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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whole Foods and Developers Defend West Seattle Megaproject, Grocery Workers Union Rallies Behind Mayor McGinn

Posted by on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 6:20 PM

When Mayor Mike McGinn instructed SDOT to recommend rejecting a street vacation request for a proposed Whole Foods in West Seattle, citing "fair and livable wages and benefits" as a public interest that should be considered before transferring city right-of-way, I thought the decision was interesting because of the new precedent it set.

Whole Foods and the real estate developers building the project had a different, more defensive reaction. In a statement released through a public relations consultant (full statement after the jump), Whole Foods denied as "factually inaccurate" the implication that it is a low-wage/low-benefit employer, claiming that it compensates its "team members with fair and livable wages and benefits":

We offer training, competitive benefits, stock options for all team members, gain-sharing and much more. Company benefits include a team member store discount of 20-30%, health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses. Nearly all of our part-time workers can participate in our health care benefits. Our average wage for non-leadership Team Members in our Seattle stores is $16.15/hr. which is excellent for grocers.

For their part, the developers of the project, Lennar Multi-Family and Weingarten Realty Investors, issued their own statement expressing surprise at McGinn's comments, and defending the integrity of the development's design. The proposal went through "exhaustive vetting," and includes a public benefit package they value at "more than $2 million":

· Activation of a city-designated Green Street on 40th Ave. SW
· Creation of 5,000+ s.f. of public plazas and open space on site
· Widening 40th Ave. SW on the north end of the block
· Creation of 6-10’ wide bands of landscaping around the project
· Addition of a 5’ wide bike lane on Fauntleroy
· Curation and installation of public art
· Funding for design of a new city park on 40th Ave SW

Wow. So Whole Foods is a worker's paradise, while the proposed development creates "safe, walkable streets" and enjoys strong public support.

Not exactly, argues Tom Geiger, the communications director for United Food & Commercial Workers Local 21, the union that represents workers at the six unionized grocery stores the non-union Whole Foods would compete with in the immediate area (and that just today endorsed McGinn, lauding him for his "willingness to take action for regular working people "). When asked to respond (again, his complete statement after the jump), Geiger disputes Whole Foods' wage and benefit claims, pointing out that by refusing to publish their wage policy and pay scale, they make apples to apples compensation comparisons impossible. UFCW members, Geiger says, receive an additional $4.50 per hour in health care benefits, whereas Whole Foods workers are offered catastrophic care plans. "The Whole Foods Health plan is far more expensive for much lower benefits," argues Geiger.

Geiger also criticizes the current design for putting "safety and pedestrian traffic at risk." But more importantly, Geiger emphasizes, is the precedent that McGinn's letter sets:

This whole thing is not about Whole Foods or what they do or do not do. This is about whether a proposed development that wants to get public property is in the public interest. We clearly feel it is not and many UFCW 21 members and staff have said so for months at hearings in front of city staff. We as a union feel like elected officials should be doing everything they can to protect the communities we all live in AND protect and improve the wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers. This proposed development – as proposed – threatens both. We applaud Mayor McGinn on this letter.

Which gets back to the thesis of my original post. For regardless of the virtues of the project's design, of the public benefits package, or of Whole Foods itself, McGinn's letter represents an expansion of the notion of the public good that reaches beyond physical infrastructure to for the first time include human infrastructure. As such McGinn's letter serves as a policy statement that could guide the evaluation of future vacation requests, regardless of whether the council follows or ignores his recommendation on this particular project.

[Full statements after the jump.]

Whole Foods statement:

I wanted to contact you directly because the information that Mayor McGinn shared in his letter regarding Whole Foods Market is factually inaccurate and it’s important for us to set the record straight. The vast majority – 70-80 percent, depending on the store – of Whole Foods Market’s team members work full time and that will be reflected in the team members we hire for our West Seattle location. That’s opposite of many other supermarkets, where part-time employees are the norm.

We do more than provide team members with fair and livable wages and benefits. We create a great place for our team members to build a career. We offer training, competitive benefits, stock options for all team members, gain-sharing and much more. Company benefits include a team member store discount of 20-30%, health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses. Nearly all of our part-time workers can participate in our health care benefits. Our average wage for non-leadership Team Members in our Seattle stores is $16.15/hr. which is excellent for grocers.

In addition to our team members, we are also committed to the health and well-being of the communities where we do business. In every local community, we cultivate valued partnerships with a wide range of organizations – from school districts to non-profits to academic institutions. Programs like our Local Producer Loan Program and funds made available through the Whole Kids Foundation to add salad bars and school gardens are examples of this commitment to community. In addition, quarterly 5 Percent Days provide direct funding to local non-profit partners.

We’re proud to have been part of Seattle since 1999, and that our 6 metro stores now employ over 1400 Team Members. Many of those Team Members live in West Seattle, and they’re excited to work in their immediate community. We’re also looking forward to being part of this vibrant community as we are in so many others – socially and environmentally conscious citizens who contribute in many ways. This store will employ another 150 or so Team Members, most of whom will be local.

We’re reaching out in hopes to meet with Mayor McGinn very soon to share the facts and discuss how Whole Foods Market is absolutely in line with the City’s core economic goals.

Statement from Lennar Multi-Family and Weingarten Realty Investors

Thank you for the opportunity to respond to Mayor McGinn’s comments about our mixed-use re-development, located at 4755 Fauntleroy Way SW.

Less than two years ago, the City Council adopted, and Mayor McGinn signed, an ordinance creating the West Seattle Triangle Plan. The Plan calls for the vacation of the alley in this block and the creation of a new mid-block connector - goals this project has fully embraced.

Mayor McGinn’s comments are surprising given the Mayor’s past support of developments that add housing and retail along transit lines and bike lanes. In fact, our re-development is designed with alternate modes of transportation in mind. We orientate the project’s most prominent architectural feature with the West Seattle’s Rapid Ride bus stop, three transit lines run in front of the project on Fauntleroy and we are voluntarily widening Fauntleroy Way SW to add a bicycle lane.

The re-development furthers the Mayor’s sustainability and public safety goals, creating safe, walkable streets by adding wide sidewalks and creating a new ‘green street’ with public plazas and community open spaces.

This project is consistent with City process. Seattle has a very thorough process for deciding if a project has created adequate “public benefit” to vacate a site’s public alleyway. This process respects the inputs and recommendations from City Boards and Commissions and the public.

The proposal to vacate an on-site alley went through exhaustive vetting by DPD, SDOT, the Design Commission and the West Seattle Design Review Board. Under the City’s established process, the Design Commission unanimously recommended approval of the alley vacation and, just last week, the West Seattle Design Review Board also recommended approval of the project. Strong public support in favor of the re-development was seen at all meetings.

A public benefit package valued at more than $2M is the result for the West Seattle community and includes the following:
· Activation of a city-designated Green Street on 40th Ave. SW
· Creation of 5,000+ s.f. of public plazas and open space on site
· Widening 40th Ave. SW on the north end of the block
· Creation of 6-10’ wide bands of landscaping around the project
· Addition of a 5’ wide bike lane on Fauntleroy
· Curation and installation of public art
· Funding for design of a new city park on 40th Ave SW

The parameters for our project, including its size, footprint and scale, were guided by the vision set forth in the community’s West Seattle Triangle Plan and are strongly supported by the community. This was the Plan approved by the community and the Council, and signed by Mayor McGinn.

We look forward to continued dialogue with the City and our neighbors in West Seattle as the project moves forward.

Response from UFCW communications director Tom Geiger

1. This whole thing is not about Whole Foods or what they do or do not do. This is about whether a proposed development that wants to get public property is in the public interest. We clearly feel it is not and many UFCW 21 members and staff have said so for months at hearings in front of city staff. We as a union feel like elected officials should be doing everything they can to protect the communities we all live in AND protect and improve the wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers. This proposed development – as proposed – threatens both. We applaud Mayor McGinn on this letter.

2. On the Whole Foods claim – you cannot separate out wages from other benefits. You need to look at them as two parts to a whole. So on wages, we are willing to share the wage scale (a legally binding agreement voted on by the union grocery store workers and then signed by the Union and the Employer) and would ask that Whole Foods to provide theirs in return. Despite much effort, we have never been able to confirm wage policy/pay at Whole Foods. Frankly, I want to see the facts because I don’t trust their claim of wages on the face of it. On Benefits, our union grocery store workers have about $4.50 per hour paid from their employer to the health plan to cover costs for coverage. This has been accomplished only because the workers have negotiated hard for this over many, many years and have taken smaller wages than they would have had otherwise as a result. As Whole Foods does not provide quality affordable health care, it is inaccurate to compare their wages and benefits to ours. Far from it. Instead of paying $250-$300 for annual deductable (as a union grocery worker does), an individual at Whole Foods is paying over $2,000. Instead of a Max out of pocket as less than $3000 for a union grocery store worker, Whole Foods workers are having to pay over $6,500. Instead of paying $6 for a generic drug prescription (union grocery store workers), the Whole Foods plan would have a $1,100 deductable and then have to pay 20% of the costs after that as well. Instead of $0 for vision and dental premiums for an employee and family at a union grocery store, workers at Whole Foods would pay between $15 and $30 a week for this benefit. I could go on and on, but the point is clear. The Whole Foods Health plan is far more expensive for has much lower benefits .

3. Lastly, the proposed development would put a new grocery store smack in the middle of and area that already has SIX grocery stores. That is not in the public interest. And the proposal would put the safety and pedestrian traffic at risk in the very location where the City is trying to increase walkabilty.

 

Comments (32) RSS

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Baconcat 1
Developers make donation to centrist corporate sponsored candidate in 3...2...
Posted by Baconcat on July 18, 2013 at 6:31 PM · Report this
2
I say shut those fuckers down at Easy Street Records in West Seattle. $10/hr and NO benefits!
Posted by Or are they exempt somehow? on July 18, 2013 at 6:50 PM · Report this
3
I don't understand... if the UFCW is worried about the wages of Whole Foods employees, then why don't they either (a) convince more people to shop at grocery stores manned by UFCW workers (the workers must be worth what I assume are higher wages, so the service must be better, right?), or (b) unionize Whole Foods.

Why do they need the government to step in and subsidize them via real estate regulations?
Posted by madcap on July 18, 2013 at 7:03 PM · Report this
4
I'd rather work at Whole Foods than be a union schlub at QFC. Ever notice how happy and nice the staff are at Whole Foods?
Posted by Keep fighting Whole Foods! on July 18, 2013 at 7:04 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 5
Oh troll, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we wish someone would hire you.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on July 18, 2013 at 7:30 PM · Report this
6
@5 Sorry Cuntalina, I don't have enough tattoos to work at Whole Foods.
Posted by Whole Foodie on July 18, 2013 at 7:53 PM · Report this
7
McGinn playing politics again. Time to check his contributions from Safeway and QFC, who want to keep out the competition. Too bad McGinn wasn't in office when the Trader Joe's deal went through -- he could've stopped that one for them also.
Posted by Citizen R on July 18, 2013 at 8:32 PM · Report this
8
This bums me out. I would love to have a Whole Foods in West Seattle.
Posted by charity on July 18, 2013 at 8:42 PM · Report this
9
Very interesting that "McGinn's letter represents an expansion of the notion of the public good..."

And it's a good reason for me to reconsider voting for McGinn. Why not a "public good" test for every enterprise seeking any City permit or license, including The Stranger? I think government has plenty of regulation -- what we lack is wisdom and commonsense.
Posted by David Sucher on July 18, 2013 at 8:46 PM · Report this
10
I'm impressed. If only the workers at the proposed SoDo arena would be offered stock options and gain sharing in the NBA team...
oddly, McGinn has no trouble with the street vacation for Mr Hansen's arena. Heck, we don't even really care too much about SEPA or evaluating actual, diverse sites (two in Seattle Center is fine).
Posted by ChefJoe on July 18, 2013 at 8:56 PM · Report this
11
There ought to be a decent, national minimum wage, benefits, and rights package for all workers, like in continental Europe.* But then the plutocracy wouldn't be able to divide and conquer the little people, and distract the slightly less little people, with crap like Whole Foods vs. Safeway.

* Europe's economy was crashed by the American-triggered Great Recession, with help in Spain from a popped housing bubble and in Greece from unexpected debt -- debt that was hidden from regulators and the public with the help of Goldman Sachs. And then the recession was aggravated by austerity mandated by the ECB's rigid national deficit guidelines. Moreover, Europe's official unemployment stats are a lot more accurate than ours, which understate the real US unemployment rate by a considerable margin. (Even compared to the old BLS method, our current stats are gamed.) In other words, any jingoistic free-marketers who'd like to tie Europe's higher unemployment to their dramatically higher labor standards can just STFU.
Posted by PCM on July 18, 2013 at 9:01 PM · Report this
sperifera 12
As someone that knows the local grocery scene pretty well (as a vendor to them), I can unequivocably state that Whole Foods team members are much, much happier as a whole than any of the other national chain grocers (TJ's excepted, perhaps). They are better compensated, treated as human beings, and frankly, just end up being better employees. WFM works harder to get good people and it shows. Do I shop there? Fuck no, partially because they (at least their CEO) have spoken out strongly against the new healthcare laws - even though they are already surpassing what will be required.

And then there is the fact that WFM fucked West Seattle over on another location just a block or two away several years ago, leaving the project mid-build with a huge gaping maw known by the locals simply as The Hole. It's been an eyesore we West Seattleites are reminded of every day.
Posted by sperifera on July 18, 2013 at 9:16 PM · Report this
13
Nice propaganda Goldy. McGinn is doing nothing but helping UFCW in their fight to unionize Whole Foods, when the employees themselves don't want to be UFCW members. First McGinn helped pass a Sick Days proposal forcing employers to give 9 sick days for every employee - but exempting Unionized workers. That's so Whole Foods would could save money by becoming a union house, as some UFCW members get only 1 sick day per year. Since that failed to get Whole Foods into the UFCW, McGinn is now blocking a development that most people in West Seattle want in order to force Whole Foods to allow UFCW in. If Whole Foods relents, then this project will go forward. In the meantime, UFCW endorses McGinn and donates to his campaign. This has nothing at all to do with what is good for anyone but UFCW's power and membership dues, and McGinn's campaign coffers. Pretty fucked up. At least it's happening to Whole Foods, whose owner is a total dickhead. But bummer for those who live in West Seattle and want to shop at a decent grocery store, unlike the shitty QFC and Mormon owned Safeway.
Posted by WhattheHell on July 18, 2013 at 10:08 PM · Report this
Claypatch 14
Cheesis sliced on toast! Fer corn's sakes there is a *fantastic* grocery store in W Seattle, locally owned and committed to local sustainable farming and practices: PCC. Dont know if they're a union shop or not, but the employees are all happy and the place is great to shop. Screw Safeway, go die QFC, and most off all, fuck off Whole fuckin Foods.
Posted by Claypatch on July 18, 2013 at 10:48 PM · Report this
15
PCC's meat and fish departments are beyond pathetic. I swear, I wonder if vegans are running them the few times I'm forced to shop at PCC.
Posted by Plus Whole Foods has veal! on July 18, 2013 at 10:55 PM · Report this
seatackled 16
@14

Their site says they're a union shop.
http://www.pccnaturalmarkets.com/pccgree…
Posted by seatackled on July 18, 2013 at 11:01 PM · Report this
17
It's interesting that the UFCW actually put a figure on how much their employers are contributing towards employee health coverage. It's an interesting commentary on how employers can hide just how much (or how little) they pay employees by throwing in all kinds of benefits that are hard to quantify.

To me, that's another argument in favor of single payer health coverage. If you know your insurance will be the same no matter where you work, it's easier to make comparisons between jobs.

I don't understand employees who don't want salaries disclosed across the board. I've worked in places with widely published pay scales (the military, public school districts) and I've worked in places that make discussing wages a fireable offense (Comcast). It strikes me that at the latter, it's the company that stands to benefit from keeping wages secret, especially if your name happens to be Lily Ledbetter.

I'd be in favor of a law that obliges all employers to publicly disclose each and every employee's wage scale, including what the company pays in benefits. I think if anything it would be better for everyone all around. Both employers and employees would be much more confident that wages were fair.

As a nice side benefit, it would also give us a clear idea of whether or not unions were effective in helping their members earn more.
Posted by Corydon on July 19, 2013 at 3:38 AM · Report this
18
Where was all the union outrage when German owned, non union Trader Joes went in a couple of blocks from the proposed Whole Foods?

Safeway and Kroger (QFC) are not union every place they operate in the US, either.

I have family in West Seattle an I know they would appreciate having another grocery option besides the poorly stocked Safeway and QFC within walking distance of the junction.
Posted by WestSeven on July 19, 2013 at 4:38 AM · Report this
19
This seems like cherry picking to me. It's not as if Whole Foods is the worst of the bunch out there. By this logic, Safeco and Qwest fields should never have been built since, I assume, those Sodexho/etc jobs are basically minimum wage and likely offer no benefits whatsoever.
Posted by fetish on July 19, 2013 at 4:47 AM · Report this
20
What about the public good of creating more jobs?
Posted by ourkind on July 19, 2013 at 5:39 AM · Report this
Banjax 21
Sheesh.
1. As a CD resident: West Seattle is already a shopper's paradise to me.
2. Everything I need to know about Weingarten I learned from their neglected properties at 23rd & Jackson.

While redlined (in commercial terms, at least) South Seattle/CD remains in dire need of amenities, quaint West Seattle is being Ballardized, pounded with outsized developments.
Aggressive, tone-deaf developers like Texas–based Weingarten smell money there (unlike in my neighborhood, strangely—I put it down to racism), and as they use and abuse the charm of the Junction to line their own pockets, they suck the place dry.
Locals in WS are organizing, hoping to get a voice in the matter. I support them.
Posted by Banjax on July 19, 2013 at 8:22 AM · Report this
22
Based on this decision alone, anyone voting for McGinn is a fucking idiot.

This will be challenged in court, and the City will have to pay for this stupid fucking decision... The SCOTUS just ruled that the government can't dictate what a person does with land, and while vacating an alley is theoretically the city's property, the way the city applies this is completely inconsistent.

Whole Foods would be a major win for West Seattle.

McGinn Doctrine... that's just fucked up.
Posted by Man_in_the_mirror on July 19, 2013 at 8:33 AM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 23
@22, it's a meaningful gesture in the right direction. I am willing to pay my share of the costs of defending this. I don't think Whole Foods is the devil, but their unionbusting earned them the privilege of having to fight for our alley. I have voted for McGinn, but never actually liked him until now. Funny what it takes to win over some people.
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on July 19, 2013 at 8:46 AM · Report this
24
If someone could build a supermarket or two at 35th and Morgan or a bit south, or anywhere at all on Delridge, they'd be doing West Seattle one heck of a favor.

I bet you could get all the extra building permits you asked for, if you decided to put up an alternative to convenience stores anywhere in the 5-mile desert* between the bridge and the Westwood Village QFC.

 

* Pink: low food access, green: low access and low income. Source. To reproduce, search for 'seattle 98106', open 'component layers', and tick 'low access at 1 and 10 miles.' Food access is noticeably worse in West Seattle than in South Seattle.
Posted by robotslave on July 19, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
Max Solomon 25
@24: that's what the unfinished parcel at High Point was planned to be. but getting someone to do it? the SHA's been 5+ years trying.
Posted by Max Solomon on July 19, 2013 at 1:06 PM · Report this
AlaskanWayViaducks 26
@13. Seattle paid sick leave law does not exempt unions. It allows collective bargained contracts to opt out. That is very different, and the purpose is to allow union members to tweak certain provisions in order to gain other benefits. For example, lets say a union bargains for 6 days instead of 9, because their short term disability kicks in after 6. Then maybe they can use this cost savings to lower HC premiums.

Why, you might ask, can't non-union employers have the same flexibility? Well, simply, because non-union employees don't get to bargain and vote on whether to accept the opt out, which union employees do.

@18 Trader Joe's wasn't asking for a transfer of public land.
Posted by AlaskanWayViaducks on July 19, 2013 at 2:20 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 27
@17,

Both employers and employees would be much more confident that wages were fair.


I suspect the former group is the one that would have the problem with it.

I actually would be willing to forgo being able to sue for pay discrimination if I could find out what I earn in comparison with other people with similar job descriptions. I've long suspected that my company is massively under compensating me, but how do I prove it? Knowing if what I make is in line with my coworkers who have similar experience and responsibilities would make it easier for me to decide whether to stay or go.

But employers don't want that; they don't want to lose the people they've been fucking over. Thus, the secrecy.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 19, 2013 at 2:29 PM · Report this
28
A divisive, short-sighted, gimmicky abuse of power.

Economic growth itself is in the public interest. There are hundreds of carpenters, accountants, etc. who will gain work from this mixed use project --- it's not all about Whole Foods. I suppose we'd rather have a vacant lot welcoming people into West Seattle.

Heck, purely on the Whole Foods front, having more people eating nutritiously is in the public interest. It's not like it's a McDonald's coming in. God forbid the private sector accomplish the goal of making Seattleites healthier, rather than some government scheme.
Posted by GSDH on July 19, 2013 at 3:44 PM · Report this
29
"Wow. So Whole Foods is a worker's paradise."

Could the Slog be any more adolescent when it comes to business coverage? I didn't even talk like that when I was a 15-year-old socialist.
Posted by PS on July 19, 2013 at 4:01 PM · Report this
30
Yep, there are six Whole Foods stores in Seattle. McGinn waits until the week the primary ballots are mailed out to bleat about a proposed store #7. Gosh. What courage!
Posted by Noicons on July 19, 2013 at 9:06 PM · Report this
31
Whether or not we want to legislate wage issues through land use code, you don't wait until a project and alley vacation request have been through months of community input, Design Review Board and Design Commission meetings and approvals and THEN add another hoop. Development costs money and this project is millions of dollars into the process. Vet the idea, examine the consequences, allow for public process, then implement.
Posted by timing sucks on July 21, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
32
@31, it's not about the land use code, or about wage issues. It's about a desperate, flailing campaign by a mayor whose unpopularity continues to expand. He's the classic epileptic in the swimming pool, pretending it's a jacuzzi.
Posted by Noicons on July 24, 2013 at 11:10 PM · Report this

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