Out of 30 tuna fish sandwiches bound for the trash, 57-year-old Whole Foods employee Ralph Reese set aside one for himself, to be eaten at the end of his shift last November. But an unnamed supervisor at the Union Square supermarket (let's call him Inspector Javert) noticed the sandwich sitting on the deli counter and demanded to know why it wasn't on its way to a landfill. After Reese explained that he intended to eat it, Javert threw it out, and Reese was fired two days later, because, the company claims, he was essentially attempting to steal the sandwich; Whole Foods policy dictates that food cannot consumed by employees without being purchased.
And because Reese was fired for "misconduct," he was denied unemployment benefits. Elizabeth A. Shollenberger, director of government benefits and consumer law for Queens Legal Services, represented Reese as he protested the misconduct classification. She tells City Room, "A lot more people are getting fired for very minor reasons. What we are seeing is that they are firing people for ‘misconduct’ when what they are really doing is downsizing and it’s an attempt to not pay benefits... I’m not going to shop at Whole Foods anymore. Their behavior was outrageous, the way they treated this man."
Reese had worked at Whole Foods for two years and had transferred to the deli from the grocery department, where he says his previous supervisor let employees take damaged food. He explains, "They can’t sell them. They can only write them off as a loss. That is why they throw them out." Last month an administrative law judge ruled that since Reese did not eat the food or take it out of the store, the incident did not "rise to the level of misconduct." Reese is still unemployed, but he started receiving his benefits two weeks ago. He says, "All of this over something that was going in the garbage."Soup is good food!