Board’s Letter to the DOL

Submitted by 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


20 thoughts on “Board’s Letter to the DOL

  1. Ron

    One of the non cooperative groups HWFC utilses is UNFI, a distributor and monopoly, a distributor and monopoly which also supplies Whole Foods. I was told by a source that UNFI and vendors came to the new store to “advise” us on where to put stock. Given this I thought members and others might find questions about UNFI’s environmental record interesting.


  2. Rebecca Tell

    Ron, Thanks for the info about UNFI. I will definitely want to look into that more, and research whether the coop can stock our shelves in ways that are more closely aligned with our values.

    And Jules, I also fully agree that the DOL letter is important for all to read.


    1. Julie

      Until recently I was so in the dark. I had no idea where all the stuff came from until I went looking for Townsend Letter magazine, which the Coop stocked for many years. I was directed to Health and Wellness and informed they do NOT make decisions about which magazines are stocked in the Coop. What a shocker. Wish members had been asked if we wanted an outside source to decide on which magazines we could read. Now to discover that most of what Honest Weight stocks is not of our choice? Who decided this? Step forward and state your name. Thank you. Jules Harrell

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Julie

    Steve, that is because the Board password protected the link. I did not password protect it. In an effort to be circumspect, I will say that anyone who wishes to view this letter call the front desk to obtain the password. That’s what the Board says in their letter to members. This letter should not be password protected as it is DOL property and DOL records are open to the public. Anyone who cannot access this through the front desk: 518-482-2667 please let us know. Jules Harrell


  4. Steve Young

    I wrote this originally as a reply to someone who identified themselves as “coop member” on the “Who should be on the board?” discussion. But it is relevant to this topic, so I will post it here instead:

    Coop member,

    First, please identify yourself. Without knowing who you are, how can we trust your motives?

    Second, what we are doing is going through the procedure outlined in the bylaws to call a special membership meeting at which all working members have the opportunity to hear both sides before voting. How is this undemocratic? (I’ll ask this question 2 more times below. Each time, it is not a rhetorical question. Really, try to honestly answer it with supporting facts.)

    On October 20, the board voted in secret to end the member labor program without consulting working members even though the board has no such authority. Let’s ask the same question about this action. Was it undemocratic?

    At the November 3rd board meeting, I spoke about the challenge this created for them in terms of having the trust of the members.

    Later in the meeting, the board and concerned members discussed the letter the board’s attorneys had sent to the Department of Labor. In spite of numerous requests from coop members, the board did not share that letter until a few days ago. At the November 3 meeting they claimed the letter asked the DOL to review the member labor program and, if necessary, help them bring it into compliance with applicable laws.

    When the letter was revealed, it described the member labor issue as follows: “The transition away from members contributing labor has also raised serious organizational, governance and cultural issues for Honest Weight.” They then made it clear that the board instructed management to “commence the transition [away from member labor] with all deliberate speed”. The letter also suggests that since the coop is committed to meeting or exceeding labor standards and that the transition from member labor is part of this commitment.

    My summary: the letter claims or at least strongly hints that the member labor program is out of compliance with labor laws. It clearly states that the board are is on a path of ending member labor “with all deliberate speed” and that the issue of working members not liking this is simply a painful cultural adjustment process. They only ask the DOL to help them review their plan of ending member labor to make sure it is in compliance. OK, let’s ask the question again. Was this undemocratic?

    My best assessment is that they completely misrepresented the contents of the letter at the November 3 board meeting. I’m reluctant to use the word “lie”, but with the information I have available,I believe it meets the definition. That has further damaged my trust in them to the point where I don’t see a path for them to rebuild it.

    I am not making character judgements here. I am simply contrasting the statements I heard from board members about the letter on November 3 with the actual letter contents. When I do that, the only possibilities I see are outright lie, self deception or some combination of the two.

    What would motivate them to mislead us? Here is one possible scenario:

    Disclaimer: the following is speculation, although I personally think it’s one of the more likely scenarios.

    CDS consulting has convinced them that HWFC’s long-term success and perhaps even survival is contingent on ending the member labor program, yet HWFC’s membership and voting eligibility structure makes the elimination of member labor unlikely, especially if the process is kept open and honest. Based on this belief, they think they must take decisive action in order to “save” the coop. Since no self-respecting coop member is comfortable facing the fact that they are using fear-based tactics (potential liability for violating labor laws) and undemocratic secretive, bylaws-violating methods, they do what any human would do in this situation – make up reasons and excuses, selectively filter or “alter” facts, or use denial so they can convince themselves they are doing what is right.

    Think about it honestly. You might do the very same thing if you were on the board and had the experiences they had.

    Maybe some of the ideas the ideas promoted by CDS consulting about member labor and other issues have some merit. From reading CDS’s website, it seems that one of their main ideas centers around replacing member labor in return for discounts with a member patronage dividend system in which all shareholders are given a dividend proportional to their purchases.

    If there is merit to any of these ideas, they need to be discussed in the open with all stakeholders, including and especially the working members. We need to keep motivation through fear out of the picture as much as possible. I’m all for a truly open, inclusive process that follows the bylaws. The board has been anything but open, inclusive and bylaws-following.

    My suspicions are that the board sees the current governance structure in which only working members can vote as an unfortunate impediment to CDS’s ideas about a what a modern coop should be. I suspect their goal is to remove this “impediment” using any methods available to them – be they democratic or not.

    Steve Young
    member 9960

    Note: Above, I quoted directly from the board’s letter to DOL. I know that the board wants to prevent the letter from being public. However, the gist of the letter is already out on this site. Furthermore, the fact that the letter strongly suggests that the boards intentions are to continue their efforts to unilaterally end the member labor program without a membership vote – a clear violation of the bylaws. In my mind, this justifies sharing it widely among the membership in the few days we have before the special membership meeting. Let’s not share it beyond the membership.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ron

      By the way, the model the LT has considered for some time know is that of the once upon a time coop REI. REI gives “members” dividends on the basis of how much they buy per year.


  5. Ron

    Note this little tidbit from the above website…

    ““As a virtual chain, NCG [National Cooperative Grocers] is one of our largest and fastest growing customers in the last 10 years” said Steve Spinner, UNFI’s president and chief executive officer. “Our connections to food co-ops go back to our company’s founding and we are excited to be selected once again as the best fit to serve the needs of this important sector.””

    Who is part of that “virtual chain”? Honest Weight, of course. HW, in other words, is kind of part of an IGA of natural food grocers.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Julie

    Thank you Steve, for your succinct discussion of fact versus what we have been told both in writing by the board, and in person.

    We are NOT required to use an outside source to order and manage the coop. The coop management seems to believe that eliminating member labor and allowing an outside group to order for it will improve their bottom line. This is not so. The coop has competition.

    Decreasing prices of regular grocery staples and eliminating $100 per pound herbs that don’t sell would be one way to do it. Eliminating the massive meat section, isles of plastic junk and other wal-mart toys is a way to do it. Increasing member labor to bring back our shoppers might have helped. BUT, what has been done is done. It is time to remove the old camp, and create a transparent coop. We may also need to create a new coop based on Park Slope that is closed to the public. If we can house it in the same building, and pay rent, then perhaps we can utilize our member labor.

    Voting is another story. I have no idea how that will pan out.

    Jules Harrell

    OH and the password to the PUBLIC DOL RECORD? I suggest everyone call the Coop and ask why it is a secret.


  7. Julie

    I called Morgan at the Coop about providing a non password protected PDF of the misguided Board’s letter to the DOL. I also requested to the Board in an email that they provide a non password protected PDF. The reason is because DOL data is public. Therefore this should be public. Also, a password in the hands of over 1200 working members (only about 100 have called to ask for it according to Morgan) is a password that isn’t a password anymore LOL.


  8. Ron

    The space by juice and java was taken by Morgaen and Mary Ann who were lobbying against those have arranged the special membership meeting. They were handing out a letter from a consultant paid by HW’s powers that be and a blue sheet with talking points such as only a “small percentage of the membership… has called this [special] meeting” [the no data to support their point fallacy], that “many members do not agree with the petitioners agenda [the they are all of one mind fallacy], and that “removal of the Board can create financial stability and jeopardize our relationship with our lenders [the banks care for things other than money fallacy]. The Blue Sheet urges members to vote to retain (underlined) all Board members [the let em off scott free for their actions fallacy].

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Good Lord! All one needs to do is compare the Boards email blast letter to the actual DOL letter. Shame on them! This is getting ridiculous. I cannot imagine people who are willing to stoop to this level to get their way. Julie Harrell


  10. The NYS DOL responded to my FOIL request very quickly with the two page letter written by the Board of Honest Weight on law firm’s letterhead. This was after the Board sent a letter stating that they did not want me to publish this letter. Well. I have asked the moderator to publish the PUBLIC document for all to see on this website. Jules Harrell


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