Workers' rights rally at Tampa Whole Foods store

03/11/14 Samuel Johnson
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Tags: Whole Foods, minimum wage, worker's rights, Chicago, Tampa, Rhiannon Broschat, union, unionize

photo by Samuel Johnson 3-11-14

A day long rally was held last Saturday, International Women’s Day, outside a Whole Foods store in Tampa. A smattering of activists, protesters and concerned customers voiced their support for a Chicago woman who was fired from Whole Foods when she took time off to care of her special needs son during the second Polar Vortex snowstorm.

When Rhiannon Broschat was fired from her part-time at Whole Foods in Chicago, workers rights groups took notice. Charles Jefferson co-organized the Tampa rally. He is also a member of Organize Now, a Florida community based social and economic advocacy group. Jefferson said public solidarity on this case of injustice will benefit all workers.

"We have an individual who was unjustly let go from her job for taking care of her son. A special needs child in harsh weather. That's not right and if people don't stand up and say 'hey, we're not going to allow our people to be treated this way' then the same thing can happen to you or me on any job. We're coming together across the nation in 17 cities today just to be the voice for workers that don't have a voice."

But there may be more to it than just a winter storm. Kelly Benjamin is an organizer with the Tampa Bay Workers Committee, which advocates higher wages for jobs in the fast food industry and retail. Benjamin said the real reason the single mother in Chicago was fired was because of her stance on unions.

"It's part of the same fight. She's organizing at Whole Foods in Chicago with workers who are demanding the right to unionize without retaliation. The right for more respect in the workplace. Higher wages, obviously and benefits. So there's a lot of concern that her firing had a little more to do with her stance on organizing a union in that shop in Chicago."

We conducted that interview in a parking garage because Whole Foods management asked us to leave their property. In a telephone interview Jeremy Jones, a regional PR representative for Whole Foods, declined to comment on the Chicago case. He said the company doesn’t prohibit its workers from forming unions because unionizing is a local issue.

"We're not against key members unionizing. That's not who Whole Foods Market is. Our key members are free to do, based on that store in that region, whatever. If that's something they want to talk about and discuss that's entirely up to them."

One of several posters in front of the Whole Foods says “Investing in a Future without Poverty.” Samantha Bowden, an organizer with the Tampa Bay Workers Committee, said she is planning to put Wholes Foods on her no-go list.

"I stopped shopping at Publix because they exploit Immokalee workers and migrant workers and they're exploiting a mom for standing up for something really basic. The right to take a day to take care of your kid. I just don't think that's right so I'm going to go do my last shopping at Whole Foods, go get some orange juice and fruit and tell the manager how I feel, and tell them they're supposed to be selling a degree of social responsibility and they're just not doing that."

Similar events were planned around the country by groups like Ultra Violet, an anti-sexism group, and Fight for Fifteen, which promotes a higher minimum wage, According to the Ultra Violet website, more than 50,000 Whole Foods customers have signed a petition demanding Rhiannon Broschat be reinstated.

Whole Foods' responds to labor activist

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