The Woman Outside of Whole Foods and the Pink Flyer

Today I went for the first time to the Chelsea Whole Foods. It completely blew me away. It was gigantic and everything was so plentiful. Rows upon rows of fruits and veggies and a salad bar way more diverse than anything I’ve seen in the other Whole Foods I’ve visited. I’ll be there a lot.

Upon leaving, a woman handed me a pink flyer. Usually I ignore flyers, regardless of whether or not they’re pink, but the woman was forceful. Anyway, the flyer was relevant to the subject at hand. The title says: “The Whole Truth…At Whole Foods…”

I will reproduce some of its content here:

“Worker’s Wages and Benefits Don’t Climb As Fast as Company Profits

While Whole Foods continues to see huge increases in profits, same store sales and the value of its stock, workers complain that raises and benefits do not keep pace.

Whole Foods is clearly growing at a phenomenal rate of speed and accumulating millions in profits. As usual, this is done off the backs of its workers.

Workers continue to have no idea when their next raise will be or if they will get one. Meanwhile, workers at nearby D’Agostinos and Gristedes know exactly how much of a raise they will get every year, usually twice a year.

Whole Foods continues to claim their workers are the best compensated in the industry but continue to refuse to submit their wages and benefits package to a neutral party and have them compared against the UFCW Local 1500 Contract in Fairway or other Local 1500 represented supermarkets.

[Blah blah blah….]

Union Seeks Response From Whole Foods to Put Up or Shut Up, Customers Asked to get involved!

Eh. I’m not terribly moved. So the crux is they get no raises? Why not go work for Gristede’s then? The employees I dealt with inside seemed pretty happy. Also “put up or shut up” doesn’t really make sense: why would Whole Foods shut up? They’re not saying anything.

11 comments

  1. Perhaps, but Whole Foods also has a little union-busting history — which seems a bit embarassing for such a suppoedly progressive company. I was curious about the flyer the Amateur Gourmet got, so I looked up some of the back story.

    They’ve reportedly in the past refused to sign a pledge to improve the conditions for strawberry-picking unions, which even Kroger and A&P signed. According to this, anyway.

    And there’s all this weird stuff about their own employees — like in the Twin Cities and in Madison, Wisconsin.

    I dunno. I don’t know enough to have an opinion, but my motto is, keep an open mind about people’s labor struggles, even (especially) when they concern one of my favorite stores. :)

  2. Two of my daughters used to work for Kroger (pah – a pox upon them) and both were in the union. Unions were started to benefit employees but so much has changed…

    The insurance benefits were absolutely lousy compared to what other non-union companies offer. Employees at non-union stores also made more money starting out than my daughters made after raises.

  3. i just left my summer job at a wf in philly. very glad to be back to school in two weeks! that aside…there is a woman upstairs – very chummy and friendly – whose main job is to fire persons known to be in favor of unionizing. which is apparently nothing new for that 4-yr-old [store].

    funny to see this not only in philly but nyc as well…

  4. The “crux” isn’t just that the workers don’t get raises (although that is an issue more important than you’re making it seem — it’s fair to expect that a company like Whole Foods give its workers regular and fair raises, isn’t it?). It’s that Whole Foods is the natural foods empire it is today because of their (false) claim that they’re a different kind of company, progressive, friendly to their workers. They wouldn’t be where they are today if they were honest about the way they treat their workers. Trust us, we know: We’re the only workers who successfully made it through a union election so far — and we were crushed in the negotiations stage by a ruthless union-busting campaign. We hear from Whole Foods workers on a regular basis who tell us horror stories about being fired, reprimanded, etc. simply for trying to exercise their legal right to unionize.

    Sure Whole Foods is beautiful and fun to shop at — but it’s important to remember that behind the facade is a company no different from Wal-Mart and every other huge corporation in its labor practices. If that doesn’t move you, then we respectfully suggest you re-evaluate your priorities and values. Everyone deserves respect in the workplace; just because you see happy faces in the store you’re shopping at doesn’t mean that all is well…

    It’s also important to keep in mind that as the company has grown, they’ve been less and less willing to support local farmers; instead, they’re making sweetheart deals with companies like Dole and Del Monte — hardly the icons for sustainability and respectful treatment of workers.

    There are a *lot* of reasons to be concerned about Whole Foods — even if you aren’t concerned about workers’ rights.

  5. It’s good to hear these little bits from several perspectives. Me, I have a hard time being sympathetic to this particular example of failed labour organization.

    If you live in an area that can sustain a Whole Foods Market, you live in an area with a wide range of employment opportunities.

    Whole Foods does not owe anyone a job built to union specs. It’s not like this is some rural town where the entire population depends on the Whole Foods factory or else they will have to eat boiled tree slug stew and live in houses stapled together from carpet samples.

    I don’t understand what disgruntled WF employees think they’re entitled to – something not promised to them when they signed on? The right to insist (not suggest) that the company change to suit their ideas?

    Not that I’m a huge Whole Foods fangirl. I was a regular to the little WF on Lamar in Austin in the late 80s/early 90s. (Oooo, I remember well the drama back in the day when WF decided to carry Coca Cola.) WF was a little pricier than the regular supermarket in those days, sure, but even poor people could shop there exclusively.

    Today? Ha. And so much of the cool stuff they carry is now easily available at other stores or online.

    As for the feel-good marketing that leads to disappointment when WF doesn’t always make the most starry-eyed choice… well, like I said, I knew them before they started doing Coke. I got over the sell-out issues long ago.

    Besides, it seems like their dips into traditional capitalism have been good for them and good for us. Succumbing to the mainstream is why there are now WFs across the country, and perhaps it’s why other large grocery store chains are more amenable to carrying all-natural, etc., products.

    Assuming no employee has been literally stapled to the floor, I’d rather patronize the store with the happy employees than the one with the sullen moo-cow cashiers and shifty-looking stockers with time-clock stamped all across their faces.

    As already noted, WF has a *really* high percentage of *really* happy employees. You cannot fake the level of genuinely friendly and knowledgeable service you will usually receive there.

    It’s why I go to WF whenever I can. It’s why I go to Disney World, too, come to think of it, and we all know how evil (or “evil,” if you prefer) Eisner is.

    How about this: Why doesn’t the disgruntled flock of WF workers quit and join the ranks (and union) at Safeway, Kroger, wherever? Then, these employees could use that magical union power to make the traditional chain store even *better* than Whole Foods. I mean, if the lack of a union is all that’s holding WF back, then why not think big and do something amazing in a store already blessed with apparently untapped union might?

    Given the pro-active nature of the typical Whole Foodie, if the majority of WF workers wanted a union, I feel confident that either the company would cave or the employee turnover odometer would spin like some crazy animated GIF circa 1996. Talk about your bullhorns and Birks and slap-happy flyers.

    So, I’m reluctant to believe that some “ruthless union-busting campaign” terrorized a helpless village of WF orphans.

    I’m more likely to believe that some “ruthless WF-policy-busting campaign” workers are feeling bitter because, alas, this company they were infatuated with turned out to be, zut alors!, something different.

    As with all romances, you can’t change the other entity in the relationship. Either change yourself, or change significant others.

    In the end, the world does not owe you an organic Snickers bar.

  6. uh, excuse me… i think the point is that whole foods is claiming that their employees don’t need unions because they offer something so much better (ever heard of CEO john mackey’s right-wing diatribe called “beyond unions?”). i for one find that really hard to believe. i also don’t think it’s just “disgruntled employees” who seek to organize. i worked as a faculty member at a small community media arts college — sure we had decent jobs with decent pay; but we also had no say in our working conditions, course load, overtime, etc. we were also having our health insurance taken away. my guess is that probably played a big factor in the whole foods effort — it’s pretty common for retail chains to be paying less and less for employee benefits (hence the awful strike in southern california). why is there a problem with workers taking advantage of their federal right to form a union? what if those whole foods employees — like my colleagues andme — liked their jobs, but just wanted more protections, wanted to make their jobs better, wanted to make their employer stick to their word? it goes beyond being “disgruntled.”

    i don’t have a lot of tolerance for people who can’t feel sympathetic for retail workers. just because someone lives “in an area that can sustain a whole foods” doesn’t mean they don’t deserve the right to organize if they want to. last time i checked, working at whole foods is still a retail job, so it does tend to attract people who haven’t had any formal education, and whose employment options really might be limited.

    to expect someone or a company to live up to its own values just doesn’t seem to be asking too much to me. sure whole foods sold out long ago — but isn’t that all the more reason to support workers trying to effect positive change? seems like you of all people understand the hypocrisy of whole foods — the disconnect between words and practice.

    btw, if you’ve read any news coverage about whole foods and their labor stances, you’d realize mighty quickly that they really do wage nasty union-busting campaigns. in the face of workers trying to organize in virginia, they hired armed guards to intimidate workers. most companies trying to avoid unions also selectively hire and brainwash their employees — which may explain the preponderance of happy employees at whole foods? i don’t know. many of them seem a bit creepy to me.

    in the end, it’s because of workers who organized that anyone’s able to enjoy labor protections — like the 40-hour work week, the weekend, child labor laws, etc. probably all ideas that were at one time considered romantic or idealistic. i’d say that’s positive change that benefits everyone — and that’s a lot more than an “organic snickers bar.”

    and to suggest that because there haven’t been more unions formed within whole foods (or wal-mart, or borders, or target, and on and on) means they aren’t wanted shows a really frightening ignorance of how difficult it is to organize in today’s political climate. anti-union consulting is a billion-dollar industry — it almost makes one feel sorry for the companies when one considers how much power these consulting firms have — and they make their billions off of convincing CEOs that unions are the absolute worst thing that could ever possibly happen. it’s all about the money. and if you have any knowledge of the degree to which labor law has been chipped away, you’d understand that it’s really not as simple as snapping your fingers and forming a union.

  7. Dear AG,

    I do absolutely love reading your blog, and find you and your tales most refreshing and always endearing.

    That being said, I have to take issue with your perspective (and that of some of the readers above) around other peoples’ work lives. It’s a cavalier attitude at best to assume that if someone doesn’t like working at WF, they can “go work at Gristedes” or Kroger’s or wherever.

    Is it possible that anyone is unaware of the state of the economy, and the unemployment rate? Quite honestly, even entry-level retail jobs are hard to come by in NYC these days. A friend of mine recently applied for a job at Starbucks (!#&*%!) and was told that there were 150 applications in front of his. And this was just your run of the mill barista-in-training position. So those of us who may have the good fortune to be in tenured positions, or in school, might do well to think a bit more carefully about the work lives of those who are not quite so lucky.

  8. Julie, your complaints are valid and I should always be careful when treading in the waters of politics not to talk about things I really don’t know about. Unions are one of those things and so please forgive my insensitivity. I can still shop at Whole Foods, though, right?

    Adam

  9. Adam, thanks for your gentlemanly response. As a New Yorker, I share your love for Chelsea Whole Foods…especially since I live in a neighborhood where lovely groceries are not readily available (Spanish Harlem, also known in up-and-coming real estate ads as the burgeoning and fashionable new neighborhood Spa Ha). As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to travel 80 blocks downtown to Whole Foods just to buy perfect stringbeans and New Zealand lamb steaks and be inside of a food market ambiance that doesn’t (to vulgarly quote a friend of mine) smell like ass.

    I don’t know how organized this whole union thing is…all I know is that for myself, if I were to cross an actual picket line (and I don’t know if the lady w/the pink flyer really constitutes a “picket line”), the ghost of my grandfather (a shop-steward in the cigar-rollers union, and a “philosophical” anarchist) would definitely come back to haunt me.

    Although out of your neighborhood, may I suggest Fairway as a site for some of your future culinary explorations? I shop at both the Harlem site (off the West Side Highway at the 125th street exit), and the store at 75th and Broadway. Although the produce is not quite so pristine as at Whole Foods, the shopping adventure/experience of Fairway, combined with the array of wonderful unheard-of culinary novelties all over the store, is unequaled. Also, the prices are pretty good. (You do know, don’t you, that one of Whole Foods’ nicknames is “Whole Paycheck”?)

    Enjoy, and welcome to New York, New York, the city so nice they named it twice.

  10. i don’t know if you realize this, but the protesters are rarely Whole Foods employees, or even ex-employees. They are union employees and they get paid to hand out little pink flyers.

%d bloggers like this: