Whole Foods: Fresh fruit, rotten benefits

NEW YORK – Over 300 United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) members and supporters, protesting Whole Foods’ anti-union policies, held a spirited rally here April 4 as part of a local effort to inform customers that the organic grocery store isn’t all its cracked up to be.

“Whole Foods presents a false image. They’ve created an environment that seems leftwing and progressive. But Whole Foods is far to the right when it comes to workers rights,” Patrick Purcell, director of organizing for UFCW Local 1500, told the World.

Nationally, union members make 28 percent more on average than non-union workers and are more likely to receive health care benefits and pensions. According to Purcell, “Full-time Whole Foods workers pay $250 dollars a month for health care. Employers in union grocery stores in New York pay the freight – dental, vision and family coverage.”

Rob Ecker, a Local 1500 member, said, “The union is very important. It keeps the standard of living at a level where people can take care of their families.” Adding, “New York is a union town. We stick together. We help each other. And we’re gonna get the Whole Foods employees a wage they can live off of.”

Whole Foods, the nation’s largest organic grocery store chain, which made $68 million in profits last year, has “spent millions to create an image as a good employer. But, their anti-union policies have lowered the standard for the entire New York community,” said Frank Margiotta, director of Public Relations for UFCW Local 1262.

“Non-union stores drop the standard for everyone, affecting union gains and everyone suffers,” Margiotta continued.

Currently only one Whole Foods grocery store, located in Madison, Wisc., is unionized. April Reitano, a worker from the Madison store, was in New York for the rally. She told the World, “Whole Foods wasn’t living up to its core values, its philosophy.”

On their website, Whole Foods boasts, “We are actively involved in our communities … supporting food banks, sponsoring neighborhood events, compensating our team members for community service … and contributing at least five percent of total net profits to not-for-profit organizations.”

It goes on to say, “Whole Foods Market believes companies, like individuals, must assume their share of responsibility for our planet.”

On the next five percent day, April 10, Whole Foods is expected to generate a donation of $20,000 to the Trust for Public Land, a national non-profit land conservation organization. While Whole Foods has shown that grocery stores can support organic farming, sustainable agriculture and “share responsibility for our planet,” they have done very little to share responsibility when it comes to workers’ rights to unionize.

Purcell quoted Whole Foods CEO, John Mackey, as saying, “Whole foods employees can fulfill their higher purpose of making the world a better place. They can experience love and joy.” But, when it comes to unions Mackey feels a little different. “Unions spread resentment and mistrust. Unions don’t want employees to be happy. Having a union is like having herpes,” said Mackey.

According to Reitano, “Whole Foods is about money. That’s the bottom line.”

“Whole Foods provides fresh fruit. And rotten benefits,” said Brian Petronella, president of UFCW Local 371, adding, “the only solution is to organize, organize, organize.”

The author can be reached at tonypec@pww.org