Transforming our Co-operative with Compassion

Submitted by Chrys Ballerano, HWFC shareholder

[Admin note, 12/8/15: The first version of this post was published in incomplete form due to a trick played on me by gmail, wherein the last two paragraphs of Chrys’ writing were hidden from me and I did not copy them.  They have been added now.  Apologies to Chrys for this error! – Rebecca Tell]
I appreciate these posts. There are so many personalities engaged in these discussions and so much speculation, that it seems impossible to not feel sometimes like I’m in some great fictional novel that is prime to become a hit film in the next decade.
One of the things that concerns me, even though I don’t like the structure of the Leadership Team, and never have, is the idea of throwing out hard workers who have tried their best, in a very challenging situation, to keep the co-op operationally successful. For instance, I don’t believe that Lexa, specifically wants to rid the Co-op of Member Labor, or ever wanted the co-op to not be a true cooperative, but her position has become more and more isolating for her over time and without support, we all make mistakes. And I think that the skills she had before being hired as part of the LT and the experience she’s gained could be a real asset to the Co-op. When I hear people talk about “firing the LT” I think instead, why not change their jobs instead and provide true supervision, mentoring and accountability? Since we have no ideas of their current salaries I’d also say that a pay cut may be necessary along with the change in their roles.  If there is talent, experience and commitment there, then shouldn’t we be humane in how we revolutionize and transform our Co-op- in both the process of how we go about our business of changing our structure, as well as the products we decide to carry in the future, etc. I wonder if we’ve ever asked any of the LT if they think the LT is working well or was ever a good idea. I thought the positions were supposed to be transitory to get us into the new building and then re-evaluated. This could be that time and we can evaluate how best to keep the good in place and discard the unnecessary, and wasteful aspects of the work force, beginning with those 3 top positions. I think each of these employees needs to be assessed on an individual basis and I think the salaries should not be held secret from the membership/owners who pay them.
Yes, there are many members with an agenda. Who of us doesn’t have an agenda of some kind.  We all want the Co-op to thrive for multiple reasons- personal, economic, political, philosophical, spiritual, physical, and we have an agenda in accordance with these reasons whether we like to admit it or not. (I for one miss the old store- and I mean the Quail St. store. I wish we had a dozen similar  satellite stores like that one scattered around the Cap Region that sold mostly local, organic whole foods at affordable prices, and basic locally produced body care/ herbal/ health products at affordable prices. And the GMO- laden, overpriced, overpackaged crap be damned. That’s my personal co-op fantasy.) What’s yours? Obviously I’m just one member with one limited, dreamer’s perspective.
 How do we begin to even hear the vision for how to transform what we now have- a large building with a large membership, staff, overhead, debt, etc.with many people fighting about what the best way to run the business of our Co-op is. The multiple strategic planning meetings and conference were to assist this process but sadly that process has been aborted or at least perverted by so much cynical action and fear based power moves, it makes our heads spin. It becomes ever more difficult to feel like there will be any integrity in the process itself. We need to get better at holding each other accountable for the greater good. And to do it with love and compassion. 
As I stated in my letter to the Board this week, “our historical membership meeting this Monday showed a clear demand expressed by the Co-op membership to protect the member labor program and not further jeopardize it. With all due respect to the many hours of work many of you have put into the Co-op and your genuine concern for its future, I implore Deb, Roman, Leif and Rosanna to step aside from “leading” the board at this time, if you will not actually, step down, which would be an even greater expression of integrity.
The new board members must be treated as full board members and given the information needed to serve the membership at this crossroads and discuss beforehand, any meetings with the DOL and Co-op attorneys. Now is not the time for power grasping and wringing of hands with attorneys who have not earned the trust of our membership or new board members. There has been a mandate for transparency. What about this is not clear?”
I don’t envy any of the new board members positions but I do cheer them on to dive into this muck and see what can be salvaged as we move forward. And I think we have to compassionately consider whether terminating staff- LT or others- who have valuable information, experience  and  commitment to Honest Weight, albeit with lessons learned and mistakes made (who among us hasn’t made mistakes?) is the wisest way to go. It may be squandering some of our greatest resource and not allowing the process of discussion, and conflict resolution to be completed, and lead us further down a path of financial loss, etc. as new people need to be trained, experienced, etc. And I think the Co-op better be sure, if we collectively or otherwise decide to end people’s jobs, that we are legally legitimate in doing so. I’m aware of non profits where unsavory & expensive lawsuits from former employees who alleged they were wrongfully fired cost high legal fees and many months of energy & time to resolve, even in cases where the worker’s record of productivity was not impressive.
If I’m off the mark, and there are too many grievances re: the LT to offer any of them alternate jobs in management at the Co-op, their productivity record and course of conduct will be clear enough to assess. Although I’ve been a member for over 26 years, I am not part of the “inner circle” of Co-op politics and I’m 100% sure that I don’t know half of what’s gone on since we voted to move out of Central Ave. and devised the LT to help lead the way to our new store. I regret that my day job was under such transition that I had my hands full there trying to steer a sinking ship with my new director and find ways to viably keep ourselves afloat and effective. That’s largely why I haven’t been a steady store worker in the new building or able to serve on committees other than this past year with strategic planning meetings and the conference, where I truly enjoyed a sense of solidarity and shared commitment to our precious, unique and ever-evolving Co-op. So many great ideas emerged there- so few fruit to show for it now. But I’m hopeful that we’ve got excellent new board members and active member/worker/owners who will diligently see this through. I’m honored to be among you. My thanks go out to the many who have put in the countless hours this past year + to raise the questions that need to be asked, answered, and integrated into our next stage of HWFC management and our presence in the larger community.
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6 thoughts on “Transforming our Co-operative with Compassion

  1. Sue Longtin

    I agree with a lot of what you say, Chrys. Try to discern what the LT really does and put their skills to use in a capacity commiserate with that.

    Like

  2. Leslie

    Your letter is balanced and reasonable. Yet I have had concerns about the LT for many months, especially with Lexa. I found her to be arrogant and dismissive when a situation arose where policy and procedure were not being followed. It caused me to question her ethics and her inflated sense of her power. Isn’t it that what has gotten us in this mess? Let’s not forget that the board and LT took liberties with conversations and decision making that were not in the best interest of the membership. If Lexa and the other LT could do that, should we really expect them to change?

    Like

  3. Ron

    My thoughts on righting the ship…
    Righting the ship, in my opinion, must involve several things. Here are a few: Those Board members who got less than 50% of the vote must resign and come clean about their actions (some of which are probably illegal). Reconciliation can only come after the truth.

    Deb Dennis’s executive actions must cease immediately. The Board needs to tell Dennis in no uncertain terms that she and Hartmark cannot act unilaterally.

    By-laws revision must cease immediately. All by-law revision in the future must be consistent with cooperative not CDS Consulting and MBA principles.

    The expansion of the meat must be revisited. We must have a clear notion of what costs come with greater meat inventory. Are the stuff we are putting in Antartica or in the eliminating entirely (UNFI?) moneymakers? How much is this new meat making? What is the percentage of reduced price meat we are selling relative to our broader meat sales?

    Real reviews of LT performance must be instituted and they should be similar to those in place three or four years ago. They should at least be consistent with staff performance reviews. It is time for the Board to be a check and balance on the LT rather than, at least in the case of some Board members, a retread. MBA corporate mentalities and Cooperative principles are not necessarily compatible.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Chrys Ballerano

    I regret that the last 2 paragraphs of my post were cut off… due to space limitations I’m assuming. But here’s the gist of what more I’d said:

    I don’t envy any of the new board members positions but I do cheer them on to dive into this muck and see what can be salvaged as we move forward. And I think we have to compassionately consider whether terminating staff- LT or others- who have valuable information, experience and commitment to Honest Weight, albeit with lessons learned and mistakes made (who among us hasn’t made mistakes?) is the wisest way to go. It may be squandering some of our greatest resource and not allowing the process of discussion, and conflict resolution to be completed, and lead us further down a path of financial loss, etc. as new people need to be trained, experienced, etc. And I think the Co-op better be sure, if we collectively or otherwise decide to end people’s jobs, that we are legally legitimate in doing so. I’m aware of non profits where unsavory & expensive lawsuits from former employees who alleged they were wrongfully fired cost high legal fees and many months of energy & time to resolve, even in cases where the worker’s record of productivity was not impressive.

    If I’m off the mark, and there are too many grievances re: the LT to offer any of them alternate jobs in management at the Co-op, their productivity record and course of conduct will be clear enough to assess. Although I’ve been a member for over 26 years, I am not part of the “inner circle” of Co-op politics and I’m 100% sure that I don’t know half of what’s gone on since we voted to move out of Central Ave. and devised the LT to help lead the way to our new store. (I regret that I haven’t had time be a steady store worker in the new building or able to serve on committees other than this past year with strategic planning meetings and the conference, where I truly enjoyed a sense of solidarity and shared commitment to our precious, unique and ever-evolving Co-op. So many great ideas emerged there- so few fruit to show for it now.) But I’m hopeful that we’ve got excellent new board members and active member/worker/owners who will diligently see this through. I’m honored to be among you. My thanks go out to the many who have put in the countless hours this past year + to raise the questions that need to be asked, answered, and integrated into our next stage of HWFC management and our presence in the larger community.

    Like

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