FAIR TRADER

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Saturday, December 10, 2005

Whole Foods Market

While union activists chastise Whole Foods and other Natural Food Stores for not encouraging their workers to unionize, it is important to understand that Whole Foods is not the worse employer:

Each store had a book in the office that listed the pay of every employee for the previous year. The book was available to anyone -- and was especially valuable if you were promoted or if you relocated, and wanted to see how your pay compared with your colleagues'. The pay book, surprisingly little used, set a tone of what Mackey called "no secrets management."

... Mackey flies commercial and likes to rent the cheapest car. A half-dozen times a year, his two senior operating executives -- A.C. Gallo and Walter Robb, each of whom runs half the country for Whole Foods, from Boston and San Francisco, respectively -- come to Austin and stay at Mackey's house. They make their own beds, and talk shop at 6:45 a.m. over soy yogurt and fruit. Mackey "is hardly a manager at all," says a former executive who reported to him for years. "He's an anarchist."

... executive salaries are now limited to 14 times frontline workers' pay. The salary book is still in every store. If you want to join a team -- including, say, the national IT team -- you still need a two-thirds thumbs-up vote. Nonexecutive employees hold 94% of company stock options. And just last year, the National Leadership Team took the health-insurance options to employees for a vote. (Whole Foods pays 100% of the cost for full-timers.)


The CEO seems quite open-minded and compassionate: read the start of this article to see how a series of email exchanges with an animal rights activist changed his life. Unions are usually good things to have, but is it a high priority to unionize these stores? Walking around Whole Foods, I am struck by how happy and friendly the workers are. From what I've read, workers have plenty of input. "If all you have is a hammer, does everything start looking like a nail?"

Whole Foods nurtures other organic companies as well:

Organic Valley cooperative, a large national supplier of organic milk, grew up alongside Mackey and Whole Foods -- "When they would open a single store, we would increase our production," says Organic Valley's marketing chief, Theresa Marquez. And Whole Foods' markets are still 16% of Organic Valley's business, but no longer its number-one customer. Organic Valley's biggest account is Publix, a classy regional supermarket chain in the Southeast that is five times the size of Whole Foods -- and thoroughly mainstream. "Sixty percent of our business is the mass markets," says Organic Valley CEO George Siemon.

Wow: Organic Valley is a cool company, and they are now supplying Publix! You have to give Whole Foods some credit for helping them grow.

National unions, and labor activists should save their resources for the important battle ahead: unionize Wal-Mart first. You change Wal-Mart, you change the world.

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