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Ex-Newsweek's Alter: Whole Foods CEO 'Throwing' Employees 'to the Wolves'

Media Research CenterOn Thursday's The Ed Show, MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter -- formerly of Newsweek -- chastised Whole Foods CEO John Mackey for using the word "fascism" while criticizing Obamacare, suggesting that he is less "enlightened" than liberal CEOs like Warren Buffett for not realizing that "The only reason that they have been able to be so successful is because they're operating in a country, this country, where they get all kinds of public services..."

Without informing viewers that Whole Foods employs a plan based on high deductibles and "personal savings accounts" to provide health care for all its full-time employees and about 90 percent of employees who work at least 30 hours a week, Alter went on to assert that libertarian-minded CEOs like Mackey "don't get" that they have "certain social responsibilities," and charged that Whole Foods has a "crunchy" and "earthtone ethic" regarding its employees.

After recounting the hourly wage for a Whole Foods cashier, host Ed Schultz wondered, "Without Obamacare, what hope do these folks have?" leading Alter to charge that Mackey is "throwing them to the wolves."

But on the December 17, 2009, Stossel show on FBN, Mackey appeared as a guest and explained his company's health care plan for its employees:

JOHN STOSSEL: Okay, the boss of Whole Foods writes a health care op-ed based on the health plan his company runs. People get so mad they boycott Whole Foods. So what is Whole Foods’ plan? And how is it different from what government wants to do?

JOHN MACKEY: We provide high-deductible, catastrophic health insurance for all of our full-time team members, which is about 89 percent of our team member base that works 30 hours or more.

STOSSEL: "High-deductible" meaning $4,000, $5,000?

MACKEY: We round up to about $2,500. It’s actually closer to $2,300, but we said $2,500, and so they have to cover their first $2,500, and then the company picks up the cost above that. We also, though, have created personal wellness accounts where we deposit up to $1,800 into a team member’s account so they can pay for their deductibles that way. Any money they don’t use – and in any one year, 90 percent of our team members make no health care claims in a year – so money they don’t use rolls over to the next year so they can use it when they may need it. So, over time, more and more dollars builds up in their accounts so their deductible is paid for as well as any other types of wellness programs that may not be covered such as acupuncture or chiropractor.

Below is a transcript of the relevant portion of the Thursday, January 17, The Ed Show on MSNBC:

ED SCHULTZ: Why do these CEOs do this? Why would he do this again and go down this road?

JONATHAN ALTER, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, they can't help themselves, you know. He has a political philosophy, as indicated, of libertarianism, where they think that it's just because of their genius and their hard work and their talent and that they don't get any help from anybody else, the rugged individual making it alone in American life.

You know, as Warren Buffett or some of his fellow CEOs who are a little more enlightened might tell him, the only reason that Whole Foods or "Whole Paycheck" as it is sometimes called... The only reason that they have been able to be so successful is because they're operating in a country, this country, where they get all kinds of public services, whether it's the, you know, the good roads that lead to the Whole Foods near where I live or, you know, all the other things that make a society work.

And these guys are just oblivious to that, and they don't get it, and they don't get that they do have certain social responsibilites. So they have a kind of a "We're all in it for ourselves" ethic which is totally contrary to the ethic that he's using to make millions of dollars at Whole Foods. It's a crunchy, you know, earthtone  ethic that they have in those stores.

SCHULTZ: Why wouldn't he want his employees to have the best health care? According to GlassDoor.com, the average Whole Foods cashier makes an average of $10.31 an hour. Without Obamacare, what hope do these folks have?

ALTER: Well, yeah, he's kind of throwing them to the wolves. The sad thing, Ed, is there's another way to do it. Look at Costco, excellent company, provides health care for its employees and other benefits, still manages to make plenty of money. So the subtext of what people like Mackey are saying is, "If we actually have to do right by our employees, we can't be in business." That's false. That is utterly false, and people need to understand that you can do well and do good at the same time. You can be responsible and make a profit at the same time.

And these CEOs who get so much from this country need to understand that their customers are going to demand that they give something back.

-- Brad Wilmouth is a news analyst at the Media Research Center