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.