Submitted by Rebecca Tell: sometimes shareholder, currently member
As of 11/3, the Board has withdrawn the January 1 date for ending the Member Labor Program in the store. The Times Union has now published another article stating that the decision to end the MLP in the store has been reversed. If you read that article, you might think the problem is solved, and those who still feel that we have a problem are just overreactive, angry members — “the dragon” that has already been “poked.” Unfortunately, if we believe that, the mistake could be fatal for our future as a cooperative.
Can we talk about these members for a minute? The ones who are so often painted as so unreasonable? I mean, yes. We’re a group of humans. We’re quirky. Making collective decisions as a group of quirky humans is not the most “nimble” way to get things done, and apparently the Leadership Team would really like the business to be more “nimble.” But we do work together. And I have to say, the folks I have seen working on behalf of the members in the past month have been really impressive. These folks step up and get stuff done, with intelligence and heart. We are grown-ups with lives, careers, children. We are taking time out of busy lives to give work to saving member labor and member decision authority because this is important to us. We have neither the time nor the desire to perpetuate conflict over problems that have really already been solved. The reason we are still organizing is that we still have a problem. If someone is telling you otherwise… why?
The problem is that the Leadership Team and some Board members still see member decision authority and member labor as obstacles that need to be overcome for success, when in fact those things are at the core of who and what we are as a cooperative. When we let the current coop leadership steer the conversation, they want to avoid upsetting us and stirring up trouble, but they are also still quietly pursuing their goals. They have even been heard to say that there are ways to get their way even without the agreement of the Board. (Isn’t that insubordination?)
What are their goals, and who exactly is included in this “they”? It’s a little hard to pin down, and rather than tell you what to think I’m going to encourage everyone to have conversations about this with people whose judgment you respect, and come to your own conclusions.
If a Board member or a member of management wanted to convince me that they still deserve my trust, I’d want to hear from them about things like these:
- Why hasn’t the Special Membership Meeting – the one called for by the members’ petition – been scheduled yet? What role are you taking with respect to the GRC’s review of that issue? What can you do to make sure the meeting is scheduled as soon as possible?
- The Bylaws say that it’s the Board’s job to maximize the use of member labor. What are you doing to make sure that member workers are not quietly replaced by employees? What are you doing to make sure that new employees are not hired if the work could be done by member labor?
- Can you assure me that you will not agree to any Board decision, or promote any membership decision, that takes decision authority away from the co-op’s Worker Owners? (here’s why)
- Can you assure me that you will not agree to any Board decision, or promote any membership decision, that would blur the legal distinction between Worker Owners and employees? (here’s why)
- Now that the Department of Labor is involved, I’m hoping that Honest Weight will be the coop that shows the world beyond doubt that member labor programs ARE still legal under the FLSA. Can you endorse that goal too? What are you doing to make sure that our communication with the DOL is aligned with that goal? (Who is currently empowered to speak for us? Are those the right people?)
- Why are the members of the Bylaws Task Force bound by a non-disclose agreement? Why is the Board asked to keep so much quiet? Why are even Board members sometimes asked to work with incomplete information? Would you join members in advocating for more transparent decision process? We understand that some things, like personnel matters, require confidentiality – but HWFC has taken way too much behind closed doors. Right?
- What do you think it would take to have a Board willing and able to rein in the power of the Leadership Team? What do you think of that as a goal?
If you ask questions like these – or your own set – I’m guessing that you’ll get interesting answers. You may not always get entirely straightforward answers. You may get very nicely scripted answers, because the folks in question may read this and prepare pat responses. But listen to yourself, and I bet you’ll have a sense of which voices are more and less trustworthy.
Who really wants to keep HWFC as a cooperative that is governed by its worker-owners? Who is committed to that goal? Those are the people we need to support in leadership roles of all kinds. And we need to identify the folks who are not committed to that goal, who may in fact be actively working against it, and decide what to do about their role in our co-op with open eyes.
That’s why we’re still going to have the Special Membership Meeting, and we still need to show up there in force to defend our cooperative.