According to the corporate “Declaration of Interdependence” posted on the Whole Foods Market Web site, the grocery chain is a place where “‘Us versus them’ thinking has no place.”
It’s a particularly handy slogan for management at the Tysons Corner Whole Foods Market on Leesburg Pike, which is girding for an April 4 unionization vote. And the collectivist mindset appears at loggerheads with a quiz recently handed to store employees.
The seven-question quiz bills itself as “a chance to show what you’ve learned about unions over the last few weeks and have a little fun at the same time,” adding that “everyone is welcome to participate regardless of his or her opinion of the [union] election.”
Organizers with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 400 say that it’s a bad-faith act of campaigning and an illegal poll of employees under the National Labor Relations Act. This week, the local filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, asking the board to investigate the quiz, along with alleged intimidation and campaign interference.
The questions certainly couldn’t be mistaken for pro-union talking points. “How many workers in the United States are members of a union (rounded to the nearest whole number)?” one multiple-choicer asks. (Answer: “d. 1 out of every 10.”)
Other quiz highlights:
4. The union steward is:
a. Appointed by the union and not elected by the union members
b. The person who the union thinks will be sure to put the union’s interests first in resolving any issues
c. The person who decides whether an employee’s grievance will be taken to the next level or be stopped, regardless of the wishes of the employee
d. All of the above
6. If the union should win the election at Tysons and become my representative for collective bargaining:xxxxxxxxxxx
b. I will be risking the loss of pay and benefits because Whole Foods already gives me better pay and benefits
Other questions emphasize the high cost of union dues and the importance of voter turnout among union foes in the election.
The quiz makes unions look “as horrible as possible,” says Whole Foods cashier Will Williford, who contacted Local 400 to start the union drive this past fall.
According to Chris Sauter, organizing director for the local, roughly 80 percent of the store’s approximately 150 employees hold positions that make them eligible for union membership. If they vote to join, the Tysons Corner store will become only the second of Whole Foods’ 142 nationwide stores to unionize.
Unlike, say, the threatened Patagonian toothfish, organized labor is not a thing that the progressive-minded grocery chain is interested in preserving. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey regards unionization as a symptom of the failure of the team-oriented workplace the company strives to create.
After a Madison, Wis., store voted to join UFCW Local 1444 last July, Mackey sent a letter to employees calling it “a very sad chapter in the history of Whole Foods Market.” He chalked it up to “the failure of the previous store and regional leadership to walk our talk….” Calling the incident a wake-up call, Mackey’s missive noted that those who face stress have two choices: “Contract into fear” or “Expand into love.”
Whole Foods headquarters is mum on the prospect of a second unionization. “At this important time, Whole Foods Market respects the rights of our team members at our Tysons Corner store, and because of our legal and moral responsibilities to them, and the process, we choose not to discuss the activities prior to the upcoming vote,” said a spokesperson, who also said Mackey was unavailable for an interview.
But that hasn’t stopped the company from quizzing its employees on the subject. And since the quiz doubles as a rafflea tear-off I.D. number on the top left corner allows the employees who ace the exam to compete for a $100 gift certificateSauter says it amounts to directly asking workers their stance. That, he argues, violates federal guidelines.
Williford also challenges the accuracy of the quiz material. Question 5, for instance, asks, true or false: “Even if a union member becomes dissatisfied with their union representation, dues check-off will insure that the union continues to be paid through payroll deduction.”
That’s trueunless a disgruntled member takes advantage of Virginia law and quits the union altogether. Then the ex-member can keep union-negotiated wages and benefits while losing the dues obligation.
“That’s not really explained there,” Williford says. “I honestly don’t think they want people to know that.” CP