Denver Direct: Whole Foods Union-Busting – Phil Goodstein – Naysayer – July 2013

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Whole Foods Union-Busting – Phil Goodstein – Naysayer – July 2013

Historian Phil Goodstein

When Whole Foods, a national elite supermarket chain, worked out a deal with Sears around the beginning of the 21st century to open a Denver store in Cherry Creek, yuppies went into raptures. The new grocery was their beau ideal, a place which provided top-quality produce and a sophisticated food experience. More than that, patronizing the place and paying high prices made them feel good. It promised to procure its fruits and vegetables locally and from growers who treated their workers with a modicum of respect. Before long, Whole Foods swallowed a local chain of natural groceries, Wild Oats. Today, such fancy markets are a trendy rage. Mile High champions have noted their proliferation. This is especially the case among those who, while being appalled by Walmart’s efforts to get a massive handout to open a store at the site of the old University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, celebrated the announcement of an adjacent Trader Joe’s. Its presence, these affluent individuals were sure, affirms their lifestyle and the success of an enlightened, humanitarian capitalism.

Trader Joe’s, as with Whole Foods and most of the other places celebrated by the champions of high-priced, supposedly healthy dining, is nonunion. The owners and operators of these outlets behave like any other capitalists. Unions, they argue, are a big nuisance. After all, such worker organizations are a means by which wage earners stand up for themselves against these businesses’ self-portrait as benevolent, paternalistic corporations.
Nobody has made more blunt about the healthy dining industry’s thorough contempt for unions than John Mackey, the head of Whole Foods. He recently declared that having a “union is like having herpes. It doesn’t kill you, but it’s unpleasant and inconvenient, and it stops a lot of people from becoming your lover.”
Added to this is the filthy labor record of Whole Food’s suppliers, especially those contracting to provide it with healthy, organic produce. At the most, the store’s champions demand an ethical treatment of farmworkers, overseen by the likes of Mackey. A recognition that exploitation is at the heart of the system is beyond those celebrating the Whole Food mystique. So is a reflection that the self-righteousness of consuming organic produce changes nothing of substance in a profit-driven system.
Unfortunately, the Whole Foods experience is not alone. Those celebrating it and other high-priced boutique groceries are also usually those who bemoan thrift stores and businesses catering to the poor. City planners, in turn, go out of their way to court places like Whole Foods while backing public policies designed to put lower-income individuals and businesses out of sight. Precisely because unions are a means by which the many organize and fight back, they are so scorned by the leadership of Whole Foods.