Mike McGinn
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn says Whole Foods should pay more or get lost.
Dave Lichterman

The Washington, D.C., city council made national news earlier this month with its effort to force Walmart to pay higher wages at six new stores the company hopes to build in the city.

A similar fight is afoot in Seattle — but over Whole Foods. Mayor Mike McGinn, who’s up for reelection this year, is leading the charge against a proposed new store in the West Seattle neighborhood. Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat reports:

“I’m setting a new standard here, that we are going to look at the wages they pay, and benefits, when a company wants to develop with land that involves public property,” McGinn told me in an interview. …

McGinn contended in a letter that the nonunion Whole Foods pays “significantly lower” wages and benefits than other grocery stores, including some already in West Seattle. So the idea of allowing Whole Foods to go in there violates the city’s social and economic justice goals.

Whole Foods, as you might imagine, was gobsmacked. The company is no stranger around these parts — it has six hugely popular Seattle-area stores, employing 1,500 workers.

Whole Foods claims it pays nonmanagement workers in Seattle an average of $16 an hour, plus health benefits, but McGinn disputes that claim.

“If Whole Foods wants to open up their books and prove to us that they provide equal pay and benefits to the other grocery stores, then that’s something we would definitely consider,” McGinn said.

To get his backing, Whole Foods needs to make “meaningful increases” in worker pay. If the store is allowed to open as is, it will only drag down wages at the other stores, causing a “race to the bottom,” he said. …

“This is a new effort, and we’ll be looking at the wages and benefits of any large companies that want to develop using public property.”

The Stranger reports that the planned Whole Foods development is also “opposed by a coalition of labor, businesses, and residents, who worry about the project’s impact on traffic congestion, pedestrian safety, living wage jobs, and small local businesses.” And the alt-weekly notes that “Whole Foods is notoriously anti-union while the national supermarket chains it competes with here — Safeway, Albertsons, and QFC/Kroger — are all union shops.”

McGinn doesn’t actually have the power to block the store. Whole Foods is seeking to buy a public alleyway as part of its development plan, but the city council will make the final decision on that. Still, McGinn said he’s using the case to take a stand on income inequality.

Meanwhile, in D.C., Mayor Vincent C. Gray will make the final call on the Walmart controversy. He could either sign or veto a city council measure that would force Walmart to pay a living wage to workers in the city.