After visiting the Whole Foods in Fresno I remember someone on a mailing list trashing Whole Foods for their business practices so I did a quick search. Seems like the worst of their sins is being anti-union. My feelings about this are complicated. The dying words of a friend to his son were, "Don't go to Safeway." because they were a corporate market and he believed in supporting the local stores. My grandmother-in-law (if there is such a thing), a union organizer and Communist party member would go nowhere but Safeway for her groceries since they were unionized and the other supermarket in town wasn't and still isn't.
As an employer who is rather uncomfortable with the capitalist system (but not uncomfortable enough to form a worker's cooperative) the union thing bugs me also. While I am thankful the unions of the 1920's accomplished so many things, and saddened so many people laid down their lives for some of the rights that I in my former life as an employee took for granted, I don't see the unions these days as doing all that much for their members. Perhaps I'm wrong and I'd love for a rank and file union member to explain to me where but at this point unions seem as corrupt as the employers and corporations they were formed to fight.
In thinking about the corporate versus local debate I also have mixed feelings. Certainly as a small business person in a small town I try to support the small business person even when it costs me a bit more. As long as the offerings are equal that is. We now have a Starbucks in our sleepy little town. We also have 4 independent coffee shops I can think of. One is strictly drive through, another is in the center of town with nice artwork, good live music and strong local support, another is in a little strip mall near the health food store and always seems to be limping along and the last is in the same building as us.
I'll focus on the last one since the owner very prominently displays a "Support your locally owned coffee houses" sticker on her business and has had (long before they arrived) a "Friends don't let friends go to Starbucks" bumper sticker. Her shop is tiny and mostly focused on to go orders. There is a small counter in the shop where people can sit for a moment. There is also ugly, cheap plastic furniture out in the lobby of our building. The owner takes after her now deceased father in being combative and totally self-centered. She's been caught on so many occasions turning the heat for our entire 68,000 sq foot building down that she's had keys taken away from her. Why ? Because she doesn't want to pay for heat. I guess she's hoping her not locally roasted coffee (though we have 2 local roasters) will warm up her patrons.
So, if I'm going to a coffeehouse where am I going to go ? Probably nowhere since I don't have time to hang out in coffeehouses. If I were I'd go to the local one in the center of town. But if the choice was between Starbucks and the one in our building ...let's see. I can go to someplace with comfy, stuffed chairs, nice lighting, wifi access and decent (usually) music playing or I could go to a brightly lit shop and then take my drink under fluorescent light, sit on hard unwelcoming chairs and listen to the Muzak that plays before we open. Hmmmm.
It's not like there aren't other chains in town. There is a McDonald's, Round Table Pizza, Subway, Papa Murphy's, Safeway, 2 Rite Aids, Long's, not mention other types of franchise/corporations like Edward Jones, State Farm Insurance etc. I didn't see her getting up in arms over them.
Would I feel differently if an Olive Garden or some shit hole like that came to town? I don't think so because the customers that would choose to go there I don't want. But that's because we focus on our food, our service, our environment and mostly, on our customers. We are better than everything else around us. Does it puzzle me that people still go to places with shitty food ? Yes but not everyone cares about what they eat.
Whole Foods and Starbucks are at the very least pushing some ideas into the mainstream. Organic food, fair trade products, things can be good tasting, good for you and good for all of us. Should they unionize? I don't know. I don't know how they treat their people since I've never worked for them or known anyone who has. I know if my employees wanted to form a union I'd feel utterly defeated since we have tried from the beginning to be a business that treats people well, pays fairly and gives as many benefits as we can afford (even some we really can't). I would feel as though I had personally failed. How I would respond, I don't know.