While Whole Foods CEO John Mackey recently publicly inflamed the health care debate, behind the scenes Whole Foods has been quietly dismantling a key piece of legislation that would make it easier for workers who want to form a union to do so.
Whole Foods and Starbucks are backing a “compromise” to strip the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) of a key provision. The so-called “card-check” provision would require employers to recognize its employees’ union once a majority has signed union authorization cards. Currently, employers often refuse to recognize new unions even if all their employees have signed up. New contracts often take years to negotiate, meanwhile workers are frequently subject to harassment and sometimes fired. The card-check provision is so central to this legislation, it has been called “the card-check bill.”
Food industry giants from WalMart, to meatpacking titans Smithfield, and Hormel, to McDonalds have sent out an army of lobbyists to fight the pro-union bill. WalMart has spent $10.5 million in federal PAC spending since 2000, plus contributions to other corporate front groups lobbying against the bill.
However, unlike out-and-out opponents of the legislation, Starbucks and Whole Foods have built labor friendly images by supporting fair-trade and offering better wages than some other chains, despite being aggressively anti-union. Now it appears the retailers are cashing in on that image to modify the EFCA and remain, as Mackey says, “100% union-free.”
The hypocrisy is not lost on Whole Foods’ employees – one states, people need “to know just how false their [Whole Foods’] ‘socially responsible’ image is, especially with regards to their own workers.”
This summer Whole Foods employees are voting on their new health benefits package – the “choices” amount to a significant cut from the previous years’ packages. Reflecting employee discontent, a recent press release alludes to the need for unions to confront these cuts, saying that without “a method for organized, collective action workers can expect this promise from their employer, ‘Whole Food Market reserves the right to change, revise or eliminate any of the policies and/or benefits at any time.’”
Though reporters have discussed the EFCA compromise as if it is a done-deal, AFL-CIO union leader Candace Lund reminds us, “reports of the death of card-check have been prematurely exaggerated . . . We don’t have a compromise, just an article [making reference to the New York Times story].”
Lund’s support of the “card-check” provision is just one way unions are seeking better conditions for workers. Within the food system, organized labor has played a significant role in job quality. Research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research indicates that unionized workers in the retail food industry make 31 percent more than their non-union counterparts. The premium is even higher for part-timers (33 percent), non-supervisory workers (45 percent), and cashiers (52 percent). Union members are also more than twice as likely get part or all of their health insurance premiums paid through their job.
After the CEO's comments against health care proposa...ls in the Wall Street Journal, Whole Foods made a statement that those were his views, not the company's. To me, this casts doubt on that statement. And really, this alone is bad enough.
I know everyone one who reads Civil Eat hates Big Ag, including myself but to specifically point out Big Ag as the main group lobbying against Employee Free Choice Act (also know as card check) is to overlook that all of industry in every sector, big or small is against the bill. Industry is against the bill completely… no compromises because they believe they will win and how it is looking on the Hill they will. The bill is going to fail because of Dems like Senator Lincoln (think about what state she is from). Whole Foods and Starbucks are the only ones in industry willing to compromise with labor. They came out with a statement at the end of March of this year (below is the website to the post article). Whole Foods isn’t perfect but it better than the majority of large grocery stores in this country.