Mayor opposes controversial West Seattle Whole Foods project proposal

Mayor Mike McGinn said Monday that "we will not forward a recommendation" to approve a controversial development proposal in West Seattle.

SEATTLE — Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says before the city gives a developer a city-owned alley to build a new store in West Seattle, Whole Foods Market needs to prove it pays its workers a decent living wage.

"Because the anchor tenant has significantly lower wages than others in the area, we've decided that it doesn't meet out public benefit test to give up property," said McGinn. He wrote a letter to the Seattle Department of Transportation, outlying his recommendation to deny the alley vacation request. "If they came back to the table and say we could work on some kind of agreement where we'd agree to provide living-wage jobs, that's something we'd look at then recommending the street vacation," said McGinn.

We asked the mayor if he was singling out Whole Foods. He answered, "This is about if somebody is going to ask us to give them public property or public dollars -- we're allowed to take a look at public benefits we get."

He believes Whole Foods does not offer its employees a reasonable health insurance plan compared to other unionized grocery stores in West Seattle.
"We have seven stores in the area that pay good wages but also pay good benefits as well so if you do a comparison of the whole compensation  package, not just wages, Whole Foods doesn't compare," said McGinn.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods said, "With regards to the health care plan, full-time team members can join the health care plan (medical, dental, vision) for no more than $10/paycheck. To reiterate, the vast majority – 70 to 80 percent depending on the store location – are full time. Whole Foods offers health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses. Nearly all of Whole Foods Market part-time workers can participate in the health care benefits."

However, Whole Foods did not go into detail on the premiums and deductibles for coverage.

In comparison, Tom Geiger with the United Food and Commercial Workers 21 said that unionized grocery store employees  health care is much less expensive than what Whole Foods offers. Geiger said preventative care is covered 100 percent.

As for grocery store workers in unionized stores like QFC, Safeway, Albertson's and Fred Meyer, UFCW21 says they make a range from $9.29 an hour to $19.20 an hour.

The plan is to build a  41,000-square-foot store on Fauntleroy Way South between Edmonds and Alaska.

A spokesperson for Whole Foods blasted what the mayor said about what it pays its employees. "The information that Mayor McGinn shared in his letter regarding Whole Foods Market is factually inaccurate and it's important to set the record straight. The vast majority -- approximately 70 percent -- 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 conventional 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, health care coverage for domestic partners and a health spending account to help cover health care expenses.

"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 nonprofits to academic institutions. Programs like our Local Producer Loan Program, funds made available through the Whole Kids Foundation to add salad bars and school gardens in schools and our 5 Percent Days are just a few examples of this commitment to community. We're looking forward to being part of the vibrant community of West Seattle. We'd like to meet with Mayor McGinn very soon, share the facts, and discuss how Whole Foods Market is absolutely in line with the city's core economic goals."

Whole Foods says the average worker at a Seattle store makes $16.15 an hour. Hourly employees start at $11.00 an hour  and can go up to $29.00 an hour – excluding store leadership.

Though the mayor did not make a recommendation in favor of the project, it is ultimately the City Council's decision to approve the alley vacation.

"Anytime we see someplace we can improve or make the public feel safer, absolutely we are going to do it," Hicks said.

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