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Workers at a Cambridge Whole Foods were sent home for wearing Black Lives Matter masks

“We believe it’s a statement of basic human rights and compassion.”

Six of the seven workers sent home from the River Street Whole Foods in Cambridge Wednesday for wearing Black Lives Matter masks.

Employees at the Whole Foods on River Street in Cambridge say they were sent home by store managers this week after they wore Black Lives Matter masks to work.

“Today, I and about 12 of my colleagues got sent home from work for wearing Black Lives Matter masks,” Kirby Burt wrote on Facebook on Thursday. “We were told it was ‘against dress code’ and that Whole Foods doesn’t allow brands or ‘political statements.’ We don’t think this is a political statement or a brand. We believe it’s a statement of basic human rights and compassion.”

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In her post, Burt pointed out that both Whole Foods and its parent company, Amazon, have posted statements in support of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Why is allowing team members to wear BLM masks one step too far?” she wrote.

today, i and about 12 of my colleagues got sent home from work for wearing Black Lives Matter masks. we were told it was…

Posted by Kirby Burt on Thursday, June 25, 2020

According to The Boston Globe, the action at the Cambridge store was organized by Savannah Kinzer after she saw reports of Whole Foods employees in other states being sent home for refusing to remove Black Lives Matter masks.

On June 15, Kinzer created a GoFundMe page to purchase masks for the demonstration.

“Our Whole Foods policy states ‘You must wear Whole Foods Market shirts/tops (or industry-related organizations with which we are affiliated),’”she wrote. “So let’s make the BLM organization industry-related! After all, it is a simple statement that EVERYONE should support. It does not have to be political, it is simply human rights. Hopefully the publicity over social media will catch on and other Whole Foods workers will join across the country.”

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When Kinzer and her colleagues put the masks on at work on Wednesday, a manager told them they had to either take off the masks or go home, according to the Globe. Seven of them walked out, and, on Thursday, Kinzer brought more masks to pass out to coworkers. She and about a dozen other employees were again sent home.

“People are allowed to wear rainbow pins in support of the LGBT community, so I don’t see what the difference is in this,” Kinzer told NECN. “It’s so basic. It’s not political. It’s human rights.”

Leavar Michel, who was among the workers who participated and was sent home, told the Globe that some employees were afraid they would lose their job if they joined in.

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“Employers understand what power they have because of the lack of jobs available, and I think they’re using that to force people to not spread the message to avoid offending customers,” he said. “It’s not like we’re rioting or doing anything. We’re wearing masks.”

“In order to operate in a customer-focused environment, all Team Members must comply with our longstanding company dress code, which prohibits clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not company-related,” a Whole Foods spokesperson said in a statement to Boston.com. “Team Members with face masks that do not comply with dress code are always offered new face masks. Team Members are unable to work until the comply with dress code.”

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Kinzer pointed out in an interview with the Globe that employees wearing Patriots masks or other face-coverings bearing messages have gone unchallenged in the past, though on Thursday workers were told to take off masks with Red Sox and Narragansett logos.

“When I first got into the job and applied, they were very inclusive about everything,” Michel told NECN. “Race, gender, age, anything. And so now that they’re sending us home because we want to support a movement for human rights, it kind of contradicts what they’ve been preaching since I’ve applied for the job.”

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