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Whole Foods Isn’t Anti-Union, It’s Beyond Unions: Whole Foods Co-CEO John Mackey

Lauren Lyster

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market (WFM), is advocating a model of doing business that is a type of free-enterprise capitalism, where companies commit to a higher purpose beyond profits and seek to serve and align all shareholders involved (e.g. employees, investors, suppliers). He touts this philosophy as largely responsible for Whole Foods’ growth and success over the years and urges other businesses to do the same in his new book with co-author Raj Sisodia, Conscious Capitalism: Liberating the Heroic Spirit of Business.

Related: Whole Foods’ Co-Founder Pushes For “Conscious” Not “Crony” Capitalism

But Mackey's view of what is "conscious" in business does not come without criticism.

For example, Whole Foods has been accused of being anti-union. A joint article from Alternet and the environmental nonprofit GlobalPossibilities.org argues that Whole Foods, “the second largest union-free food retailer behind Walmart, has taken a position that unions are not valid.” The article reports that the company gives workers a pamphlet titled “Beyond Unions," which has helped to fend off unionizing attempts in several cities.

The article also quotes Mackey comparing unions to “herpes" and poses the question, “What happens when companies like WFM, which have carefully cultivated their progressive images, start acting like Walmart (WMT)?”

Mackey tells The Daily Ticker this criticism is unwarranted.

“Whole Foods isn’t anti-union,” Mackey says. “Our team members are not being prevented from joining unions, they’ve chosen not to...Why would they want to join a union? Whole Foods has been one of [FORTUNE’S] 100 best companies to work for for the last 16 years. We’re not so much anti-union as beyond unions.”

Related: Whole Foods CEO: Here’s Why We Pay Our Employees More Than We Have To

Mackey tells The Daily Ticker he sees his views, as expressed in Conscious Capitalism, are in line with the Whole Foods brand image. “This is where the future is going to be, very progressive,” he notes.

In the past, Mackey's views have reportedly created controversy with customers. Mackey stirred a conversation about healthcare reform and the ire of some customers, according to the Wall Street Journal, after a 2009 Op-Ed in the paper proposing alternatives to Obamacare and questioning the notion that people have an intrinsic ethical right to health-care. As recently as January , he characterized Obama’s Affordable Care Act as “fascism” in an NPR interview, though he later told CBS he regretted using that word.

Despite these examples, Mackey takes issues with the idea he’s politically vocal. “I don’t think I’m that vocal,” he says, “I’m not out crusading on political issues, but the media tends to sensationalize things.”

As far as what’s next for Whole Foods, Mackey says they will continue to empower team members to innovate and will rollout what works to other stores. And while WFM has expanded to Canada and the U.K., Mackey says they don’t have immediate plans for additional expansion, but in long term will continue to do so.

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