Union group urges withholding Whole Foods CEO vote

LOS ANGELES, March 4 (Reuters) - A union pension fund adviser on Tuesday urged Whole Foods Market Inc WFMI.O shareholders to withhold votes for Chairman and Chief Executive John Mackey, who is up for re-election at the grocer's annual meeting on March 10.

In a Feb. 28 letter to the company, CtW Investment Group said that from 1999 through 2006, Mackey posted several messages on Yahoo Finance using the pseudonym “rahodeb.”

Those postings talked up Whole Foods stock and his performance as CEO while disparaging competitors, including then-rival Wild Oats, which Whole Foods bought in August.

“Mr. Mackey’s online postings demonstrate a lapse in judgment that calls into question his professional integrity and fitness to lead the company in the future,” CtW said in the letter.

CtW said its analysis found that Mackey made frequent disparaging postings when Wild Oats’ share price was on the rise. In several instances, his negative comments coincided with large drops in Wild Oats’ share price.

The adviser, which did not call for Mackey to step down, also said Mackey’s postings may have violated Whole Foods’ code of conduct and ethics.

“We believe that Mr. Mackey’s acknowledged lapses in judgment and the Board’s unwillingness to engage shareholders or disclose the findings of the special committee that investigated this incident clearly indicates that the time for change at Whole Foods has come,” CtW said.

Representatives from Whole Foods could not be immediately reached for comment.

CtW advises union pension funds which it says holds about 1 million Whole Foods shares. It also advises public employee pension funds that own about 6 million shares.

The adviser is affiliated with Change to Win, a federation of unions. (Reporting by Lisa Baertlein; editing by John Wallace)