From Ned Depew

Friends –

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.

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22 thoughts on “From Ned Depew

  1. Laura

    Dear Ned,

    Thank you very much for your statement as a sitting board member. I appreciate your
    willingness to communicate! It means a great deal!

    1. Just want to clarify some facts:

    You said: ” to oppose the “…corporatization” of the Co-op…” and “…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…”

    By CDS do you mean “CDS Consulting Co-op, located in Putney, VT?” Is this the same organization which has a current contract with the HWFC board for their program called “Co-operative Board Leadership Training?” Is Thane Joyal – who was present on the dais at the board’s Saturday 11/14/15 Lawyers’ Presentation – employed by CDS Consulting Coop?

    No one understood why a woman from the Syracuse co-op was sitting up on the dais with the two law firms whom the board has employed.

    If she, in fact, works for CDS Consulting Co-op and is under current contract with the HWFC Board of Directors – she did not at all make that clear when she introduced herself on Saturday to our community.

    2. It is deeply disturbing to me that you tell a story that board members have been threatened. I am sorry to hear that this has happened to you, and others, and it is something that no board member of HWFC should EVER be exposed to. This is a despicable tactic to use on a volunteer board member of and from our own community here in the Capital Region.

    Threatening: that is the exact same tactic and technique that has been wielded against member-owners, in an effort to convince us that our member-owner labor program – which brings with it our right to vote – is somehow “illegal,” is a threat to our co-operative corporation, and must be eliminated.

    We, as the working, voting member-owners of this co-operative corporation are also being, IMO, professionally bullied -on many different levels, by Strategic PR consultants and multiple law firms hired by the board and, apparently working with the LT (according to the 10/20/15 board minutes) – into accepting this view. If you take – what is clearly an expensive “Strategic Plan” in operation here behind-the-scenes at HWFC – to the next logical step: a member-owner who is being prevented from exercising his or her right to work …is also being prevented from exercising his or her right to vote….

    …Many of us are now asking: is it a coincidence that the board has proposed a vote on 01/24/16 to (attempt) to get voted in new (secret, gag-order (!)) bylaws and to (attempt) to vote in 12,000 new “shareholders.”

    Were these 2 ballots to prevail, would that be the end of our co-operative corporation …and the beginning of HWFC as a standard American business-model corporation with shareholders (not member-owners) and the board and management in total control?

    Fear is being utilized as a cattle prod, to move voting, member-owners in a direction other than that outlined by our mission, our bylaws, our original founders, and our decades of being a truly co-operative corporation and community.

    Apparently, these same cattle prod tactics (fear and threats) have been wielded against HWFC board members, too.

    This threatening of BOTH board members and the voting, member-owners of our co-operative simply must be exposed and stopped.

    I am deeply sorry that this happened to you. Would you be willing to state who is threatening members of our board? I totally understand if you decline to do this. That is the nature of threats: you are made to be afraid and silent.

    Please know that I appreciate your willingness to say even this much, in public. I am so sorry you have had to endure this kind of treatment simply because you volunteered to sit upon our board in order to be able to serve our co-operative community with your time and talents.

    Thank you, Ned,
    Laura

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ron

        Her articles are interesting. I particularly liked the one recommending throwing out the old by-laws and bringing in the new. Very revealing of ideology, not really the hippieish image being purveyed, and intention.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Colleen Putnam

    Ned,

    Thank you for speaking out, here and in your earlier post – from your heart and mind. There’s always more to a story, and to human beings, when time and communication are the avenues traveled toward peace and justice.

    Colleen

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Steve Young

    Dear yogahorsegirl,

    I haven’t heard that issue of closed to the public vs. open to the public in the context of labor laws. Could you please offer us supporting evidence for your opinion? Also, could you please share your real identity with us?

    Thank you,

    Steve Young

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ron

    There is some debate that if HW is illegal than it was the move from a worker coop, the way coops originally were–in worker coops only members could shop in the coop and members had to work–to a consumer coop–where elements of the original coops were merged with corporate structures–opened us up to questions of member worker legality. If this is the case then perhaps if we returned to the worker coop form a la Park Slope, we would be legal again. Needless to say the powers that be aren’t pushing this alternative for economic reasons. Others, however, argue that Park Slope isn’t immune to the charge that their member worker programme is illegal. The problem here is what has always been the problem: there is no legal precedent. There are only a very few actions of the Department of Labour against a few coops who didn’t fight the actions of the DoL in court. Ergo, no legal precedent.

    It is also worth remembering that it is corporate organisation–the National Grocers Association, CDS, CDS consulting (Thayne Joyall specifically) who are pushing the “proposition” that coop member labour programmes are illegal and using fear (we may be liable) to do it. These, of course, are standard practises of demagogues. It is also worth remembering in this context that these corporate organisations have economic, political, and cultural interests in pushing this agenda. One member of the LT was, for instance, overheard saying that HW is a branch store of the NCGA a la IGA. Let me paraphrase Mulder: Be careful who you trust.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Julie

    Ned, you said you wanted to put the bogeyman to bed, and supported sending the DOL letter, but this letter clearly shows a Board in favor of ending member labor. How could you support it? Please explain. I have included my post here. Jules Harrell

    Dear members of Honest Weight. Please read the letter the Board sent to the NYS DOL. In this letter they state that the Board, under new management, is executing a new staffing plan and transitioning away from member labor. This letter is not a request for information from the DOL. It is a declaration. The date is October 24, 2015. Shame on them! They did not ask nor did they tell the members what they were doing. I hope everyone reads the letter. Password is available to any member or shareholder by calling the service desk, or a friend can give it to you. This letter, now DOL record, is open to the public and should not be password protected. Email me if you dont have the link. Jules Harrell

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  6. Jules ( et al.) –

    The process was supposed to be the the Executive Committee would draft the language of the letter and then bring it to the full board for discussion and approval before sending it out. What I voted to approve was that process: writing a letter that had full Board input and approval to send to the DoL to lay the bogyman to rest.

    The letter was sent without passing it back to the full Board, an action for which Deb has apologized and which she realizes – in hindsight – was wrong. If I had seen it before it was sent there were a number of things I would have asked to change.

    That said, I don’t read it as being as negative as you seem to. It is merely asking for guidance. There’s no indication what the “new staffing plan” will be, nor how far from our current system the “transition” will take us. Those terms were included to indicate to the DoL that we were flexible and willing to work with them if they had a problem with the current system. They don’t preclude our leaving the system largely as it is if the DoL says it’s fine by them. They don’t commit us to any specific course of action – only to “change,” and that, after all, is inevitable…

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  7. Ron

    Wow members of the Board really seem to have to apologise a lot.

    The Letter refers to the fact that the Board “is operating under new leadership”. I am not sure who this new leadership is. The LT has been in place for quite some time. Does it mean the National Cooperative Grocers (Association) which says that HWFC, like its other members, as a “virtual branch” of theirs? The Letter also says that “[u]nder this new leadership the Board of Directors (very corporate language) has directed Honest Weight’s management team to commence the transition [to a non-member labour programme] with all deliberate speed”. This is hardly the language of flexibility. It reads more like the language of a fait accompli to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ned Depew

      Ron –

      Two things:

      1) When you make a mistake, you have something to apologize for, and apologizing is the right thing to do. Donald Trump is an good example of someone who doesn’t feel he has anything to apologize for…

      2) the thing that makes your interpretation cogent is your addition of the parenthetical “(to a non-member-labor program)” There are many other possible transitions that could be made in the current MLP, such as adding a public-service volunteer credit for member hours.

      In our discussions before the letter was written, we discussed making it as non-specific as possible, precisely so that the Co-op would not be committing itself to any specific course of action. Although this was not as well done as I would have liked if we had had a chance to review it before it was sent out, I think it did follow this parameter pretty well. There is, at the very least, nothing saying that “We are planning to end our member labor program.” That’s why you had to added it in…

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  8. I read the letter as a declaration. A declaration is not the same as a request for information. There was mention of members being unhappy with this transition. You cant sugar coat the truth Ned. The Board blatantly lied to the membership, in writing. Thst is a real dishonest shame. Julie Harrell

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  9. Steve Young

    Ned,

    I reread the letter and I still don’t see “transition” the way you do.

    Paragraph 4 end with: “The transition away from members contributing labor has also raised significant and serious organizational, governance and cultural issues for Honest Weight.”

    They don’t detail how much of a transition away from members contributing labor, but they make it clear what they mean when “transition” appears several time in the next paragraph:

    “In light of this commitment [to meet and exceed labor standards], while the transition will be very difficult for its members and broader community, Honest Weight’s Board of Directors has committed to this transition. Significantly, the Board of Directors is now operating under new leadership. Under this new leadership, the Board of Director has directed Honest Weight’s management team to commence the transition with all deliberate speed.”

    My personal take: At the very least, it points in the direction ending or significantly curtailing the member labor program. At most it indicates direct action already underway to end or severely curtail the member labor program.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ron

      According to sources inquiries were made of Department Heads months before this action of what they would do if the member programme ended. The idea of ending or “transitioning” the member worker programme to community involvement outside the store and not on the floor, has been around for some time. The National Cooperative Grocers Association and CDS Consulting, who we have relations with, has been promoting and succeeding without setting any legal precedent, at ending member labour programmes for some time. I am sure the powers that be have been well aware of this for years.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Ron

    There was talk of establishing committees at HW which would serve as ways for member workers to earn discount credit as well. Interesting idea. These are issues that deserve a hearing should the DoL find member labour programmes illegal and we chose not to fight this in court.

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