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Or, why shop at Whole Foods?

When the CEO and founder, John Mackey, goes from calling the Affordable Care Act "socialism" in the Wall Street Journal last year to "fascism" on NPR this week to "apologizing" for using the word "fascism" then conflating the problems with the US health care system with the Affordable Care Act, it is evident that Mr. Mackey is not a person with whom meaningful dialogue can produce productive results.  He is an anarchist ideologue, duping many, if not most, of his customers.

I'm not calling for a boycott.  I don't think that would be sensible, in a situation like this.  The intent of a boycott is to instigate reform or otherwise change the behavior of the target so that interaction can then resume.  A boycott of Whole Foods would be ineffective and possibly counter-productive.

The time, effort and resources required to find compromise with a person like John Mackey would be much better spent redirected at businesses and causes worthy of support.

John Mackey is the kind of guy who dispenses his co-CEO to sing the praises of his company paying an average wage of $15 per hour plus unspecified benefits while getting the Yahoo! writer to point out that Walmart pays an average of $12.  Fifty-two, forty hour workweeks equals $31,200 (i.e. no vacation).  The Kaiser Family Foundation reported that a single worker paid on average $5,615 in health care premiums in 2012.  Add rent, transportation and taxes and John Mackey is the kind of guy whose employees may not have much left to shop at his own store, let alone many of his competitors and alternatives (to say nothing of the average $15,745 families pay in premiums on $31,200 per year).

John Mackey is the kind of guy who scores a two-day NPR interview to state that he will have to reduce employee wages to offer them better health insurance:

It's driving up our costs. The thing that we'll find out in the next couple of years is what will be required that we cover. And they're going to add a lot of other things on that we don't necessarily cover right now under our plan that will drive the costs up. Somebody has to pay for it. There's no free lunch.

So if they raise the cost of our being able to insure our team members, then that money has to come from somewhere. It's going to undoubtedly come from the team members themselves. They'll have to go with more part time people or wages will be slowly reduced over time, or they won't grow as fast over time.

INSKEEP: You believe that you're going to end up paying your people a little bit less over time.

MACKEY: Yes. Inevitably, that's going to be the case. This idea that there's this big profit pool that you can somehow or another absorb the cost on is fundamentally inaccurate. It'll have to come out of the labor pool. There is no other pool for it to come out of.

Yes, it is inevitably going to come from the team members themselves.  There is probably not a "profit pool that can somehow absorb the cost" because Whole Foods just increased shareholder dividends, at a cost of more than $44 million annually.  Apparently investors need to be well compensated so that employees can listen to their boss complain about how expensive it is to keep them from contaminating food with their their illnesses.

John Mackey is the kind of guy who claims in the NPR interview that he agrees with Michelle Obama's goal to reform the American diet:

"People in America are addicted to sugar, and to fat and to salt," he says, and as a nation, it's holding us back. "Food is intensely pleasurable, and people are afraid that if they change the way they eat, they'll stop having pleasure."

Still, he acknowledges how hard it can be to stick to a health-conscious diet. Restaurant meals, he says, rarely meet his personal dietary rules — not just no meat, but also no oil or refined flour. Luckily, Mackey jokes, there's a Whole Foods to be found wherever he travels.

This is rich, from the guy who makes an excellent profit selling exactly these kinds of foods.  Hell, his company is called "Whole Foods" while nearly every aisle in the store is filled with processed, sugary, salty, fatty foods.  Sometimes the boxes say "organic" or "local" or "made in Boulder, Colorado" which apparently cancels out the negative health effects of eating the food inside.

But more than anything, John Mackey is the kind of guy who likes to throw around terms like "socialism" and "fascism" and "corporatism" with regard to the Affordable Care Act and then, when pressed to name a specific change should President Obama call him to ask for one:

Well, that's good question. I would say everything that rolls back the bureaucrats telling you exactly how it must be would be positive. The government shouldn't tell everybody how the insurance must be or how the doctors must treat people. Instead, if the government wants to provide a safety net for our poor people who can't afford insurance to buy insurance, then they should provide that safety net.

I don't object to that. That's fine. It's just these fascist directives that the government's handing down about how it will be and how corporations must do it that I object to. And I think it's going to raise costs, and it's not going to be a good thing on balance

So the government should not tell businesses exactly how to insure employees (without naming specific examples) but should provide insurance to those who can't afford insurance?  It would seem that if the Affordable Care Act would drive a successful business owner to throw around terms like "socialism" and "fascism" then it would be easy to rattle off two or three or ten specific examples of why.  But no.  More to the point, why can't some people afford health insurance?  Is it because a pre-existing condition prevents them from buying coverage?  Surely that is addressed by the Affordable Care Act.  Or maybe it is because they only make $31,200 per year (or less) and need to make the decision between food and rent and health care?  It would seem that Mr. Mackey's logic implies that citizens in this category should be provided government subsidy to purchase health care.  Fortunately for him, these people are his employees.  I guess the government wouldn't be telling him how to provide health insurance to his employees because the government would be doing it for him.  A true, personal responsibility libertarian!  Why do something when you can get someone else to do it for you, for a fraction of the cost and with better results?!?

And so, a person like John Mackey does not strike me as the kind of person who is interested in dialogue or willing to change his views.  As such, let's take our business elsewhere.

Originally posted to ABlueKansas on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 01:13 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    It's amazing what people will do to others in the name of themselves.

    by ABlueKansas on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 01:13:00 PM PST

  •  sigh: medicare-for-all (6+ / 0-)

    or medicaid-for-all, whichever is easier and faster to pass.

    Our tying of employment to health care is wrong.

  •  Does Mr. McKay not understand that most of his (8+ / 0-)

    customers voted twice for President Obama?

    Does it somehow make sense to him to piss them off? If so, why isn't his board of directors stepping in to provide some adult supervision?

    And of course, the writer is correct that I would prefer that the people handling my food stay home when they are sick. and yes, I get that the cost of my food might go up a notch at the same time, my lost productivity due to food borne disease might go down.

    I have never been able to figure out if Fox is the propaganda arm of the Republican party or is the Republican Party the political subsidiary of Fox.

    by Dave from Oregon on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 01:27:51 PM PST

  •  If Obamacare / Romneycare is so bad (7+ / 0-)

    for business, how come there are 19 Whole Foods in Massachusetts? I assume those employees have mandated health insurance and those stores aren't skipping a beat.

  •  Had a little fun today (11+ / 0-)

    Rather than walking past Whole Foods, I walked in and said to the first employee I saw: "Please tell the manager I'm not shopping here today because of the firm's position on Health Care." (Deer in headlights look ensues.)

  •  I planted my own organic veggies (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Messiah

    And herbs - that is my personal protest against Whole Foods. I do admit a couple of times in the last few years, I have bought some organic veggie seeds at the store that is right across the street from where I work. I consoled myself to think that most of the seed money went to the heirloom seed farmers not to the CEO of WFM.

  •  And to think... I thought 450K was "Middle Class" (6+ / 0-)

    Why not boycott Whole Foods?  There are a dozens of better places to spend your money of good decent food starting right at home in a garden, or at your local Farmer's Markets, or other retailers of decent food.

    “The object in life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.” — Marcus Aurelius

    by LamontCranston on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 03:59:49 PM PST

  •  Ok, WF is on my (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cartoon Messiah

    Don't buy there list.  Sigh.  On one hand my freedom is shrinking, and on the other, choices are getting simpler.

  •  My daughter works for Whole Foods (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    terabytes, indefinitelee

    They do provide health benefits to employees who work 20 hours a week or more.  The health care plan has changed since she worked there over 5 years ago.  The earlier plan was quite comprehensive with a low deductible.  Now, it has a $1200 deductible.  She was eligible to take the insurance once she had worked 400 hours.  She declined it and took out a health savings account.  The $100 per pay check premium and the high deductible were things she couldn't afford on her $10 hr. pay.   The premium ammounted to 25% of her gross pay.  

    “It is the job of the artist to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare say things that no one else will say."—Howard Zinn

    by musiclady on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 05:14:33 PM PST

    •  Interesting (0+ / 0-)

      was it really $100 per paycheck? the website currently says $10 premium. when i researched this a few days ago i found that one of the plans was a $2500 deductible and im assuming that coincided with the $10 per pay period premium. which, though high, would save a lot of money for people who did not meet the lower deductible plans in the past.
      I did basically the same thing with my insurance. Lower deductible cost $1200 more per year, so I took the higher deductible.

      They say they pay 91% of the cost of their employees plans, up from 90% a year ago.

      I think it is kind of funny that a place that has some of the best pay and benefits in the grocery industry is reviled because they are not good enough.

      Lastly, Whole Foods is the least expensive grocery store I;ve found in Brooklyn and Manhattan, excepting the park slope food coop but Whole Foods even beats them on some packaged goods. Soymilk for example, 2 half gallons for $5.69 never have I ever seen it for less.

      If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

      by indefinitelee on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 06:50:29 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  She told me it was $100 per bi weekly pay. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        indefinitelee, miss SPED

        Full time employees are offered a better plan, I believe, and I also think she can get a better one when she's worked 800 hours.  The plan that was available to her was the one available after 400 hours.  High deductibles are great it if you can afford them.  The problem is that if one has no money other than that needed to cover regular monthly expenses, a high deductible plan is like having no insurance at all since you can't pay the doctor's bill out of pocket.

        “It is the job of the artist to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare say things that no one else will say."—Howard Zinn

        by musiclady on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 08:00:52 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  true (0+ / 0-)

          in my case the cost of the lower deductible was the same as the change in deductible. i took the risk that I wouldn't use up that amount rather than pay it every month.

          Is full time considered 20+ hours per week?
          It would be great if she could show you some of their actual benefits documents since there seems to be a lot of debate and assumptions in diaries on here about what the benefits actually are.

          If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

          by indefinitelee on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 10:05:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  She lives in another city. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            She read a lot of the stuff to me over the phone.  20 hours is not considered to be full time.  I think there are additional benefits available to full time employees.  Those working 20 hours or more a week are eligible for one level of benefits when they have worked 400 hours.  They reach another level when they have worked 800 hours.  Obviously full time workers hit those totals much sooner.  There are a lot of options.  I believe she took out a dental plan and there are several health savings accounts.  I believe she is contributing to one of those.  She doesn't make enough money to save and she lives paycheck to paycheck, often having to pay some bills late.  A $1200 deductible didn't make sense to her because she simply couldn't pay the doctor up front.  She also doesn't use that much in a year, typically.  All of the discussions I've had with her really emphasize how fortunate I am to have a plan that has no deductible for in network services with a $15 copay ($20 for specialists--as of Jan. 1.  It was previously $10 for any docs).  My deductible for out of network services is $300.  I don't know how young people who are struggling manage with high deductibles.  I've talked to people who have $5k or $10K deductibles.  It's like not having insurance at all for most people.  Unless someone has a catastrophic illness or accident, it does little good.

            “It is the job of the artist to think outside the boundaries of permissible thought and dare say things that no one else will say."—Howard Zinn

            by musiclady on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 11:12:33 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  thanks (0+ / 0-)

              for the info. Obviously everyone;s situation is different.

              if she uses less than the deductible amount then it might be cheaper overall to get the high deductible plan, though obviously you run into the paying all at once problem if you ever do get really sick.

              If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

              by indefinitelee on Mon Jan 21, 2013 at 12:01:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Whole Foods Health Plan (0+ / 0-)

    As described by Mackey in several op-eds, a article, and Wikipedia

    CEO Mackey drew attention to Whole Food's health insurance program (offered through United Health Care in the US) for its employees in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.[113] In the article he called his company's insurance plan a viable alternative to "Obamacare". Whole Food's health insurance plan is notable for its high deductibles – $2000 for general medical expenses, and $1000 for prescriptions. However, employees receive $300 to $1800 per year (depending on years of service) in personal wellness funds, which are intended to help make up the difference. Once an employee has met the deductibles, insurance covers 80% of general medical costs and prescriptions. It should also be noted that medications and doctor care for the treatment of any type of mental illness are explicitly not covered by the company's health insurance policy.[114]
    This plan is basically the same as the NY State subsidized Healthy NY health insurance plan. There is a high and low deductible plan and no mental health coverage. I save about ~$40 a month by not getting prescription coverage because NYC has a free discount plan. So if I were to work at Whole Foods I'd basically get a $300/month raise. If I worked the minimum 20 hours per week I would get a benefit equal to $3.40 per hour, after 400 hours.

    Add in the wellness funds, 401k, stock purchase plans, etc. and you're paying your part-time employees $20+/hr.

    If you aren't outraged, you are an idiot

    by indefinitelee on Sun Jan 20, 2013 at 07:15:06 PM PST

  •  Bummer for me (0+ / 0-)

    Because I have been looking forward to the ballyhooed arrival of WF to Albany, NY later this year. (Trader Joe's got the jump on them by nine months or so, talk about living in a "food desert". :: rolls eyes::)

    But Small-banians and other Capitol District residents have publicly agitated for years to snag these food-ish symbols of the Good Life in America.

    Now, I'm afraid I won't shopping be at WF when I make the 80 mile round trip into town every month.  

    Still never even having been in one of these much-talked about stores (before TJ arrived last summer) I have been curious about what I've been missing.  

    However, I will not shop at a business that tries to demonize the ACA. If you are covered by a group health plan from work (as I bet Mr Mackey certainly is) you have no idea how difficult it is to find and afford health insurance on the individual or sole proprietor market. Even in a state like NY, which has a number of (comparatively) pro-consumer rules regarding access. Since access to medical care is often a life or death issue - even  more critically if one isn't poor "enough" to receive Medicaid benefits - so you, Mr. Mackey, have no moral leg to stand on.

    If you need to raise the damned prices a bit to comply with the law, then just do it. You don't have to like it just do it, because you know, it's the LAW!

    Losing my notional business won't break you - I grow vegetables and fruits for a living so I probably was only in the market for fancy Fair-Traded, Organic, Acai-berry flavored-pretzel sticks or something equally frivolous. But I'm pretty sure a good sector of your steady customers are probably Obama supporters, so you might want to think about this.  PPACA = fascism, not by a long chalk!

    I welcome your stupidity in a way. The other fast food chains that have stupidly stuck their oars in on this (Dominos, Olive Garden, Denny's, etc.) never got any business from me, so no sacrifice to skip them. But WF was on my list to visit when it comes; now I've got skin in the game.


    •  I work a block from WFM. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cartoon Messiah

      IMHO everything there is expensive except bulk purchasing. And I can buy in bulk from ethnic supermarkets for much less yet, so, I can get steel cut oats and multicolored lentils lots of places.
      Gluten free foods and organics are now sold at grocery stores. Kroger and Tom Thumb have sushi and olive bars. Health food stores are in many strip shopping centers in the burbs. Who needs WFM?

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