Connect with us


Whole Foods healthcare move shows Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos promises are hollow



Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is committed to investing in employees — until he isn’t.

The sudden decision to cut the healthcare benefits for hundreds of part-time employees at Amazon-owned Whole Foods, reported by Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson, came just a few weeks after Bezos signed on to a statement that committed to invest in workers.

The Whole Foods decision is not just hypocritical of Bezos, but also proves why workers should never put too much trust in kind words from CEOs and instead push for lasting changes to uphold their interests and those of their coworkers.

Investing in employees, but only on your terms

As a bit of background, Bezos joined CEOs from 180 other major companies — from Apple to JP Morgan — in signing an August statement from the industry group Business Roundtable that redefined the goals of their companies and promised to “deliver value to all” stakeholders.

The statement reads, in part, that companies “commit” to: “Investing in our employees. This starts with compensating them fairly and providing important benefits.”

Now there was no legal obligation tied to the statement, after all it’s just a mission statement from what is essentially a lobbying group, but the companies — and even companies whose CEOs did not sign the pledge — emphasized that this was a serious statement of intent.

So what then to make of Whole Foods’ decision to cut the medical benefits of part-time workers? The decision will, as one employee affected by the change told Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson, leave employees and families who rely on those benefits in the lurch.

Amazon argues that the changes will only affect 2% of the Whole Foods workforce (which also begs the question: if it’s such a small number, why not just leave the benefits in place?), but that the changes will still affect as many as 1,900 employees.

Amazon contends that some of these employees will move to full-time hours and the change will “create a more equitable and efficient scheduling model.” But some employees may not be able to add hours and will be forced to look for more expensive coverage or a new job with benefits. The bottom line is that employees who had health coverage in their current role no longer have those benefits.

The move was roundly criticized online, with commentators pointing out that not only is Amazon one of the most valuable companies in the world, but that Bezos himself is the wealthiest man on Earth.

Words are just that: words

The Whole Foods move shows that for all the good intentions or press releases about taking care of employees, companies are ultimately worried about their bottom line and what’s best for the corporation — even if that runs roughshod over employees’ needs.

There are ways for Bezos to address the apparent hypocrisy of the move. The Amazon CEO can show that he’s committed to the values listed in the Business Roundtable statement by restoring healthcare benefits to the part-time Whole Food employees and, if he really wanted to live by his pledge, go the other way and extend benefits to more workers.

But even if Bezos and Whole Foods were to reverse course, the situation also makes clear that workers cannot rely on high-minded promises from their executives or companies. Even if Bezos is committed to the ideals of the Business Roundtable statement, there may be other decision makers within Amazon who aren’t as concerned, to say nothing of the fact that Bezos might leave.

This means that for workers to make lasting change and ensure that companies do invest in and take care of employees, structural changes must be adopted. Workers can support politicians who advocate for policies that protect workers and ensure that companies are held accountable. Workers can also band together through a union to create a collectively bargained legal framework to make sure benefits can’t be suddenly taken away.

Regardless of the ultimate solution, the Whole Foods healthcare decision proves that while CEOs love to make extravagant statements about taking care of their workers, there’s no guarantee that they’ll actually practice what they preach.

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job