We’ve written about fair wages here often and NBN was glad to read about Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn’s battle with Whole Foods. A controversy has emerged over the Mayor’s lack of support for efforts to open a new store in West Seattle because he believes that the non-union (our adjective, not his) retailer is likely to drive down wages for other grocery workers in the city.
The issue arose when a West Seattle developer asked the city for the deed to a city owned alley as part of a major residential and retail development that would include Whole Foods. As reported in MyNorthwest.com (see link above) Mayor McGinn stated that “When we give away a piece of public property, we are allowed to look at the public benefits”
While Whole Foods’ Joe Rogoff claims the chain pays better than average for grocery workers in the region the Mayor disagreed. Citing unusually high co-payments for workers health insurance benefits, McGinn stated “”Full time Whole Foods employees pay up to $207 per week in premiums for family medical. By contrast, first year full timers at the local grocer PCC pay only $6.25 per week for full family coverage.”
Of course comparing a cooperative natural and organic grocer, even a big and successful one like PCC (Puget Consumers’ Co-op) to a publicly traded, yet community-minded grocer is an unfair comparison. Both PCC and Whole Foods are great places to shop and on the surface are very much alike. But one is not like the other.
PCC is the largest member owned food cooperative in the U.S. Founded in 1953 as a fifteen family food buying club, today PCC operates ten stores in the Puget Sound region; stores are open to both members and non-members. But like any successful cooperative, PCC steers profits to its workers and members rather than to investors and stockholders. Better benefits is part of their game plan. No one cares what Wall Street thinks about them at PCC.
On the other hand people tend to paint Whole Foods with a broad brush avoiding shades of gray. Here are the facts as we see them: Whole Foods pays better wages than most service sector retail jobs but when compared to union paying supermarket jobs twenty years ago, they are meager indeed. The benefits aren’t bad but if the measurement of a good job is a vital living wage and strong benefits they’re flunking out. If you put Whole Food’s grade on a bell curve they shine bright because so many other leading retailers are so greedily indifferent.
Finally one more thing. As written here NBN believes that Whole Foods CEO Mackey actually cares about creating benefits for workers and the community far beyond the almighty altar of the free market bottom line. Its just that with his libertarian point of view, he adds the math up incorrectly. Said another way if more businesses acted like Whole Foods sure we’d be better off but probably still grinding our teeth. If more businesses were run like PCC it’s hard to imagine how better off we’d be.