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Amazon trains Whole Foods to handle workers who want to unionize: leaked video

Krystal Hu
Reporter

Now that Whole Foods Market is a part of Amazon, the grocer’s workers are getting the Amazon employee playbook.

One week after some Whole Foods employees called to unionize, the premium grocery chain’s team leaders were asked to watch a training video created by Amazon. The video, leaked to Yahoo Finance, details Amazon’s view on unions and how it trains managers to monitor associates and handle any organizing efforts. Amazon (AMZN), which rarely addresses the topic of unions directly in public, has not been a fertile ground for unions despite repeated attempts by employees to organize. Yahoo Finance viewed the 45-minute video, first reported by Gizmodo, and share the unedited clips for the first time here.

“Unions pose a threat to the direct connection…We are not anti-union, but we are not neutral either,” an animated character said in the video. “We do not believe unions are in the best interest of our customers, our shareholders, or most importantly, our associates.”

Amazon’s internal training videos offer a rare peek into the e-commerce giant’s approach to unionization.

Amazon recognizes employees’ rights to organize a union, but the company prohibits managers and supervisors from  joining them, citing that they are “agents of the company.” The video uses a Q&A to ask viewers to choose if what associates say could be considered as “warning signs” of organizing. Managers are instructed to report any cases to Human Resources immediately, but it doesn’t specify what measures may be taken following the report.

In the video, Amazon offers guidelines on certain behaviors and phrases to help managers identify unionization efforts. Using the words “living wage” or “steward” is among the most obvious signs of early organizations. Other signs include an associate being vocal about worker rights, union graffiti and apparel and union visitors in or near the parking lot. 

The video also lists less obvious signs and changes in employee behavior, which “must be monitored very closely and should still be escalated to employee relations.” What could make an Amazon manager skeptical about associates? It can be any changes in daily behavior from how long associates stay in the break room after work to whom they hang out with. Managers should be alarmed when “associates who normally aren’t connected to each other suddenly hanging out together, associates who are close suddenly stop speaking to each other, groups of associates scatter when approached by management”.

Amazon doesn’t encourage managers to use aggressive language, but it does promote persuasive techniques. “Amazon prefers a mild opinion expressed strongly. We frequently and proudly remind associates of the values of a direct working relationship, but we avoid anti-union rhetoric.”

It also suggests managers use their own experiences to convince employees that unions don’t guarantee better working conditions and higher pay. The video referenced GM in the video as an example to show a business couldn’t stay competitive with unions.

“It is outrageous that Amazon would engage in this anti-employee behavior, but not surprising given what we know about Amazon’s lack of respect for its workers,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, after viewing the video, in a statement on Thursday. “Despite Amazon being a company that is owned by the richest person in the world, its wages and working conditions for its employees remain deplorable,” Sanders said. In May, the independent senator from Vermont introduced The Workplace Democracy Act to make make it easier for workers to unionize.

Amazon has publicly defended itself against Sanders’s criticism on warehouse workers’ compensation and benefits in August.  In a statement to Yahoo Finance on Thursday, Amazon (AMZN) didn’t directly address the issue of organizing, but emphasized its internal communication mechanism. “At Amazon, we respect the individual rights of associates and have an open-door policy that encourages associates to bring their comments, questions and concerns directly to their management team. We firmly believe this direct connection is the most effective way to understand and respond to the needs of our workforce.”

Can you be a qualified Amazon and Whole Foods manager? Watch the following video, which tests if you can tell the “earning warning signs” of unionization.

Do you work for Amazon/Whole Foods? We’d love to hear your experience. Drop us a line via krystalh@yahoofinance.com or follow Krystal on Twitter.

Read more:

Amazon bought Whole Foods a year ago. Here’s what has changed

Amazon and Whole Foods clash over products like Coca-Cola

Whole Foods to bring back employee stock option program after calls to unionize