Critics are calling on Whole Foods Market to change its policy banning workers from wearing Black Lives Matter masks while on the job, saying there should be “no place safe for racism” in corporate America.
More than 40 people protested Sunday outside of the chain’s Cambridge location, where seven employees walked off the job on June 25 after being turned away when they showed up to work wearing BLM masks, the Boston Globe reported.
“There should be no place safe for racism, and the only way that happens is if they say it out loud and stop hiding behind neutrality,” protester Jason Slavick told the newspaper.
Slavick, who lives across the street from the store, used to shop there but is now urging others to stop doing business at the location as he and other boycott organizers handed out contact information for Whole Foods management.
One of the employees who was turned away, Suverino Frith, 21, accused company officials of being “careful people” who don’t want to take a stand either way on the issue.
“They don’t want to alienate anyone,” Frith told the crowd. “They don’t really want to choose a side; they just want to seem like they are. Only that’s too bad, because we’re choosing a side for them.”
Days after the initial workers were turned away, more than 20 employees at the Whole Foods walked off the job on June 30 in protest of the company’s policy, WHDH reported.
“I don’t know what it is about Black Lives Matter that threatens store management, but silencing our support for black lives is silencing the customers and communities we hold dear,” employee Savannah Kinzer told the station.
Frith, a seasonal Whole Foods employee of two years, said he was surprised when he and his coworkers were told to leave over the masks, adding that managers have latitude in the policies they enforce, he told the Globe.
“With the core values that we have at the company, that we always talk about, it didn’t seem like that would be the response,” Frith continued.
Reached for comment Monday, a Whole Foods spokesperson confirmed that employees are barred from wearing clothing with slogans or messages that are not company-related in order to operate a “customer-focused” environment.
“Team members with face masks that do not comply with dress code are always offered new face masks,” the spokesperson said in a statement to The Post. “Team members are unable to work until they comply with dress code.”
Starbucks, meanwhile, reversed it’s policy banning Black Lives Matter masks and apparel to be worn by employees after similar backlash.
Cambridge City Councilors Alanna Mallon and Quinton Zondervan, both of whom attended Sunday’s protest, said they hope Whole Foods ultimately decides to follow in Starbucks’ footsteps.
“This protest shouldn’t be necessary to get Whole Foods to do the right thing,” Councilman Zondervan told the Globe.
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