he could. I have no idea what happened with the drinking problem.

      The manager who succeeded him was even worse. He even called himself a martinet, and he was. After less than a year of his BS, I bailed out of the co-op and got a sit-down job in an office. Yeah, there was another lousy boss there, and I’ve talked about her on other threads.

      But there was further fun and merriment back at the co-op. I was still friendly with the people who worked there, and guess what? Another staff revolt! They ran Mr. Martinet outta there too! Go staff!

      Mr. Martinet went to a yuppie grocery store in North Carolina. From there, he went on to become one of the original senior executives in …

      … Whole Foods.

      Reply
      1. diptherio

        Bummer about the food co-op, Slim. Some of us “in the movement” are trying to work out how to provide accountability for guys like the drunk manager you mention, so that they don’t end up doing like he did, and just sliding around from one co-op to another. Open to suggestions…

        Unfortunately, the co-op name doesn’t necessarily imply that everything is groovy for the workers. Hence, REI workers in Seattle trying to unionize, and why UFCW has had such success in organizing every single food co-op in Minneapolis-St. Paul (and there are quite a few). The history of consumer co-ops seems pretty clear – workers in them need union representation just as much as workers in regular businesses.

        Reply
    3. EoH

      For those who need examples, there is an excellent co-op in Ocean Beach, San Diego. Its customer/members are devoutly loyal. By design, each is small and adapted to its local culture and food ecosystem. Michael Pollan is a good resource for ideas on this topic and on real food in general.

      American businesses might prefer home runs, but singles and bunts are more common and sustainable. Besides, co-ops are harder to buy up or put out of business in the manner reputed to be practiced by, say, some retail coffee companies.

      Reply
    1. Louis Fyne

      Except Jeff Bezos has sold the Ayn Rand way of life to the ‘progressive’ intelligensia who would happily rant over John Galt if you gave them your ear and a glass of Bordeaux.

      Reply
  16. Jeff N

    Not just at Amazon, but I’m seeing an anecdotal trend of “get people to quit within a year or two of starting”. Not just with ridiculous requests from above, but even with good ol’ passive-aggressiveness.
    I can’t remember if this article was tipped off to me by NC but here it is anyway:
    https://www.ft.com/content/356ea48c-e6cf-11e6-967b-c88452263daf
    (paywall, or websearch for “how employers manage out unwanted staff”)

    Reply
  17. Croatoan

    Don’t you all get it? First they took away their freedom to form unions with others. Now they want to take away your freedom to form a union with you own bodies actions.

    This will crush the idea of sabotage and work slowdowns as an expression of labor power.

    Reply
  18. EoH

    Waste is inherent to selling fresh food. Trimmings, dry, damaged meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, breads, prepared foods. That’s especially true of anything organic and not engineered to be harder, more colorful, durable and less tasty than their natural analogs. Whole Paycheck’s intended customers – really, most shoppers anywhere – do not want to buy adulterated, processed versions of eggs, beakless turkeys, caged hens, and drugged industrially raised cows and pigs.

    Fresh food, especially organic, does not last as long as industrial bread, fruits and vegetables or highly sugared packaged foods. It is the antithesis of such foods. The reason chicken soup made the way it was c.1940 is tastier and nutritionally better than soup made from a caged, medicated, neurotic fowl today is not great Grandma’s recipe: it’s the chicken.

    Local sourcing, environmentally safe, animal friendly methods of raising require a wider supplier net. What Michael Pollan would call real food costs more. It should. But real food and real people are ripe for the cruel “more efficient” methods of production, distribution and sale that seem part of Jeff Bezos’s DNA. Besides, what he really wants is probably the data flow. WF is simply a way to get it.

    Reply
  19. Trey N

    Typical uber-“capitalist” idiocy — seen this happen in a lot of different industries over the years (esp techs):

    CEO: “Our product sucks. We’ve grown too big, lost our innovative edge, we need to get back to our roots!”

    Toady: “Uh, tried that already, boss. No can do. Too much bureaucracy now.”

    CEO: “Shit! Any ideas?”

    Toady: “Actually, yes! We can buy out and take over one of the smaller competitors that’s eating our lunch now, and steal their latest ideas and projects.”

    CEO: “Brilliant! Make it so!”

    fast forward 1-2 years…

    CEO: “How’s that takeover working out?”

    Toady: “Well, it’s taken a while, but we’ve fully integrated the company in with ours — all of our corporate policies and procedures etc etc are in place there now.”

    CEO: “Excellent!”

    fast forward 1-2 more years….

    CEO: “Our product sucks! What happened to all those great ideas coming from that company we took over?”

    Toady: “Well, most everyone working there when we bought it out are gone now. The founders and senior management cashed out the takeover premium and bailed immediately, and everybody else got frustrated with our corporate style and policies and eventually quit. Our people took over their projects, and promptly fucked them up beyond all belief. Instead of a cash cow, we got a dead cow on our hands now.”

    CEO: “Shit! Any ideas?”

    Toady: “Yeah. We can either spin it off to the public again…or just shut the whole fucking thing down and take a huge earnings write-off.”

    CEO: “Hmmm,..decisions, decisions…. By the way, are there any other small competitors out there that we can buy out to rejuvenate our stale product line, toady?

    Rinse. Repeat. Ad nauseum, ad infinitum….

    Reply
  20. Sean

    Amazon corporate sounds like a sweatshop. Their treatment of warehouse staff is nothing short of an abomination.
    But I can’t help feeling that some of the employee comments at WholeFoods are less about bad management and work conditions and more about Millenials and a lack of ability handle criticism and work pressure. (The average age of a Whole Food employee at my store is easily 28yo.)
    To call working on an inventory system “punitive”. It’s called business, and yes, it is difficult and takes a lot of effort. Punitive, though. To use an inventory system. Sorry. Not buying the whole story.

    Reply
    1. JBird

      If it’s common for people to actually cry at work, and to have nightmares, with massive turnover, decreasing quality of service, product, and cleanliness blaming millennials is an inadequate response. Apparently Amazon wants to run Whole Foods with inadequate staff, fails to reward good good work, unfailingly punish not only poor work, but honest mistakes, and makes no allowance within the system for reality. If you did animal training this way, you would see the same results, I promise. The management “techniques” described will destroy any company, or at least reduce productivity massively.

      Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You are straw manning the post and the underlying article. The staff is grilled very frequently and graded, and much of what they are graded on isn’t relevant to customer service. The shelves are supposed to be “leveled” all day, which is a ridiculous standard. The testing and insane shelf appearance standards are not normal to the industry and minor deviations are the basis for firing.

      Reply
      1. RMO

        I have yet to met a single “Millennial” that fits that ridiculous stereotype – and I know a lot of people in that age bracket even though I was born in 1970. The very few who even seem to have tendencies in those directions seem more influenced by being from wealthy families than by their year of birth and I can think of at least as many Boomers and Gen X’ers that are like that too.

        When I think of the high-school age or university age jobs the people I grew up with had and compare them to the jobs I’ve seen my “Millennial” friends doing the younger people have had it substantially worse over all.

        Reply
  21. Jonathan Holland Becnel

    #Famazon

    Also theres an Ad for the ‘United States Secret Service’ that wants to recruit me.

    Lol Not with my Reenlistment Code (RE4)!!!!!

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      A college friend of my mother went on to run the Secret Service detail for the White House. Very demanding position, but one that Mom’s friend was quite proud of.

      Reply
  22. Eclair

    Lordy, Yves, please put a warning sign on that video! It’s still breakfast time here in Seattle, and I clicked on it. No, it didn’t offend my ‘sensibilities.’ But it encapsulated all the frustration and anger and helplessness I feel against our system. As well as being a powerful metaphor for ‘late stage capitalism.’

    Reply
  23. Pelham

    Whole Foods employees still outnumber these Amazon creatures checking up on them, I presume. If the WF workers and others at Amazon are so universally tormented and humiliated, shouldn’t they be taking some kind of collective action?

    Twice during WWII German officers tried to get rid of Hitler. I guess American workers don’t measure up to even that standard.

    Reply
    1. EoH

      I suspect Jeff Bezos would view unions at WF or Amazon the way Reagan viewed unionized Air Traffic Controllers. Or Wal-Mart, which has abandoned markets whose employment laws provide for unions or simply too many protections for employees.

      Bezos is extracting resources from his employees with the same thought and in the same manner that early California hard rock miners used massive water hoses (monitors) to liquidate mountains in search for a few gold nuggets. (h/t Gray Brechin)

      Reply
  24. Petter

    Why don’t they quit? If you allow yourself to be treated as and act as a slave, you become complicit in your own slavery.

    Reply
    1. Arizona Slim

      Which is why I Q-U-I-T the food co-op job mentioned above. Did the same in that office job, which was my second-to-last full-time job.

      Have I ever had a good job? Yup. Working in a hot, dark, and greasy bike shop. Place closed in 2000 and I still miss the camaraderie with my fellow mechanics — and the pride of accomplishment that came with fixing the customers’ bikes.

      Reply
    2. drumlin woodchuckles

      The only way they can quit is if they know that there are some other food stores to go to in order to find work. The only way there can be some other food stores for them to find work at is if such other food stores actually exist. The only way such other food stores can actually exist is if enough people buy enough food at those other food stores to keep those other food stores in existence.

      So people who oppose this kind of worker abuse at Whole Bezos will have to do all their foodbuying at other food stores and keep doing it long enough and consistently enough to keep those other food stores alive long enough for the Whole Bezos refugees to be able to go to jobs at the other food stores.

      Reply
  25. Punxsutawney

    Decades ago I worked in retail,

    When arguing with my boss about crap we were required to do, he finally got frustrated and told me “Shit flows downhill”, “DEAL WITH IT!”. To which my response was “Yep, right onto the customer!”

    It made him so angry I was lucky I wasn’t fired on the spot, though in hindsight it would have been a blessing. Looks like nothing has changed 30 years later.

    Reply
    1. JBird

      I think it’s gotten worse as the whole retail industry specifically and perhaps most industries gradually, have had the slowly MBA’d management reorganized, streamlined, outsourced and efficiencied it into a monetized Hades.

      I was lucky to work in a couple of well run, or at competently run, businesses. So I know one can be profitable without brutalizing people. It’s depressing to see what has happened.

      Reply
  26. Synoia

    I imaging the quickest route to being fired is:

    Hi, my name is Jeff Bezos, and I’m a union organizer!

    Well maybe not the Bezos part.

    Reply
    1. Jean

      Wonder what would happen if a customer started handing out union brochures to Whole Foods employees in one of their stores. What are they going to do? Kick you, a customer, out of the store?

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        They probably would. It’s private space. But it would make for good news stories. You would need to actually shop…in fact handing them out to all the cashiers when you are checking out would be the best move, since you’d be out the store before management would catch on.

        Reply
  27. Dongo

    As the articles in the Business Insider series explicitly point out, this hated new system preceded the acquisition by Amazon.

    Amazon is terrible. The way Whole Foods is now treating its workers is terrible. But Amazon simply did not develop or implement the policies at Whole Foods that this article is ascribing to it.

    Reply
  28. Jean

    OTS, What is that?

    I know two Whole Foods employees who have quit in the last week.

    The new name for the store is “Asswhole Foods”.

    The game is to sabotage as much as possible and give away and undercharge customers for as much as possible in the weeks before you quit.

    A walkout strike on a busy Saturday would be a beautiful thing to see and would really get the public’s attention.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Good for your saboteurs! Amazon is trying to stop shrinkage but they’ll lose more through deliberately missed scans. Oh, and a freezer door left open or temperature mysteriously reset would wreak even more havoc.

      Reply
    2. pretzelattack

      their inventory control system, getting the food to the shelf just in time to be bought or something like that. in theory.

      Reply
  29. lentilsoup

    I was in a Whole Foods last night, where I shop a few times per month, here in central California. Lots of unfamiliar faces working there. Produce section definitely looking worse than usual — empty shelves, low quality items. At checkout, the cashier was a young woman I’d never seen before, who looked tired and dispirited. I asked how she was doing that evening. Smirking wearily, she said, “Hangin’ in there…” (Which is about how I feel these days, too.) When it came time to pay, it was the first time in my life that the total at Whole Foods was less than I was expecting. Wow, I thought, I didn’t think Amazon changed the prices that much? After I got home and looked at the receipt, I realized why — she hadn’t charged me for all the items! Bless her.

    I don’t believe Amazon and Whole Foods were ever a good match for each other, and with unhappy employees and other problems, I expect this particular branch of WF to be gone in a few years. And I really couldn’t care less. There are other good places to shop.

    Reply
    1. Mel

      “she hadn’t charged me for all the items”

      So they’ve reached the double-bind of hard-ass management. In Gregory Bateson’s theory the double-bind was described as a game:
      Door #1) Screw up and you’re fired
      Door #2) Don’t screw up and we tighten the rules until you screw up and you’re fired.
      so the theoretical game contains no winning move. Bateson concluded that the only way to win was through
      Door #3) Get out of the game.

      Looks like that’s happening.

      Reply
      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        If enough Whole Bezos employees do enough of this, they might ramp up Door #3 to driving Whole Bezos itself out of the game.

        And now that I think about it, if people at one Whole Foods are now calling it Asswhole Foods, perhaps others might do the same . . . maybe all across the country. And it is just a step from there to . . Asswhole Bezos Foods.

        Reply
  30. Octopii

    Our local WF in Alexandria is now trashed. I usually shop at MOMs but occasionally go to WF for a particular ingredient that MOMs doesn’t have, and on a recent visit, the first since the Bezos acquisition, I was shocked by the decline. The produce section has been cut in half to make room to relocate the wine bar that is currently in the back of the wine section. The shelves have bare spots and are not neat. There were boxes in the aisles and employees doing inventory. There were far fewer staff present, everyone looked grim, they no longer carry the face moisturizer I’ve been using for years, the hot bar looks even more crapified than it had gotten in the past few years, and there were just a few checkouts open leading to long waits. We were planning to get some hot food and eat a quick dinner there, but changed plans after seeing the store’s diminished state – the vibe was unpleasant. At least we know we’ll never need to go back.

    Reply
    1. flora

      Suppose it’s possible Bezo’s acquisition wasn’t about groceries, but was instead about real estate/brick&mortar stores in upscale areas.

      Reply
      1. Octopii

        Maybe, and I was thinking along similar lines wrt hyper-local distribution centers — I think everyone was. But along with that real estate came a high-status grocery chain, and he’s killing whatever value it held rather quickly.

        Reply
      2. drumlin woodchuckles

        I hadn’t thought of that. If Bezos wanted hi-valu real estate locations and secretly intended to “neutron Jack” all the Whole Foods stores in existence in order to inherit and repurpose the empty buildings, then the only way to foil Bezos’s plans would be to boycott every single bussiness that ever opens up in a vacated Whole Foods store for ever and ever.

        And that would require a very high, broad and deep level of pre-emptive organization in place and ready to roll out a permanent extermicott of every single bussiness that ever opens up in a vacated Whole Foods store, every single time without even one lapse or failure. Because unless Bezos himself is “neutron Jacked” at every single one of these locations, he wins.

        Reply
  31. SubjectivObject

    HEB and Central Market for the win.
    San Antonio based.
    Privately owned.
    Seems like a complete contrast to all the above.

    Reply

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