DOL Letter Full Text via FOIL

Submitted by Julie Harrell

Hi everyone. The DOL gave me the Board’s letter as you can see by my FOIL request here. It is PUBLIC information as far as the DOL is concerned. There is no password protecting this document. Please feel free to share it widely and compare it to what the Board wrote in their letter to members. Thank you.

This one is the letter from coop lawyers to DOL:

FL-15-1107 – Records for Release

This one is from DOL to Julie Harrell documenting the FOIL process:

FL-15-1107 – Release Letter

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3 thoughts on “DOL Letter Full Text via FOIL

  1. Thank you very much for posting the PUBLIC DOL letter. All members and the public can now have access to this letter … please compare the letter’s content to this message from the Board to 12,000 shareholders, not password protected I might add. Surely this letter is no secret right?

    November 3, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

    Dear Co-op Member,

    In an effort to provide more information to all owners of our Co-op, this is the second in an ongoing series of messages from the Board of Directors. We want to be clear that despite the decision that a majority of the Board felt compelled to make on October 20 to end the member labor on the floor and in the administrative offices of the store by January 1, 2016, no one on the Board wants to end any portion of the current member labor program if there is any way that it can be found to be compliant with the law. We will leave no stone unturned in this effort and we welcome information or assistance from anyone who might be helpful.

    Since posting the Board decision on October 23, we have been working diligently to meet with as many concerned members as possible. Beginning on October 24, four Board members met with 80-100 members to explain the situation. Since Tuesday, October 27, Board members have held daily informal drop-in sessions that have been attended by more than 100 members so far, with additional sessions scheduled to continue as long as necessary.

    In addition, we have scheduled a meeting open to all shareholders with the Co-op’s attorneys on Saturday, November 14 at 10:30 a.m. at the Best Western at 200 Wolf Road. We encourage all shareholders who want to hear directly from the attorneys for the Co-op about these issues and our response to attend. There will be time for dialogue and exchange of information and ideas.

    We realize that no matter how many sessions we host, not every member will be able to attend. So we will continue to send these messages in an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible. Other ways to stay informed include:

    Attending one of our daily drop-in sessions with Board members (ask for times and room locations at the Service Desk)
    Coming to one of our ongoing Bylaws Task Force Information Sessions [link to Info Sessions]
    Participating in any upcoming membership meetings
    Emailing the Board at board@honestweight.coop

    Below are some of the questions we have been asked most frequently. Future issues of the Inside Scoop will include additional questions and responses as space allows and as new questions arise.

    Q: Why did the Board make the decision to end floor and administrative member work by January 1, 2016?

    ANSWER: There are substantial legal and financial risks from both a federal and state perspective. Attorneys who are experts in NY labor law have been consulted and concur about the risk. The greater size of the business adds to the level of risk.

    Q: We have heard from members who are attorneys and they disagree with the determination by the Co-op’s counsel, why can’t we seek additional opinions or see the written opinions offered by our attorneys?

    ANSWER: We have been reviewing this diligently for over a year, weighed every possible option, and sought advice from counsel who have represented other co-ops that have grappled with these same issues. Each attorney we consulted with provided consistent advice regarding the risk of continuing the current structure of the Member Labor Program. Based on a review of all of the facts available and the potential risk, we determined to move forward with a plan of action that will help to protect the Co-op.

    We have also reached out to representatives of the group of members who are attorneys to arrange a meeting with the Co-op’s attorneys so that we could answer their questions and explore together any new information or perspectives on how best to approach these issues. To date, they have not responded to our invitation to meet with the Co-op’s attorneys.

    Q: What is the concern if there hasn’t been a lawsuit to test this issue?

    ANSWER: The fact that the Co-op hasn’t been investigated and fined by the New York State Department of Labor (DOL) to date does not mean that the Co-op is operating in compliance.

    Q: Why did we send a letter to the DOL and what did it say?

    ANSWER: Following the publication of two articles in the Albany Times Union regarding the subject of member workers at Honest Weight, the Executive Committee of the Board asked the Co-op’s attorneys to send a letter proactively to the DOL. The letter was received on 10-26-15. The letter:

    Outlined the history of member workers at HWFC since the organization’s founding, and the importance of member workers to the culture of HWFC
    Discussed HWFC’s governance review process, which has been ongoing for several months
    Noted that,during the governance review process, there were questions raised and multiple and conflicting views on how ever-evolving legal standards apply to member workers
    Requests guidance for making any necessary transitions to ensure legal compliance with consideration to the serious organizational, governance and cultural challenges such a transition would present to HWFC
    Seeks to open a dialogue with the DOL

    When we receive a response we will keep the membership informed as we work with the DOL to achieve as reasonable an outcome as possible.

    Q: We understand that a group of members have filed a petition for a Special Membership Meeting. What does that mean?

    ANSWER: Our bylaws designate to members the right to petition for a Special Membership Meeting, which a group of members has done. We received their petition on October 24 and are working with them to set a date for this meeting. As soon as the date is finalized, a formal meeting notice will be mailed by first-class mail and we will announce it in the
    Inside Scoop, as is the standard procedure for all other Membership Meetings.

    Q. What has the Co-op’s Governance Review Council (GRC) done about the Board’s decision?

    ANSWER: The GRC met on October 26 to consider the Board’s action of October 20. They concluded that the Board exceeded its authority under the Bylaws in making this decision without final approval by the Membership. As a result the Board is reconsidering its action at its next Board meeting on Tuesday, November 3.

    Q: Why is Bill Frye still on the Board?

    ANSWER: Following the first Times Union article, the Board requested that Bill Frye step down as president of the Board, which he did. The Board agreed that he should be allowed to remain on the Board to make amends for his actions and issue an apology to the membership. However, when the second Times Union article appeared, individually and collectively, all Board members requested of Bill that he resign from the Board. To date, he has refused to step down and our bylaws do not allow for the removal of any member of the Board except for missing four or more meetings or by a petition of the membership.

    Q. If Bill Frye is no longer President, then who is?

    ANSWER: Deborah Dennis was voted to serve as acting President until the Board can vote to elect a new President.

    Q. If changes are made, what will happen to my banked hours?

    ANSWER: Should member work on the floor and in the administrative offices of the store end at any point, we expect that any banked member hours would be honored until they are expended.

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  2. Steve Young

    The key point here is that the letter from the board to the membership accurately summarizes it’s letter to the DOL with one glaring exception: It doesn’t mention that the letter states that the board has already instructed the leadership team to move ahead with ending member labor “with all deliberate speed”. They also omitted this information from their verbal description of the letter at the November 3 meeting.

    One could argue that they didn’t actually say this, but I think the last sentence of paragraph 4 clearly defines “transition” as a “transition away from members contributing labor”. When transition is used in paragraph 5 (“the transition” twice and “this transition” once), any reasonable reader would conclude that they mean a “transition away from members contributing labor”. So that fateful sentence “Under this new leadership, the Board of Directors has directed Honest Weight’s management to commence the transition with all deliberate speed.” seals the deal. Maybe it was an honest mistake, but in that case, we have really incompetent lawyers.

    The omitted information is probably the most important thing in the letter and the one most likely to be opposed by the membership. Given that the wording of the letter to the membership was probably carefully reviewed by several people and that the omission was identical to the one in the verbal description on November 3, I would conclude that it is highly likely to be a deliberate lie of omission, probably undertaken to avoid the uproar that would have ensued. Couldn’t you imagine yourself doing that to keep the atmosphere at an already tense board meeting from becoming downright painful. Of course, now that the text is available, there is likely to be more of an uproar because we have a lie heaped on top of a very unfortunate letter.

    I urge the board to stand up, be courageous and say what needs to be said: the entire truth including all relevant information.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: GRASSROOTS ACTION (and FOILs) ARE POWERFUL! | hwfcinfohub

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