Living in the heart of progressive, yuppiefied DC, I know plenty of folks who would never step into a Wal-Mart -- on philosophical/political grounds -- but who rely on Whole Foods as their primary grocer. Whole Foods, after all, has done a damn good job of publicly portraying itself as a lefty-friendly company, what with its green credentials and its permanent slot near the top of Fortune's Best Places to Work List. Now, I've always thought that the idea of Fortune Magazine compiling a list of the best places to work would be like Colonel Sanders printing a list of the best farms at which to be a chicken, but whatever. The fact is that most people don't know that Whole Foods is run by a libertarian extremist, John Mackey, whose politics -- when stripped of a hippie veneer calculated to attract progressives -- look far more like Ayn Rand's than Barack Obama's.
The proof is in the role that Whole Foods has played in opposing the two most critical domestic agenda items of the Obama Administration. On the Employee Free Choice Act, the most critical labor law reform in over 50 years, Whole Foods has been in the vanguard of the corporate charge to kill the bill and keep unions on the ground. This is hardly surprising, as Mackey absolutely loathes labor unions:
The 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.
Mackey dresses his feelings up a lot prettier than Lee Scott, but he ultimately will do whatever he can to kill unions at Whole Foods and beyond. Far from supporting real labor law reform -- he wants to mandate free rider laws across the country and allow CEOs to start captive company unions. These are positions that would attract the ire of progressives were they uttered by Wal-Mart or Tyson Foods, but which get lost in the Whole Foods greenwashing. And it's not like the grocery industry isn't heavily unionized -- by taking such an extreme anti-union position, Mackey and Whole Foods are the exception, not the rule.
That said, I'm used to seeing labor rights issues go unnoticed by many progressives, and I'm consequently unsurprised that Whole Foods continues to draw millions of liberal customers attracted by the stores' admittedly excellent produce and fish selection. (I'm just happy that the unionized Giants and Safeways in DC have been rapidly improving their own wares.) But now, Whole Foods is messing with health reform -- and that's guaranteed to get the attention of pretty much anyone who voted for Barack Obama:
John Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods, said that while his company offers coverage, he worries that an employer mandate would lead to more stringent federal rules on what employer plans must include.
He said that would drive up the cost of employer benefits, motivating companies to end their benefits and instead let employees sign up for the public insurance option, figuring that paying a penalty would be less costly. This would result in eventual domination by the public insurance plan -- something Mackey suspects is reformers' secret hope.
"It's a Trojan horse," he said.
No public option, no employer mandate -- no effective health reform. No unions to bargain benefits. That's Whole Foods' position. What's yours?