SEATTLE — If you look around the city of Seattle, you see cranes everywhere right now. There are numerous development projects bringing big bucks here. But there is one project Mayor Mike McGinn is pumping the brakes on — the West Seattle Whole Foods development.
The lot at SW Alaska Street and Fauntleroy Way SW is the proposed site for the future grocery store. There is a city-owned alleyway on the lot that Seattle City Council must vote to sign off on before Whole Foods breaks ground.
“If we’re going to give away public property for private development, we want to know what they’re going to do for workers,” said McGinn.
McGinn feels the $16-an-hour average wage Whole Foods pays its workers isn’t enough — and also that it allegedly makes efforts to avoid providing health insurance for its employees, an argument often made about Walmart.
“What we see at Whole Foods is they are working to keep people below 30 hours a week so they don’t have to buy them health insurance,” McGinn said.
Some feel the wage debate is a bit unfair.
“My wife works for a temp company for $10 an hour and you don’t see anyone getting involved in that wage relations issue. To say there’s discrimination against employees for $16 an hour misses the argument,” said West Seattle resident Chris Howard.
Some feel the mayor’s stance is hypocritical, considering there are dozens of city jobs that pay less than $16 an hour, including an aquarium guide at $15 an hour and a golf course groundskeeper that earns $13.
“If you look at our overall wages and benefits in the packages, which we negotiate with our unions, they’re good wages and benefits overall and people who come into the city have worked their way up the ladder to lots of important positions in the city,” McGinn said.
The Seattle Chamber of Commerce issued this statement Monday:
The businesses involved in this issue have followed the development rules and now a whole new hurdle has been introduced at the eleventh hour. This sends a negative message to those looking to locate or expand businesses here in Seattle. This is not a time to invent policy for the benefit of politics, especially on an issue that has so many implications for businesses and jobs. Why would the mayor weigh in so late in the process for any other reason? We hope that the city council stays the course and follows through with the known and established process. — George Allen, SVP Government Relations
Joe Rogoff, the regional president of Whole Foods, issued a statement as well:
“Whole Foods Market has been in Seattle since 1999, when we opened the Roosevelt Square store. Since that time, we’ve opened 5 more stores in the metro area and now employ over 1,500 Team Members. Last year, we added more than 100 new Team Members solely from our continued, same-store growth. With the opening of a West Seattle location, we expect to add about 150 jobs to the area.
Our Team Members have voted Whole Foods Market onto Fortune’s ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’ list 16 years running. Our turnover is among the lowest of all grocers. Our wages start higher and cap higher than any grocery chain I am aware of. Our average wage for non-leadership Team Members in our Seattle stores is $16.15 per hour.
Whole Foods Market was also included on a list of companies with the best health care benefits, for offering Team Members 100 percent paid health care premiums. Our benefits plan is accessible to more than 91% of our Team Members. Added benefits like gain sharing, a shopping discount, access to training, and the ability to meaningfully participate in Team success contribute to Team Members’ appreciation, which, in turn, makes us one of the most successful and fastest growing national grocers in the country. In addition, and contrary to trends and current practice in most grocers, the Seattle metro stores employ nearly 80% of our Team members full time.
We’re committed to the health and well-being of the communities where we do business. In the past 20 months, we have donated over $325,000 to local non-profits in the Seattle metropolitan area, and we expect to partner with community organizations in West Seattle and participate in pursuit of their aspirations.
We’re a good employer, a good neighbor, and a good citizen and we’re looking forward to working together with the City of Seattle to get the West Seattle project rolling.”
The Seattle City Council has the final say on the project moving forward. A spokesman for the council told us he expects that to happen in about a month.