Whole Foods firings stir flap
By Aaron Nathans
Capital Times, November 22, 2002

Two Whole Foods Market employees who led the charge to form a union there paid for a soy latte with their jobs this week.

Union officials allege the women were singled out for scrutiny because they were on the committee that got the store organized this summer. Both were fired Wednesday.

A customer ordered a latte with skim milk on Tuesday, and Debbie Rasmussen said she made it with soy milk by accident. Instead of pouring it down the drain, she gave it to a female co-worker, she said.

An hour later, they were called separately into the store team leader's office and were suspended for the day with pay, Rasmussen said. The next day, when they came into work, they were fired, she said. "It was something that happens all the time" among Whole Foods workers, said Rasmussen, who was a juice and coffee bar supervisor but was not considered a manager. "That's how I was trained ... I wasn't doing anything wrong."

Texas-based Whole Foods spokeswoman Kate Monteilh said she could not speak about specific employee issues.

"The reasons for termination had nothing to do with any third party that these individuals were affiliated with. It had to do with our rules and policies of our company," Monteilh said.

Each store has its own policy regarding the use of spoiled food, she said.

The store has been the site of an organizing effort after employees complained of poor treatment by management. The company put up a vigorous campaign to persuade the employees not to unionize, but they voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in July by a vote of 65-54.

The company appealed the vote to the National Labor Relations Board, and was turned down. The process of collective bargaining is expected to follow.

Union supporter Brendan O'Sullivan, a Whole Foods employee, said he expects the firings will lead to a complaint in front of that same board.

"There are a lot of people who are really upset, but I would say it's not necessarily split between union supporters and non-union supporters. A lot of people like Debbie a lot at the store, and (the other woman), and so I think a lot of people are upset by what happened," O'Sullivan said.

"I think it's pretty obvious that it was done because they're both a big part of the unionizing effort," he added.

Published: 10:33 AM 11/22/02


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