Cambridge Whole Foods workers escalate pressure to allow Black Lives Matter masks

Employees at the Cambridgeport store were sent home last week for wearing the masks. They've been walking out every day since.

Cambridge, MA—06/29/2020—(L-R) Leavar Michel, Yaxeny Colon, Suverino Frith and Savannah Kinzer give a statement regarding Whole Foods’ stance on wearing Black Lives Matter masks on the job during a protest outside the River St. location in Cambridge, MA, June 29, 2020. (Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe)
Leavar Michel, Yaxeny Colon, Suverino Frith, and Savannah Kinzer give a statement regarding Whole Foods’ stance on wearing Black Lives Matter masks on the job during a protest outside the River St. location in Cambridge, MA on Monday. –Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Workers at a Cambridge Whole Foods are approaching a week of persistent walkouts after several employees were sent home last Wednesday for wearing Black Lives Matter face masks.

In a statement shared with The Boston Globe Monday, the employees at the River Street store in Cambridgeport demanded that the Amazon-owned supermarket chain “take real procedural action to join the anti-racist, Black Lives Matter movement” and provide “the freedom for all Whole Foods employees to explicitly support Black lives.”

The group also shared a call-to-action online Tuesday asking all Whole Foods team members to continuously wear Black Lives Matter masks starting Tuesday. The statement notes that while the company brands itself as supporting the movement, management at the supermarket still forbids workers from showing solidarity with it.

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“We will not stop until Whole Foods recognizes its current hypocrisy and commits itself to real change instead of performative, empty activism,” the statement said.

Employee Savannah Kinzer also started a Change.org petition making the same demands Friday. It now has over 2,000 supporters.

Countless companies including Whole Foods have claimed support in the fight for racial justice through social media posts and press releases. The Whole Foods website features a prominent banner stating that “racism has no place here,” though it does not include the phrase “Black lives matter.” An invitation to “learn more” links to a lengthy mission statement that never mentions race or discrimination.

A statement from a Whole Foods spokesperson last week said that the employee dress code forbids “clothing with visible slogans, messages, logos or advertising that are not-company-related.” The statement also said that workers are offered new face masks if the ones they’re wearing don’t comply with the code.

Employee Kirby Burt told Liberation News, a monthly paper published by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, that other dress code violations like masks with Narragansett and Red Sox logos were ignored by management for months. Burt noted that managers are now more strict on addressing those violations in the wake of the Black Lives Matter mask controversy.

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Management at the Whole Foods at the River Street location in Cambridge, Massachusetts, copying the patterns from other…

Posted by PSL Boston – Party for Socialism and Liberation on Sunday, June 28, 2020

Whole Foods workers across the U.S. have donned Black Lives Matters masks this month after two employees in New Hampshire were sent home for wearing the masks. Team members from stores in Seattle and Philadelphia have held similar protests to their Cambridge counterparts.

Some other large companies like Starbucks and Taco Bell now explicitly allow their employees to wear Black Lives Matter masks at work. Both companies faced similar backlashes this month after management reprimanded workers for showing solidarity with the movement while on the clock.

Community members protested outside the Cambridge store Sunday in support of employees who wear face masks printed with the Black Lives Matter slogan.  (Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff) —Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe
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