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Seattle the next Detroit? Dori talks to union about political pressure to block development

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn received the endorsement of the union representing grocery workers after the mayor recommended the city not approve Whole Foods' request to buy a public alleyway for a new shop in West Seattle unless the company paid its employees a "livable wage." (Fuller Sears Architects)

The spokesman of the union representing grocery workers insists they didn’t offer Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn an endorsement strictly because he took a stand against a new Whole Foods store proposed for West Seattle.

McGinn received the endorsement of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union last week, a few days after he recommended the city not approve Whole Foods’ request to buy a public alleyway adjacent to a proposed new location in West Seattle – unless the company paid its employees a “livable wage.”

Tom Geiger, with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson that the mayor speaking out was definitely not a condition of their endorsing him, and that they’ve supported McGinn since 2009.

“We were supporting him because we felt like he would be a champion for workers and the people in the city,” said Geiger. “I think time and again he stood up for working people and the people in the city and we think that’s a good thing.”

“We stand by people that stand with us, for sure.”

But Dori points out the mayor standing with the unions against an employer that provides around 1,000 jobs in the region is a pretty big problem for some people.

“I think for a lot of my listeners, that just sits wrong with them when you have a politician taking a stand against a somewhat significant local employer when jobs are still in pretty scarce supply around here.”

Geiger argued grocery store jobs actually aren’t in short supply in West Seattle, saying that there are currently six grocery stores within a mile of the intersection of the proposed new Whole Foods location.

“In West Seattle, the jobs that are in short supply are not grocery store worker jobs,” said Geiger. “So I’m not sure in that area what is needed is growth in more grocery stores.”

Dori thought it should be left to the free market to determine.

“If there is a glut, the free market will not support one of those stores,” he said.

Geiger disagreed, saying sometimes the free market has to be managed.

“You and I both saw an entire global economic collapse as a result of the free market. It needs to be kept in check. That’s one of the reasons why we have public policy. That’s one of the things that the mayor or other city (councilmembers) were involved in,” said Geiger.

“Like when they passed the paid sick days a couple years ago. Should the free market take care of that?” asked Geiger. “If people are going to come to work sick because they don’t have paid sick days, is that a good thing? The city council decided ‘no’ and the mayor signed that and that was over the objection of employers.”

Dori thought it important to highlight the other side of that coin.

“If we’re going to cite events in the news, we could also cite the dangers and flaws of unchecked government colluding with unions and look at the Detroit bankruptcy for that.”

Determining just what happened in Detroit, Geiger said, would require a lot more investigation into the main cause, which he suggests is more likely urban flight.

“Thankfully, Seattle is not a place like that, right? People are moving into the city, we’re growing here and things are looking good,” said Geiger.

But Detroit wasn’t always in the sad state it finds itself in today, Dori points out.

“Detroit, 50 years ago, was a glowing jewel of a city and a thriving job center, under one party control, and with union benefits that essentially drove the auto industry and government employee pensions and medical to unsustainable levels. Then you have bankruptcy, clearly that’s the ultimate extension.”

Geiger said he and Dori clearly disagree on that.

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Whole Foods vs. Seattle Mayor McGinn: Who’s right?

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