Responding to Rebecca’s request for sitting Board members to submit a statement, I’d like to say that I share the same concerns as many expressed here.
I have done my best – often as a minority of one – to oppose the “corporatization” of the Co-op. I have tried hard to recruit candidates for the Board who would work for the same goal: to continue to create the Co-op as an alternative to, not a clone of, the dominant corporate culture. I have met with limited success, having been frequently out-voted by the majority of the Board, and turned down by potential member-candidates for “very good reasons.”
I voted for the sending of the letter to the DoL in hopes of taking that bogey-man off the table. I believe our MLP is not out of compliance with the FLSA and other labor regulations, for many of the same reasons that Cate D. has specified. I hope that meetings with the DoL will put the fear that we are “out of compliance” and at risk, to rest, and end that speculation that has been held over our heads.
Individual members of the Board have been directly threatened with the possibility that if found to be not in compliance, we, as Officers of the corporation, could be personally held liable for millions of dollars in back wages and penalties (although this is, in fact, a distant possibility, it has never happened that I have been able to find!). But given the rhetoric, it is not hard to understand why some Board members were panicked into taking precipitate action.
I have urged the Board and our attorneys to spend their time and energy to devise strategies to defend our program legally if that should become necessary, and if required, to design modifications that alter it to the smallest extent possible and strengthen it as defensible. I do believe that the true Co-operative model stands outside the intent of the FLSA – to insure fair and lawful treatment of employees by their employers – and I believe that view could well prevail.
I believe we could (and should) take action (and spend our time and resources) to clarify the FLSA, and make employees of genuine Co-ops specifically exempt from its provisions (as more than 20 categories of workers and industries already are) . I believe that we should enlist other co-ops that feel as we do to join us (co-operatively!) in this effort. Some have already expressed an interest in doing so.
The model of Co-operatives as fully member-owned and -operated – not member-managed on the day-to-day level, but with Membership review of general operations and direct decision-making authority for major issues that will define the Co-op going forward – is a valuable one. It presents a “people-powered” alternative to the hierarchical, top-down, success-motivated (with success defined as “growth” and “expansion” and “revenue”) of most business organization, which in my opinion has served people and the planet very poorly. Local authority, local control, coming from the “bottom up” in hierarchical terms, by the people who create and sustain the effort by their work and their patronage, managed by people who truly understand the concept of “Servant Leadership,” is our only hope for a humane future.
But members like those who have stepped up here have to take responsibility. They have to get involved and do the heavy lifting, otherwise influences like CDS will overwhelm resistance, and their effective and slick presentations will turn our Co-op, as they have co-op after co-op, to their model. The only way to maintain the Co-op is to do the work, be and stay involved, recruit others to do likewise. We can’t have a “people-powered” Co-op if people don’t take responsibility, not only during times of apparent crisis, but also every day.
I’ve tried hard to serve this vision of the Co-op and the greater Co-operative movement – for which we stand out as a beacon at this time. I plan to continue to do so. My term – a two year term – ends in May, but since I haven’t served six consecutive years at this point, I could run for re-election, and I probably will do so, if the membership so desires.