Whole Foods Has Labor Issues

Jun 03, 2003

By George Anderson

Whole Foods prides itself on being an employee friendly organization.

Some of its employees, however, are painting a somewhat different picture of the country’s largest natural food store chain.

Employees at Whole Foods in Madison, Wisconsin voted last year to have the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1444 represent them in talks with management. Compensation structure, health insurance premiums and dress code were all points of contention between store associates and management.

For Whole Foods, employees organizing ran counter to the image the company seeks to present to the consumer public.

Jennifer Chatman, a professor of management at the UCal Berkeley told The New York Times, “The chain prides itself as a unionless utopia where employees are team members empowered to solve problems. Because it’s a progressive company, it views unions as a sign the company isn’t providing employees with all that they need. If you look beyond the immediate financial implications, there’s a real identity issue here.”

Union organizing activity has not been limited to Madison. Stores in New Jersey, New York and even in Whole Foods’ hometown, Austin, Texas, may possibly face union votes in the future.

Moderator’s Comment: To what do you attribute the increase
in union activity around Whole Foods? What impact will a unionized workforce
(assuming it happens) have on Whole Foods?

We have to admit being surprised when an acquaintance
and former employee in store management at Whole Foods told us she expected
to see many more stores vote for unions. In her words, “When it comes to how
they treat employees, Whole Foods talks a much better game than it plays.” [George
Anderson – Moderator

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