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Natural Products Expo attendees were greeted by protesters at the annual event in Boston on Thursday as three advocate groups -- Teamsters, Jobs with Justice and Organix Consumers Association -- picketed against Whole Foods. The protesters targeted the Austin, Texas-based grocer’s CEO, John Mackey, for publicly opposing President Obama’s plans for health care reform in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece in August.
The groups distributed informational pamphlets on the show floor, arranged for an airplane to fly a “Whole Foods Don’t Bash Obama” banner overhead and presented the company with a “Mean-Spirited Award” at the expo’s award ceremony in parody of the annual “Spirit of Organic Award.”
Although Whole Foods declined Progressive Grocer’s request for comment, on the grounds that the grocer’s policy prevents releasing such information to trade publications, the company released a statement addressing the Boston protests, and focusing on the role of unions and their associates in the protests.
“Many of the individuals who have been protesting at Whole Foods Market locations are either union members or organizations affiliated with unions. We believe the unions are taking advantage of the situation to spread additional misinformation about Whole Foods Market and John Mackey in order to push their own agenda,” read the statement. “Whole Foods Market values the health and happiness of each and every one of our 51,000-plus Team Members, and we offer a very competitive benefits package that is one of the best in our industry both in union and non-union environments.”
The protests first began in August when Mackey’s op-ed piece came under fire for questioning Obama’s belief in an intrinsic right to health care. In the piece, Mackey claimed that health should be maintained by the empowerment of the individual, rather than government control, as reported by PG last month. Public outrage and a call for boycotts immediately followed.
Soon after publication, Mackey penned a blog on the Whole Foods Web site to iterate that the company held no official position on health care reform, as well as to try to quell the blossoming outrage. “I fully realize that there are many opinions on the health care debate, including inside my own company,” he wrote. “As we, as a nation, continue to discuss this, I am hopeful that both sides can do so in a civil manner that will lead to positive change for all concerned.”