Dear Honest Weight Coop Community Members
I really am pleased to see all the passionate, thoughtful involvement of many members of the Honest Weight Community over the last few weeks. I realize that, at least in part, many who have been motivated to be more involved have done so due to a failure of the Board to communicate in a way that reaches everyone and is responsive to legitimate questions as members wish. Some have concluded that the board is taking steps that could harm the coop that we all know and that many of us love. I would like to try to provide my view of what has occurred.
First I must disclose I am a member of the Board of Directors (only for about two months now) but I am writing here in my capacity as a Coop Member, Shareholder and Lender to the capital fund. I have been a shopper since Quail St days, shareholder for about 20 years, and a member-worker or a committee member during some of this time. Much of the food my children ate growing up was from the co-op. In June 2014, I joined the Strategic Planing Initiative and then the By-laws Revision Task force, and I have continued to be very involved in co-op work since then.
Since I am a Board Member and I do not want to simply be seen here as defending how it came about that the Board passed a resolution to significantly curtail the member labor program by January 1 in consultation with the membership, I will not say much on that subject. I think the Board’s explanation has been laid out pretty well in the Inside Scoop and in the many discussions and meetings they have had with members. Member’s questions still need to be answered, but I will just say that membership input on the many issues that are governed by the by-laws (the member labor program, shareholder voting rights, decision authority distribution among governing bodies, the membership and store management, etc) has been methodically solicited by the Board over the past 15 or so months. All that membership input has been carefully considered. In addition, the board has considered the input of attorneys (those retained by the co-op and member workers who are attorneys, as well as others), researched the literature and consulted with co-op experts and members of other co-ops. I, for one believe that when it comes to issues like those we are dealing with here, reasonable people acting with good will can be provided exactly the same information and come to legitimate different conclusions.
When it came time to start working on a new Strategic Plan that will cover the next 5 to 7 years a good size group of members (I don’t remember the number) was brought together to kick off the development of the plan. Sub committees from that original group met many times to formulate and propose steps to develop a Plan that included as much coop community input in the process as possible.
The committee began having regular meetings, expanded the group, developed and conducted a market and stakeholder survey (of shoppers, vendors, members, shareholders, etc.), held focus groups (small group discussions), did a Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats analysis and probably took other steps that I don’t remember. We planned and held four all day informational gathering/member input sessions where all members were invited to three different venues around the capital district in an attempt to get maximum participation. We expended substantial effort promoting these events and while we had hoped to get much larger attendance, but each event was attended by between 70 and 100 members and other stakeholders.
Everything we did was with the goal of enabling Honest Weight to continue to achieve its Mission (if you haven’t read the HWFC Mission lately, please take a look at it on the website) in a way that builds on our history, maintains our core values (see the by-laws, for our core values, also at the website) and insures the success of the co-op. Even if you were not involved in any of these Strategic Plan activities, as you might imagine, many, many ideas were generated by this process (most recently, last month’s Coop Scoop provided an update on the Strategic Planing initiative). Culling the best ideas from the analysis, exercises, research and discussions during this process has been a huge undertaking but I believe, necessary for the good of the Co-op.
One of the issues raised during this process was concern that the Member Labor Program might threaten the financial health of the Co-op due to a possible finding that the Department of Labor might make because of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the law that requires employees get a minimum wage and other required treatment in their place of employment). However, it was also almost felt by many that the Member Labor Program is the heart and soul of the Co-op. So without it, we would not be the Co-op any more. – This was a tough one. So in many group sessions, small and large, we talked about it. – Personally, I pretty quickly concluded that it would be irresponsible to pretend the concern does not exist or to dismiss it just because the coop has had the program forever and it has never been legally challenged. – I personally, thought there was too much at stake, today in 2015 and over the next 5 to 7 years. To not take the issue seriously and at least consider proactive intervention would be irresponsible. My sense was that there were many coop stakeholders who agreed that the concerns about the Member Labor Program should not be ignored and the committee began working on a plan that would maintain as much of the Member Labor Program as possible if it came about that it had to change. In fact, the Strategic Planning committee is working on methods of expanding the Member Labor Program (Probably mostly outside the store, but we are also looking at expanding some opportunities in the store as well).
Meanwhile, it was recognized that one of the tasks identified in the 2011 – 2015 Strategic Plan was to look at the existing by-laws for possible revision in several areas and to recommend revisions to the membership. This task has not been done. For this reason, and, I believe because there have been many times over recent years when the by-laws have been seen to be inadequate, ambiguous or faulty, the Board formed a By-Laws revision task force to take a close look at if and how they might be revised to reflect NYS law changes, inefficiencies, ambiguities, and, perhaps be updated to reflect the realities of running a large, cooperative with an increasing number of stakeholders and changing market and competitive environment. AND to take a look at whether there is a need to change the by-laws in view of the POSSIBILITY that adjustments might be required to the Member Labor Program due to legal requirements.
I helped to formulate and joined the By-laws revision task force. I believe that group ended up including about 27 members. I saw it as a work group tasked with a very time-limited goal of generating revisions that would be recommended to the Board and then presented to the Membership for discussion in various ways, and then to Membership for an up or down vote. One of the many issues examined by this task force has been the Member Labor Program and how it might be viewed by the Department of Labor. We are almost done with the work of that group and it is our plan that our recommendations will be presented to the membership soon. – Perhaps formally at the January Membership Meeting. Meanwhile, beginning early last month, we have scheduled about 20 Information sessions (not to be confused with the Ask the Board In Store Drop in Sessions which were scheduled after that dreadful Times Union article)) to present the revisions to the members in smaller group conversations.
Honest weight has accomplished much in 39 years. At this point, our future may be largely influenced by the feedback we get from the Department of Labor. However, if we can all act in good faith and in the spirit of community I believe when the dust settles, we will be an even stronger force for economic and social justice in the future.
Thank you, my fellow members, for all for your passion and commitment. I look forward to a continuing, robust dialogue.
Sincerely and in the spirit of cooperation,