Amazon-owned Whole Foods reportedly told managers that workers couldn't wear Black Lives Matter signage at work because it was 'opening the door for union activity'

·2 min read
whole foods amazon black lives matter
Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
  • Whole Foods was concerned that allowing employees to wear Black Lives Matter signage could appear pro-union, Bloomberg reports.

  • Per an internal email, one higher-up said it could be "opening the door for union activity."

  • Whole Foods employees have been fighting with the company since mid-2020 over the dress code.

Whole Foods management has long been battling with employees over if they can wear Black Lives Matter messaging at work, and a new report sheds more light on the company's argument.

In a Monday feature, Bloomberg wrote in-depth about the prosecutor, Jennifer Abruzzo, leading the legal fight for Whole Foods workers' rights to don masks and other apparel showcasing their support for the BLM movement.

Higher-ups have been said to worry that doing so would cause political conflict with customers. However, an internal email revealed in the legal case that managers might also be concerned about how allowing it would be like "opening the door for union activity."

Amazon did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment. As Bloomberg noted, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos voiced his support for the BLM movement in 2020.

The movement received a renewed sense of urgency following the May 2020 police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd. Some Whole Foods employees began wearing BLM masks and other articles of clothing to voice their solidarity.

But, that summer, the company that summer enforced a ban on its workers wearing such apparel, prompting a group of Whole Foods employees to sue their employer in July 2020. The lawsuit stated that Whole Foods had previously allowed workers to wear Pride flags to show support for their LGBTQ+ coworkers before and was therefore being selective about its enforcement.

Whole Foods responded in October of that year with a new, stricter dress code policy banning workers from wearing any kind of logo, slogan, messaging, flags, or any type of symbol.

In December 2021, the National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint that alleged Whole Foods broke federal law when it prohibited its employees from wearing BLM messaging. The NLRB also alleged that Whole Foods illegally retaliated against some workers, sending them home without pay and firing some.

Whole Foods fired back in January saying the NLRB was trying to violate its First Amendment rights.

"By singling out the phrase 'Black Lives Matter' the General Counsel is impermissibly favoring, and requiring that WFM favor, certain expressions of political speech over others in its retail grocery stores," the filing said, referring to Whole Foods Market.

A US appeals court ruled in June that the Whole Foods employees who filed a lawsuit were not racially discriminated against, siding with a federal judge that came to the same conclusion in February 2021.

However, the NLRB's trial with Whole Foods is ongoing and is expected to close in the upcoming weeks.

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