The real losers from the Amazon-Whole Foods merger

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amazon whole foods jeff bezos grocery brick and mortar cnntech_00001002

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Story highlights

  • Marc Perrone: The Amazon-Whole Foods merger will jeopardize thousands of grocery store jobs
  • Amazon capitalizes on minimal human interaction, so Whole Foods employees face an uncertain future, he writes

Marc Perrone is the president of the 1.3 million -member United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. Follow him on Twitter @Marc_Perrone. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)As Wall Street celebrates the news of Amazon buying Whole Foods, thousands of workers at Whole Foods stores across the country must now worry about losing their jobs.

They have good reason to be concerned.
The Amazon-Whole Foods merger is not about improving customer service, products or choice, it is about destroying Whole Foods jobs through Amazon-style automation.
    Amazon's very business model is to remove as many humans from all facets of production and service as possible. Just as Walmart's big-box model destroyed small businesses when it spread across the country, Amazon's automation model, if widely adopted, potentially poses a huge threat to America's 16-million-strong service and retail workforce.
    If anyone doubts this vision, and what Amazon likely has in store for Whole Foods and the people who work there, observe that Amazon has already showed its hand by announcing its no-employees Amazon Go model.
    The Amazon Go grocery store concept eliminates the cashier position entirely and replaces it with "technology." While Amazon has said that no Whole Foods job reductions are planned as a result of this deal, does anyone really believe this? If you do, ask yourself, when was the last time a big corporate merger happened that didn't result in substantial job losses?
    For anyone who doubts how difficult the future looks for Whole Foods workers, consider the recent words of John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, at a town-hall meeting announcing the company had been purchased by Amazon: "I think sometimes, our company's gone a little bit too much team-member focus at the expense of our customers." Translation: It's the employees' fault, and we have too many Whole Foods employees who are holding up the "efficiencies" that Amazon automation can bring.
    What is so offensive about such a remark is that many of the nation's largest union grocery stores have grown and succeeded because of the workers and union members who work there, not in spite of them. From picking the perfect piece of meat to preparing healthy meals, the people who work inside grocery stores bring value and expertise to consumers. Unfortunately, that may not be how Amazon and the CEO of Whole Foods now look at the thousands of men and women who work inside Whole Foods' stores.
    One of the cruel realities of the tech world we live in is that it's easy to forget the human and family costs that come from retail strategies like the Amazon business model. In its distribution warehouses, for example, Amazon warehouse workers report of toiling in both extreme heat and freezing cold to meet unrealistic goals, sometimes to the point of needing medical attention.
    We ask Alexa about Amazon buying Whole Foods
    We ask Alexa about Amazon buying Whole Foods

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      We ask Alexa about Amazon buying Whole Foods

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    We ask Alexa about Amazon buying Whole Foods 01:15
    After a 2015 New York Times expose on the alleged practices at the retailer, Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos responded in a letter to employees denying the conditions: "I strongly believe that anyone working in a company that really is like the one described in the NYT would be crazy to stay. I know I would leave such a company."
    But the American people know what they read, and America's workers should never have to make such a choice.
    The reality is that hard-working men and women who work at Whole Foods now face an uncertain future because the Amazon model for grocery stores will likely lead to fewer jobs, worse benefits, and more automation. Sadly, it has less to do with improving customer service, and more to do with enriching Bezos.
    The employees of Whole Foods deserve better and should realize they've earned the right to a better life.
    Amazon hid the real effect on its workers behind a digital wall for years, but that wall will break down with the purchase of Whole Foods. The faces of those employees who will lose jobs, the families and communities impacted, will all stand as a stark measure of Amazon's brutal employee values.
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    Make no mistake, the American people, our families, our communities, and Whole Foods employees have a choice to make. Either we stand together and speak out, or let Amazon's values define a future where a chosen few are wealthy and millions struggle to find a real job.
    That is not the America we believe in, even if it's the America Bezos seems desperate to create.