Part-timers to lose benefits at Whole Foods

Warren, Sanders, AOC rip plan for Amazon-owned market to require 30 hours for health care

Whole Foods plans to cut health care for part-time workers under 30 hours a week. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

Whole Foods plans to cut health care for part-time workers under 30 hours a week. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

Come the new year, it may not pay to be a part-time employee at Whole Foods.

The high-end, Amazon-owned, health-oriented supermarket chain announced last week it would be cutting medical benefits for part-time employees under 30 hours. Benefits had previously been extended to part-timers down to 20 hours a week.

The company estimated that change, effective with the new year, would affect about 1,900 of its 95,000 employees, or about 2 percent of its workforce. The chain has more than 500 stores in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, 29 in Illinois.

Whole Foods did not immediately respond to requests for how many Illinois employees would be affected.

One veteran Whole Foods employee, who declined to share her name over fears of retribution, told the publication Business Insider: “I am in shock. I've worked here 15 years. This is why I keep the job — because of my benefits.”

Whole Foods is owned by Amazon. Its owner, Jeff Bezos, has an estimated net worth of $114 billion, according to Forbes magazine. So the corporate move drew flak from Democratic presidential candidates U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, both of whom used it to push their Medicare for All proposal, as well as U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

"Your ability to get health care should not be dependent on the whims of your employer," Sanders tweeted on Friday. "It should be guaranteed under Medicare for All."

Warren echoed that, tweeting, "Jeff Bezos committed to providing his employees 'important benefits' — right before Whole Foods cut health-care benefits for hundreds of employees. This is exactly why we need #MedicareForAll."

Whole Foods insisted it was helping affected employees find alternative health care, and emphasized that all employees continue to receive a 20 percent store discount.

That wasn’t good enough for Ocasio-Cortez, who called it “part of the casual dehumanization of working people.”

She tweeted Saturday: “Your ability to get insulin or see a doctor shouldn't depend on how generous a billionaire is feeling today. Employers stripping health care, either by taking it away or worsening it, is just part of the casual dehumanization of working people to increase returns for the rich.”

The Twitter feed Whole Worker, representing grassroots Whole Foods workers trying to unionize, tweeted: “They already took our profit sharing. Now they’re coming for our health care.”