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Is Whole Foods Just Another Evil Corporation?

Beneath the surface of Whole Foods' fuzzy, progressive image is a company hell-bent on preventing its workers from unionizing.

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And Mother Jones recently reported, "An internal Whole Foods document listing 'six strategic goals for Whole Foods Market to achieve by 2013 … includes a goal to remain '100 percent union-free.' "

Mackey launched a national anti-union offensive in January in preparation for the (remote) possibility that President Barack Obama, upon his inauguration, would make it a legislative priority to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, allowing workers to win unionization when a majority of a company's workforce signs a union card.

Although union card check is standard procedure in many countries, Mackey claimed to the Washington Post that it "violates a bedrock principle of American democracy" and has vowed to fight to prevent its passage here.

"Armed with those weapons," Mackey argued, "you will see unionization sweep across the United States and set workplaces at war with each other. I do not think it would be a good thing." Workers don't want to join unions anymore, Mackey declared, contradicting every recent opinion poll: "That so few companies are unionized is not for a lack of trying but because [unions] are losing elections -- workers aren't choosing to have labor representation. I don't feel things are worse off for labor today."

Whole Foods' nationwide campaign required workers to attend "union awareness training" complete with Power Point presentations. At the meetings, store leaders asserted, "Unions are deceptive, money-hungry organizations who will say and do almost anything to 'infiltrate' and coerce employees into joining their ranks," according to Whole Foods workers who attended one such meeting.

"According to store leadership," the workers said, "since the mid-1980s, unions have been on decline because according to Whole Foods 'theory,' federal and state legislation enacted to protect workers rights has eliminated the need in most industries (and especially Whole Foods stores) for union organization. … No need to disrupt the great 'culture' that would shrivel up and die if the company become unionized."

When rumors recently began circulating that a union drive might be brewing in San Francisco, the response from the company was immediate -- including mandatory "morale meetings" to dissuade employees.

But company leaders failed to address workers' complaints that they have gone without any pay raises sometimes for more than two years because team leaders have neglected to hold "job dialogue" meetings (known as annual performance reviews in traditional corporate-speak).

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There was a time in decades past when liberalism was defined in part by its principled defense of the right to collective bargaining. That liberal tradition was buried by the market-driven neoliberal agenda over the last three decades, allowing companies like Whole Foods to posture as progressive organizations when their corporate policies are based upon violating one of the most basic of civil rights: the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively. Indeed, Whole Foods has ridden its progressive image to absorb its smaller competitors and emerge as a corporate giant.

The Texas Observer argued recently, "People shop at Whole Foods not just because it offers organic produce and natural foods, but because it claims to run its business in a way that demonstrates a genuine concern for the community, the environment, and the 'whole planet,' in the words of its motto. In reality, Whole Foods has gone on a corporate feeding frenzy in recent years, swallowing rival retailers across the country. ... The expansion is driven by a simple and lucrative business strategy: high prices and low wages."

Indeed, Whole Foods now stands as the second-largest anti-union retailer in the U.S., behind Wal-Mart. Most of Whole Foods' loyal clientele certainly would -- and should -- shudder at the comparison.

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