GRASSROOTS ACTION Needed by Bloomingfoods Food Co-op Owners in Indiana

PLEASE see the update to this blogpost, dated June 14, 2016, here.

GRASSROOTS ACTION IS POWERFUL!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran


UPDATE, April 27, 2016: I received many requests from readers to re-post this story, which I did so this morning. Originally posted here as GRASSROOTS ACTION and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP on April 16, 2016, it now has its own brand new title. Content about our HWFC Annual Nominations & Elections has been deleted (because they are over and we won! and here and here are those results!)

UPDATE, April 27, 2016 Bloomington, Indiana’s food co-op, Bloomingfoods, Board/  Management releases announcement about store closings and more possible employee layoffs. After a public meeting held by the Board/Management of Bloomingfoods last night, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, this announcement was released this morning.

See the online Herald Times article in Bloomington, Bloomingfoods Elm Heights Grocery to Close in May, here. Read the comments and post comments, if you are a subscriber to the HT.


April 16, 2016
Updated April 27, 2016

PAST IS PROLOGUE
THE DANGER FOR HWFC IS NOT OVER YET

         Past is Prologue? An eerily similar circumstance to Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) in Indiana? Is HWFC really out of the woods yet?

The following story is about the devolution of Bloomingfoods, a Bloomington, Indiana food co-op founded in 1976, the same year as HWFC, and which also, coincidentally, grew to have a similar numbers of shareholders as HWFC (~13,000 to HWFC’s ~12,000).

It is also about the Honest Weight Food Co-op, located in New York’s capital city, Albany, and a group of Member-Owners of that co-operative fighting that same devolution.

Recent history at both of these American food co-ops is – in significant ways – eerily similar. Bloomingfoods’ story could be Honest Weight Food Co-op’s story.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA AND ITS CO-OP, BLOOMINGFOODS

          I am, in addition to being a longtime Member-Owner of HWFC, a Member-Owner of Bloomingfoods Co-op. I lived in Bloomington for several years, returning to Albany in 2013.

My first action when arriving in Bloomington – a small, beautiful, friendly, liberal mid-western college town – was to join their co-op, Bloomingfoods. I support US food co-ops wherever I go! I had always shopped there whenever professional and personal reasons brought me to town. I was pleased that they had grown – from just the original, funky, converted, two-story home, downtown, made from local Indiana limestone – to having three storefronts, convenient to both residents and Indiana University students.

Bloomingfood’s prices, although higher than the local Kroger’s, were still always much lower than prices I paid at HWFC (not factoring in our 24% discount for weekly Member-Owner Labor): Bloomington has a lower cost of living than Albany. I was impressed with the large selection of local Amish foods available; those prices were usually the lowest. Bloomingfoods also supported and hosted local Farmer’s Markets, both in the Eastside parking lot on Tuesday afternoons, and at the Near Westside store, on a street closed to traffic on Saturday mornings. B’foods was proud of its connections to local Indiana and mid-west farms and I had no difficulty purchasing local, organic fruits, vegetables & pastured eggs & meat.

I did most of my food shopping at B’foods, but I didn’t have the time to do Member Work, nor get involved. However, Member Work only gained me a 10% reduction in purchases at the register. I could just as easily take advantage of both once-a-week Member Day discounts and one monthly Wildcard Day (both 10% off). [1]

This made me really appreciate the value of our 24% discount as weekly working Member-Owners at HWFC!

BACK HOME TO HWFC
BOARD & MANAGEMENT SECRET OPERATIONS

          In 2013, I returned back home to Albany, NY, resuming Member-Work and shopping at HWFC, albeit in its brand new, shiny, big, store on Watervliet Avenue.

On October 23, 2015, our former Board made a direct threat to the legal power of the Member-Owners by attempting to end our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) which would have both removed us from store operations and also, consequently, ended our right to vote. Without the right to vote, Member-Owners would lose their legal control of the co-operative corporation. [2]

Rather than the standard Board communication – the electronic “Inside Scoop” – it was a small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board near the exit, on that Friday, which announced the Board’s intent to

“…end member labor on the floor and administration by January 1, 2016…” [2a] [2b]

Acting President Deb Dennis and her Board attempted to do this behind the backs of Membership, blatantly ignoring the fact that changes to the MLP rest solely and unambiguously with the Member-Owners of our co-operative corporation, as per our bylaws.

The loudest argument we kept hearing from the former Board was that member discounts at HWFC were what was killing our co-op’s budget and had to go. [3]

At the same time they were attempting to end our MLP, there was a strategic and pervasive push by the former Board focused on changing those same bylaws. We uncovered what were clearly-manipulated Strategic Planning and Bylaws Task Force planning processes, both managed by outside consultants: a team of national .coop “experts” and a firm whose work includes “… leading organizational change.[4]

I was shocked by the entrenched pattern of the Board and three-person Leadership Team (top Management or LT) working together in secret: excessively long and repeated Executive Sessions, and the prolific & expensive use of national .coop consultants, local consultants, a Strategic PR & Lobbying firm and (two) law firms, which were utilized in secret after Membership was asked to leave the room …and the Board room door was shut. [5]

There is no doubt about the fact that this former Board intended to do away with our MLP and, thereby, our right to vote. A secret letter, hand-couriered [6] to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) [7] – uncovered through a FOIL request by a Member-Owner of HWFC, Julie Harrell [8] – not only made it clear that the Board was “transitioning” the co-op, but that Management (LT) would be participating in this process of “transition.”

The former Board shared their secret “transition” plan with the DOL – the top labor regulatory body in NYS – in flagrant disregard of the fact that our bylaws require Membership vote and approval of any changes to our MLP: a vote which had never taken place.

At a subsequent secret meeting with the NYS DOL – attended solely by two law firms hired by the Board and Board-invitée Ursula Abrams, co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC) – the MLP issue was pushed. [9] [9a] [10]

Why? As far as we can figure – given that secrecy still shrouds this operation – their intent was to, in effect, turn our co-op into the DOL, in the hopes that DOL would issue a written ruling that Member Labor Programs at NYS food co-operatives, are (somehow) illegal. [11]

This Board of Directors, in its decision to attempt to manipulate the top labor regulatory body in NYS into sanctioning our MLP – while knowing full well that the corporation’s owners knew nothing of this plan – utterly ignored its fiduciary responsibility to that co-operative corporation and its Member-Owners.

Secrecy had to be utilized by this former Board in their dealings with the NYS DOL; a plan with this level of skulduggery would never have passed the muster of the Member-Owners.

Not only was this Board utilizing two legal teams – one with offices in Washington, DC – it had hired a very expensive Strategic PR & Marketing firm, partners with one of the state’s top-ten lobbyists, here in the state which hosts Wall Street. [12] This PR firm, which was also registered as a lobbyist for HWFC [12a] – was using its citizen-busting ‘professional grassroots’ techniques (aka an “astroturf operation” ) to thwart the authentic grassroots advocacy efforts of Member-Owners. [13] At every step of the way, Member-Owners were prohibited from talking to one another;  communication was systematically and professionally hijacked. Disinformation was rampant and our our grassroots’ strategies were sabotaged almost before we implemented them. [13a] [13b]

Very recently-uncovered contracts and correspondence between the HWFC Board, Management and this same firm, confirm the fact that it was retained to assist the Board in its efforts to “sunset the member worker program.” [14]

Finally, this former Board was under contract with CDS Consulting Co-op and its CBLD program: CDSCC is a national .coop firm of co-operative experts, advising many other food co-op Board’s across the country and promoting its Co-operative Board Leadership Development program:

Cooperative Board Leadership Development (known as CBLD and pronounced C-build) is an award-winning innovative program designed to support your board and general manager (GM). [15]

That it did.

FAMILIES DEFEND THEIR LOCAL FOOD CO-OP, TOGETHER

          Well, in just 38 days, petitioners for an emergency meeting confronted these threats to our co-operative corporation, and on November 30, 2015 held an historic emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM) attended by ~710 people, 620 of whom were voting Member-Owners of HWFC, which, ultimately, disempowered that Board and resulted in two-thirds of our Management Team (LT) leaving within several months. [16] [16a]

The former Board’s secret maneuvers, their massive PR & astroturf campaign to change our bylaws, remove us from operations, end our Member-Owner Labor Program and, thereby, the power of our vote …were uncovered, as was the (previously unknown) $75,000 in bonuses paid to our three-person Leadership Team (top Management) over three years. [17]

Current Board counsel has advised that our MLP is defendable – given our current bylaws – and supported under NYS law. [18] The former Board’s claims that our MLP was killing our budget have been proved false. What was killing our budget was the $ .5 million this Board spent to “eliminate member labor and [on the] strategic planning to design its replacement”!!  [see 17] $500,000 of our collective co-op savings was utilized by this Board to pay CDS Consulting Co-op, Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc., Corning Place Communications, Dowling Law PLLC, and  Couch White LLP …to aid this Board in their stealth agenda of separating ownership of our co-operative from us, the Member-Owners. [19]

One of the first moves our new Board members took, in January, 2016, was to place an immediate moratorium upon the use of all consultants & an immediate review of any and all lawyers’ projects. That bleeding was stopped dead in its tracks …as was the whispering of national .coop consultant experts into the ears of any and all Board members & Top Management who cared to listen. [19a]

The former Board’s secret DOL letter & secret DOL meeting had been intentionally launched after the Board had been explicitly told by the Owners of the corporation to stop! Their letter was hastily hand-couriered: two days after acting President Deb Dennis had placed in her hands the petition calling for an emergency meeting and Board recall elections. Their meeting took place: two days after our emergency Special Membership Meeting, attended by 620 voting Member-Owners!

As one of her last moves as our co-operative’s acting-President, Deb Dennis, with a little help from the PR firm she had hired, participated in an AP interview – not disclosing the fact of the interview until it was over. According to Dennis, this interview took place on December 2nd or 3rd, also after our emergency Special Membership Meeting. This January 3, 2016 article, Will work for food? Co-op programs end amid labor-law fears, advertises this Board’s perspective on their secret DOL meeting and it serves to dish up fears about food co-op MLPs …to a national AP audience. [19b] [19c] [19d]

Clearly, completing this undercover NYS DOL mission was a top priority – as was spinning it nationally. And, just as clearly, Deb Dennis’s Board knew no bounds when it came to usurping & wielding power.

Bill Frye, the President just prior to Deb Dennis, was quoted on October 16, 2015, as this Board’s secret agenda was rolled-out, by Albany’s Times Union reporter, Tim O’Brien: [19e]

“‘We would like to get the member workers off the floor of the store. It’s very expensive,’ he said … ‘They are really not as a effective and efficient. They almost have to be retrained every time they come into the store. They also like to chat.'” [20]

Bill Frye was removed from the Board – forty-five days after this quote hit the NY capital’s streets – at its emergency SMM on November 30th …by a packed room, full of the owners & their families of this 39 year-old co-operative corporation, many of whom “like to chat.” The Board secretary, John Serio, did not retain his Board seat. Three new Board members, supportive of our MLP and transparency, were elected: Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and Nate Horwitz.

69% of the Membership voted no confidence in current Management, the three-person Leadership Team (LT) of Duke Bouchard, Lexa Juhre and Lilly Bartels, as well as voting to implement a new Management structure (both straw polls). [20a]

Finally, 85.7% of Member-Owner voters at the SMM – 504 people – voted to disapprove the Board’s decision to “…end member labor on the floor and administration…” [21]

On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down, including Dennis herself. In Tim O’Brien’s Times Union article published the following day, Four Resign from Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, Dennis confirmed

that her Board spent about $257,000 on legal fees in six months in “‘an attempt to change the bylaws and end the [Member Labor] program…’ ”  She complained that the “board’s new majority … has ‘put together a proposal to maximize member labor, to do even more.’ ”  The article continues, “A state Labor Department spokesman told the Times Union in November no co-op in New York had ever been cited for minimum wage violations, and the question of whether members should be paid would depend on how ownership is structured.”

Three months later, on April 17, 2016, at our Membership Meeting & Annual Elections, we took the Board, (mostly). Approximately 385 people attended the meeting, 371 were eligible voters and 355 ballots were cast (of these only one was spoiled). Of the three Board members we elected at our emergency SMM on November 30, 2015, all three have maintained seats on the Board; Carolyn Presser and Kate Doyle were re-elected by a large majority in April, and Nate Horwitz, who was not up for election, remains seated as our Board President. [22] [23] [23a]

That small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board – pulling the trigger on their stealth plans to end our Member-Owner Labor Program, our vote, and our control of our co-operative corporation – had been silently pinned up on a Friday afternoon, October 23, 2015.

The following morning, Member-Owner Chris Colarusso initiated a petition for an emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM). She said that it only took 1 1/2 hours to get 65+ Member-Owner signatures.

Her legally-executed document signed by the Member-Owners of our food co-operative corporation and calling for an emergency meeting of the Membership – was placed in acting President Deb Dennis’s hands by Chris on Saturday, October 24th …a little more than 24 hours later.

Chris came to that Saturday morning co-op meeting, prepared, with her small piece of paper. We all owe a large debt of gratitude to Chris for her unerring & clear-thinking ability to gauge the temperature of the times …and act at the exact right moment demanded by the tsunami overpowering our co-op’s strong, local, community footing. [23b]

Democracy prevailed.

This story is an incredible testament to the living, breathing power of local families helping each other out, using real community, real co-operative, and real grassroots action, all of which are alive and well at this American food co-op, near the banks of the historic Hudson River, in Albany, NY.

~~~

A thoughtful citizen advocate might, at this juncture, take the time to pause, reflect …and ask:

Just what was the Board of a modest upstate NY food co-op doing spending a half-million dollars (!) to buy the services of: two law firms – one with DC offices; PR strategists & registered lobbyists – partners to a NYS top-ten lobby firm; a nationally-recognized .coop firm – building airtight Board-GM alliances  …and an organizational change agent?

Was this merely the oft repeated tale of a local, community Board filled with visions of its own grandiosity …or is there another layer to this .coop story?

Clearly we food co-op Member-Owners need to stay on our guard.

BACK TO THE HOOSIER STATE & BLOOMINGFOODS  [24]

          Several weeks ago, I was again in Bloomington.

I was shocked at the state of Bloomingfoods.

This forty year old – formerly thriving and vibrant Member-Owned & locally-owned food co-op, beloved by Bloomington families – and a lot like Honest Weight Food Co-op – has:

1. Permanently lost its “Owner Volunteer Program” (last summer);
2. Changed its “Owner Discount Structure” for the worse; [25]
3. Significantly reduced the sale of locally-grown and/or produced foods;
4. Seen the closing of its flagship (funky & well-loved!) first storefront; [26]
5. Seen the layoffs of Employees;
6. Seen the layoff of Managers;
7. Announced it expects see more staff layoffs;
8. Experienced turmoil when unionizing activities occurred, which were, initially, put down by union-busting attorneys hired by the Board; [27] [27a][27b] [27c] [27d] [27e]
9. Expanded, with not one but two new outlets, within the same year – only to find the recommendations they received from consultants, and others, to expand had financially over-extended & weakened them; [28]
10. Seen the closing of the wonderful garden center at the Eastside store;
11. Experienced Board meetings to which Member-Owners were denied entrance and participation;
12. Got its Member-Owners – who personally invested money in the co-op – very worried about the loans they have made to Bloomingfoods;
13. Lost 20% in revenue, in part, when a Lucky’s (a Colorado-based natural & organic chain) moved in to town last year; [28a]
14. In its future, a Whole Foods, which is targeted to open next year: its possible location, the Sears’ store at the mall (minutes away from the Eastside co-op store); [29] [30]
14. Seen its (formerly modest) prices skyrocket (!), forcing shoppers to seek lower prices elsewhere in town;
15. Had its operations temporarily taken over by acting GM Paula Gilbertson from National Coop Grocers (NCG). [31] [32]

Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods appeared to have lost control of their locally-owned, locally-operated food co-op. In June 2015, its operations had been temporarily assumed by a nationally-based corporation, National Coop Grocers. [32a]

NATIONAL CO-OP GROCERS AND UNITED NATURAL FOODS, INC.: THE BIGGER PICTURE

Bloomingfoods, like Honest Weight Food Co-op, is a member co-op of National Coop Grocers. NCG is “a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States.” It “…represents 143 natural food co-ops operating 196 stores in 38 states, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion.” NCG’s primary distributor is United Natural Foods, Inc., (Nasdaq: UNFI), with whom it signed a “primary distribution agreement” in 2015, good through at least July 2021.  NCG and UNFI have had a contractual relationship since 2006. [33] [33a] [33b] [33c]

In the August 20, 2015 press release announcing the new UNFI / NCG agreement, UNFI’s President and CEO Steve Spinner stated,

As a virtual chain, NCG is one of our largest and fastest growing customers in the last 10 years. 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. [emphasis added] [33d]

(Note: readers are advised to research and understand the economic & marketplace term “virtual chain” or “virtual value chain.”) [33e]

UNFI is also the primary distributor for Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFM) and has had distribution agreements with WFM for 17 years. Their “primary distribution agreement” was also re-negotiated in 2015; it extends until September 2025. WFM is “UNFI’s largest customer.” [33f][33g] [33h] [33i]

UNFI’s net sales for fiscal year 2015 was $8.18 billion. 32% came from the category called “independently owned natural products retailers, which include buying clubs;” this includes NCG and its US food co-ops, with combined annual sales of $1.8 billion. [33j] [33k] [33l] [33m] [33n]

Whole Foods Market, UNFI’s only supernatural chain, made up 35% of UNFI’s net sales in FY 2015. [33o]

With conventional supermarkets making up only 26% of FY 2015 net sales, UNFI’s independently owned natural products retailers, which include buying clubs – which also includes NCG and its member co-ops – are, at 32%, vying with Whole Foods as UNFI’s largest customer. [33p]

TALKED TO THE LOCALS IN BLOOMINGTON

          What stunned me at Bloomingfoods was the change in prices! Everything had gone up! I called my husband and we compared prices between the exact same brand items here at HWFC and there at Bloomingfoods: pre-packaged foods like organic, bottled tomato paste, coconut & olive oil, Coconut Aminos, gluten-free crackers. Everything was more expensive than at HWFC.

Unlike several years ago – when Bloomingfoods prices were always cheaper than HWFC – there was a complete reversal: this mid-western food co-op was charging prices higher than an upstate New York co-op! In fact, prices had gone up since my last visit to town in October, 2015, only five months ago.

A change in the cost of living in Indiana (there has not been a significant change) does not explain nor account for this dramatic rise in Bloomingfood’s prices.

No longer is Bloomingfoods in Indiana cheaper than HWFC in New York. Those days are gone.

Gone was the large selection of locally-grown or produced Amish foods. For example, I could find no Amish cheeses at the West Side co-op; the price for local Amish chicken had skyrocketed. More in evidence was meat from (national?) suppliers, with brand names I was unfamiliar with. I could find no local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef (in the midwest?)! The cost of organic butter was absolutely not affordable. I could not find the local, inexpensive Amish butter I used to buy.

And sauerkraut? Again, this is the mid-west, Indiana is home to Amish, Mennonite and plenty of German & Swiss families; sauerkraut is a staple, one of the four basic food groups! They had Bubbie’s, which I used to buy at HWFC (until I researched how it is processed and quickly switched to a locally-produced, live, organic, sauerkraut from the Hudson Valley or from Hawthorne Valley Farms in Harlemville, NY): the price for either Bubbie’s or a locally-made sauerkraut was astronomical!

I talked to Member shoppers, several staff, and community members in Bloomington. A staff member, when I asked what was going on with prices and a change in atmosphere at the co-op said (a direct quote): “I don’t know man, it’s almost like we were taken over or something.” A floor manager cheerfully said they had a new GM and they were tightening their belts. A friend who has friends who are personally & financially invested in Bloomingfoods, stated her friends are afraid for their financial investment (Member-Owner loans) in Bloomingfoods.

Gone were the shelves at the end of an aisle with locally-made crafts, candles, jewelry & kitchen gadgets, which I always loved!: replaced with that week’s latest promotional or (non-local, nationally-promoted) sale item.

The three storefronts I visited (one, Elm Heights, was brand new to me; see endnote 24) were all glossy, clean, high-end looking: chic-chic. The shelves were very neatly stocked & full.

Bloomingfood’s flagship store – the funky, two-story, comfy “home” – was gone. Its doors are closed. [See endnote 26: a picture is worth a thousand words.]

Bloomingfoods uses the same paper goods as HWFC and, if memory serves, the same paper bags (with the handles that always break). The sale flyers look the same as ours. Every aisle is picture-perfect, in fact, the product layout on shelves could have been a mirror to that at HWFC.

Our two co-ops have been transformed to look more like expensive food boutiques…

…rather than the place to both purchase low-cost, high-quality, sustainable, locally-grown & produced organic foods, and work shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors, as our families connect up with and support local, organic farm families.

This food co-op in Indiana, with its glossy, picture-perfect store lay-outs and fully-stocked shelves, is in trouble. An adjunct professor friend of mine told me she can no longer afford to shop at Bloomingfoods; she hits sale days at Lucky’s (Wednesdays) and has switched to shopping almost 100% at Krogers. [34]

WHAT HAPPENED TO B’FOODS MEMBER-OWNER LABOR PROGRAM?

          On April 10th, I emailed Bloomingfoods and asked what had happened to the Member-Owner Labor Program. This is, in part, the reply I received from Jean Kautt, Marketing and Member Services Manager, Bloomington Cooperative Services Inc.:

We discontinued our owner volunteer program last summer for several reasons (this was publicly announced at our annual meeting in October [2015])…

…Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs due to changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities. It has gotten very complicated in the past 40 years! After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past. We are still exploring other ways for our owners to be active at the co-op, and with a national network of almost 200 co-ops to share information with, there are some good ideas out there…[34a]

I was instantly sensitive to the use of the terms “volunteer-owner” “volunteer program” and “volunteer opportunities,” when referring to, what we here at HWFC call our “Member-Owner Labor Program” or MLP. Here, the word “owner” had virtually disappeared.

In addition, using the term “volunteer” when referring to Member-Owner Labor, sets up a red flag! A nationally-recognized expert on co-operative and nonprofit law, Laddie Lushin, Esq., in his 2009 article, Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality, recommends as a first priority to not utilize this word, when strengthening your food co-op’s Member-Labor Program! He states, “Using volunteer terminology thus prejudices the co-op’s legal posture by suggesting a basis for exemption that is clearly bogus.” [34b] [34c]

Yet, here, we find Bloomingfoods’ descriptors and PR intentionally waving this red flag!

The information in Ms. Kautt’s email about the owner volunteer program being discontinued last summer, conflicts with what the minutes from B’foods October 18, 2015 Annual Meeting state. In those minutes we find no mention of the ending of the “owner volunteer program,” rather, the statement:

Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer with organizations in – line with our ENDS statement for a discount/incentive at Bloomingfoods. [emphasis added]

Once again, the standard and vague “labor law and other factors…” language is utilized.

It appears the “owner volunteer programwas replaced with the “Ambassadors Volunteer Program.” Please read this document,  A Letter to Shareholders, written by HWFC Member-Owner and attorney, Kate Doyle, to understand the significance of Member-Owner work as part of store operations. This will explain how removing Member-Owners of a food co-op from operations, serves to threaten Member-Owner ownership of that same co-op. [see 2b and 34a]

Getting rid of “owner volunteers” and replacing them with “ambassador volunteers” is not just semantics: intentionally choosing the word “volunteer,” while also eliminating the word “owner” has legal consequences for the Owners of the co-operative corporation. And, the program itself has also, handily, eliminated the  “owners” from day-to-day co-op operations; another action which has legal consequences for those who own the food co-op.

This may serve the needs of the Board & Management (and outside consultants); it does not serve the Ownership rights of Bloomingfoods’ co-operative corporation Member-Owners.

Clearly, expert legal advice was utilized by Bloomingfoods Management (?), Board (?), consultants (?) in morphing Bloomingfoods’ Owner Volunteer Program into its Ambassador Volunteer Program.

This same move, by the way, was played at our co-op, in New York.

We responded by calling an emergency Special Membership Meeting and stopping it dead in its tracks.

It is also not factual to state that, “Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs…” There are many US food co-ops which continue to utilize Member-Labor as a fundamental part of co-operative structure. [35]

I also would like it confirmed that B’foods brand new labor union – the UFCW Local 700 – (see 27e) did, in fact, agree that B’foods could “…no longer … offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past…”, as this email implies. A union, agreeing with Management, to sunset Member-Owner Labor at a co-operative? Really?

I was struck by how utterly similar Bloomingfoods’ (or at least their Marketing and Member Services Manager’s) reasons for ending their Member Labor Program were, to the reasons put forward by our former Board. Some of the language in this April email was virtually identical to words uttered by HWFC former Board Members last October, when they attempted to permanently shut down our Member Labor Program.

Funny, this email says that things have “gotten very complicated in the last 40 years.” HWFC and Bloomingfoods co-ops have both been locally-owned and operated for 40 years – very successfully. I don’t remember any “complications” during that time period – here at HWFC in NYS anyway [36] – which necessitated ending our Member-Labor Program for good. I can’t believe that things are that much more “complicated” in the state of Indiana; if anything, New York is the state always blamed for its onerous regulations & complications!

~~~

It is a very recent phenomenon, this idea being promoted nationally, that Member-Labor – and, hence, Member control and local control – are threats to a co-operative corporation. These are, in fact, fundamentals of a co-operative! Yet here we find Member-Owners at two different food co-ops being fed the same vague, undefined, threatening language, “changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities:” language being wielded as a tool to dis-empower co-op Member-Owners…

…no, let me call a spade a spade: these vague threats are being wielded to peel away the control & ownership of a co-op from the Member-Owners.

Local control of US food co-operative’s is under attack; control of organic food is being undermined. The individuals & families who are invested in their co-op and who are also deeply invested in their local, hometown community are losing control of both their food co-ops and their food supply.

This attack appears to be coming from the top down – from the national level – not from the bottom up – from the community, grassroots level.

HOW MANY B’FOODS EMPLOYEES WERE DOWN-SIZED OR LET GO?

       The NCG representative, Paula Gilbertson, assumed the role as acting GM of Bloomingfoods in June, 2015. That same summer, Bloomingfoods’ “owner volunteer program” was permanently shut down.

In addition, significant staff layoffs were announced. I’ll let media articles & blogposts speak for themselves:

Bloomingfoods: Layoffs Expected As Business Declines
June 15, 2015

The co-op is reducing overhead in order to operate profitably with lower sales and several middle management positions were eliminated last week resulting in a number of layoffs,” acting general manager Paula Gilbertson [from NCG] said in a press release…

She says more layoffs are expected as Bloomingfoods management seeks continued reductions in its operating expenses. [37]

Bloomingfoods Co-op Announces Layoffs Amidst Increased Competition
June 16, 2015

Bloomingfoods Co-op has laid off 18 middle management employees in the past week — with more expected… [38]

Bloomingfoods Meeting Hints at More Layoffs
June 23, 2015

See the Herald Times article. [39]

Iconic Bloomingfoods Co-op starts to “right its ship.”
June 23, 2015

…on June 9, 2015, the General Manager resigned and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. This was a needed first step taken by a board that had since added two (or three?) new members and had gradually and subtly moved from its years-long default position of doing whatever the GM wanted to understanding and acting independently.

Within a few more days, 40 management positions were eliminated, with more to come… [40]

Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager
Jan 12, 2016

about a dozen members of the managerial staff were let go. [41]

MORE TO THE STORY, a dot coop FIRM: CDS CONSULTING CO-OP …YET AGAIN
NATIONAL CONSULTANTS HAVE OUR BEST INTERESTS AT HEART?

          It is noteworthy that both co-ops, Bloomingfoods and HWFC, have been or are clients of CDS Consulting Coop; in fact, Bloomingfoods is a featured client on CDSCC’s website and its former three-term, Board president, Art Sherwood was and is a CDSCC consultant. Both of these US food co-ops – Bloomingfoods and HWFC – have relied upon the consulting services of this nationally-advertised .coop firm, with national interests and national ties: interests not necessarily based in nor springing from each of the local communities of these two food co-ops. [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

Contrast the glowing picture painted of Bloomingfoods by CDSCC – one of their featured clients – with this assessment of the co-op by National Co-op Grocers (NCG), at the time acting GM Paula Gilbertson arrived from NCG. This was captured on June 23, 2015 by blogger and Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp:

Last night I attended a Member/Owner OpenHouse set up by the Bloomingfoods board, to let us know what has been going on with the reorganization, spurred on by the assessment and guidance they — or rather, WE — are receiving from the National Coop Grocers Association, which serves 150 co-ops nationally, and has been brought in during this crucial transition to help stem the bleeding which, according to the NCGA, is the worst they have seen. Though food co-ops nationwide are going through hard times, for Bloomingfoods, ‘the path to solve for cash-positive is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered.’ [emphases added] [50]

One has to pose the obvious question: if CDSCC’s consulting services for Board & Management training are so successful, why is this CDSCC-featured co-op – in such dire straits? Why is Bloomingfoods “the worst they [NCGA has] seen,” according to this B’foods Member-Owner’s blog report?

NCG’s assessment – “‘a path to solve for cash-positive [which] is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered…'” should include a recommendation to the Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods to review the deliverables to and the cost of this national group of .coop consultants, for all contracted years. [see endnote 46] [51]

~~~

Author and Member-Owner of the Putney, Vermont food co-op, Mimi Yahn has written about CDS Consulting Co-op, with a wake-up call to US food co-op owners to guard their bylaws…and their borders. In her January 14, 2015 article in The Commons, Losing Our Principles, she states:

…The wording in the CDS bylaws template eliminates nearly everything that makes the current by-laws specific to the Putney Co-op and to cooperative governance. It is generic and vague enough to make for an easy and completely legal transition from a cooperative entity to a subsidiary of a large corporation…

…The proposed bylaws represent a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.

We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting Co-op…

…In my own experience serving on bylaws committees with different nonprofits and community organizations, I’ve never seen a better, more eloquent, and more clear set of bylaws than those currently governing the Putney Co-op.

From the inclusion of the beautifully worded cooperative principles (removed from the proposed bylaws) to the specifics of board responsibilities and member rights (both also removed), the current bylaws are clearly and unequivocally cooperative in governance and progressive in nature.

The proposed version, on the other hand, is a bare-bones corporate model, a boilerplate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary…

…trust was seriously damaged when the board attempted to force a vote [on the new bylaws] at the annual meeting and imperiously attempted to shut down the discussion and questions by members…

…Characterizing the concerns of members about fundamental revisions to the bylaws as a matter of “perception as opposed to reality” doesn’t help the board’s case or credibility. Nor did one lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed change, which would allow members to attend, but not participate in general meetings.

Despite the vehement assertions of the board that there is no difference beyond semantics, there is. It’s called democracy. [emphases added] [52]

In Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op, in the February 11, 2015 issue of The Commons, Ms. Yahn continues:

…No wonder, then, that when the policy governance model [promoted by CDS] states unequivocally that the policies made by the board must “establish control over the entire organization,” co-op boards across the country adopt this mandate unquestioningly. And when members protest, we are branded and dismissed as “alarmist,” “uninformed,” “micro-managers,” and worse.

The model also mandates that these new policies must replace “more traditional documents such as mission statements, strategic plans, and budgets” and a crucial part of this governance shift is rewriting the bylaws.

That’s where the bylaws template provided by CDS to the Putney Food Co-op board comes in.

And so this begs the most important question of all: Do the member owners have any voice left, or is CDS dictating the means, the ends, and all the policies, procedures, and bylaws in between that govern the Putney Food Co-op? [emphases added] [53]

Ms. Yahn notes the trend towards the “corporitization” or “Stepfordization” of US food co-ops, in her two well-researched articles and one letter to the editor. Pay close attention to examples of the exclusion of local, Member-Owner control, the strengthening of the axis of power between Board & Management, and the too-cozy connections between national .coop corporations. (Be sure to read the Comments at the end of each):

Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online, a project of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

A slightly different version of Ms. Yahn’s article was published on February 4, 2015 entitled Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op. The publisher, VTDigger.org, “is a statewide news website that publishes watchdog reports on state government, politics, consumer affairs, business and public policy.

Ms. Yahn updated her article, Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op, with Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, in this February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons Online.

Four months ago, in December, I emailed Mimi Yahn and asked whether or not the Member-Owners of the Putney Food Co-op had retained or eliminated their original bylaws. Ms.Yahn stated, “CDS was ultimately successful…[54]

They were eliminated. Putney Food Co-op’s “better, more eloquent, and … clear set of bylaws” is history. [55]

~~~

CDS Consulting Co-op’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development training or CBLD Team Leader, Mark Goehring, along with CDSCC consultant Thane Joyal, personally worked with our former Board. To remind you, CBLD is a “program designed to support your board and general manager (GM).” [56] Foisted upon our co-op last spring, by the former Board, was CDSCC’s CBLD product called the ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, thankfully never brought to a vote nor ratified by our Membership…

…that is because we uncovered and fought off a well-funded, orchestrated and strategic push to change our perfectly good bylaws (which you can read about here, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, and here GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL!) To learn about the gag orders required of participants on the HWFC Bylaws Task Force, dig into those blogposts and ask: what’s a “signed non-disclosure agreement” doing as a prerequisite to working on bylaws at a food co-op?!

An example of the gutting of Member-Owner’s power and control, promoted by CDSCC, is the Special Meetings’ clause in its Fresh Start Bylaws. Fresh Start allows for Special Membership Meetings, however Article III 3.2, informs us that the “Decisions made at any special meeting are advisory only.” [57]

This is reminiscent of the Putney, Vermont story Ms. Yahn told, about a “…lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed [bylaws] change, which would allow members to attend, but not participate in general meetings. [see 52]

Where would HWFC be today if, on October 23, 2015, when we HWFC member-owners were confronted with the actions of an out-of-control board, we had the CDSCC CBLD Fresh Start Bylaws instead of our own? Could we have held an emergency Special Membership Meeting? Would it have allowed us the right to stop the actions of a board run amok?

We could have held a Special Meeting; however, our decisions would have been advisory, not legally-binding. Under these CDSCC Fresh Start Bylaws, Article III 3.2, the former Board would have retained full power and control. Our Member-Owners could not have stopped any of their actions through our emergency Special Membership Meeting.

The Special Membership Meeting (SMM) is – at many US co-ops – the only way for co-op Member-Owners to halt a wayward, dysfunctional, power-grabbing Board …or a Board being unduly influenced by national consultants. Eliminate the power of the SMM in the bylaws… …monkey with the bylaws’ definition of “shareholders” vs “Member-Owners” …add a bunch of new “shareholders” (as opposed to “Owners“) to the Membership …and a handful of people, at the top, will control your co-operative corporation. [57a]

What they then do with your co-op – or what once was your co-op – is up to them (…and the teams of national consultants who may – or may not – still be circling the co-op wagon.)

~~~

Three US food co-ops – in Vermont, New York and Indiana – with local, Member-Owner control & ownership of their co-operative corporation under attack, compromised …or gone. All three are (or were) CDS Consulting Co-op clients. [57b]

To quote Mimi Yahn, the “…very notion of cooperative governance has been perversely turned upside-down and repackaged by corporatist shills as the new future of co-ops.” Your food co-op may be “the biggest, grandest, hippest emporium of upscale organic food in the region” but if you Member-Owners all don’t control it, if you all don’t own it …what does all that matter?  [57c] [58]

If I were a Bloomingfoods Member-Owner, I’d grab the bylaws (dig up old copies, as well) and start attending Board meetings en masse; in the February 2016 Board Minutes under item 4, Bylaw Changes are calendared in for March and August, 2016.

Our former Board ignored our bylaws, at their convenience, and, at the same time, made a strong push to try and change them, as Mimi Yahn also described. Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are being leveraged to do the same thing …if it is not  already too late.

If I were a Member-Owner who had loaned Bloomingfoods money, I would demand an immediate accounting of that money and a written answer as to why I hadn’t been recently (or ever?) contacted. Be nice to have all investor names and emails, as well; they need to talk to each other.

Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners & families, listen to other grassroots, food co-op Member-Owners: protect & defend your co-operative corporation and protect your bylaws! Your co-op belongs to you and your Member-Owner families.

Organize. Your. Grassroots. Now.

UPDATE, Monday, April 25, 2016: And I would get to the:

“SPECIAL MEMBER-OWNER MEETING: THE FUTURE OF BLOOMINGFOODS” on Tuesday, Apr 26th @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Rhino’s Youth Center, 331 S Walnut St., Bloomington IN. Since notice of this meeting was only sent out via email five days ago, on Thursday, April 21, 2016 …you may not have heard about the meeting …about your future. The email says:

Please join our new General Manager, Tony Alongi, along with our Board of Directors to learn about current business conditions and future plans for our co-op.

SAD STORY, BUT WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH HWFC?

          What does all this have to do with our co-op here in Albany, New York?

We Member – Owners here at Honest Weight Food Co-op stopped a train on November 30, 2015 at our emergency Special Membership Meeting: stopped, in its tracks, the actions of an out-of-control Board with its strong & secret alliance with out-of-control Management and a bunch of consultants & lawyers: an alliance which excluded Member-Owners and which, in fact, sought to remove Member-Owners from power.

We Member-Owners – including our Member-Owners who are employees – successfully defended and maintained control of our locally-owned, locally-operated food co-op on November 30, 2015…

…and did so again at our April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting and Annual Elections.

The path we were on is eerily, in fact almost exactly like the path of Bloomingfoods …except that we Member-Owners defended our co-op. We kept local control and we kept Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation.

Bloomingfoods has yet to defend its co-operative corporation.

By the way, did it matter to this story that some of the Members were Member-Owner employees and some of the Members were simply Member-Owners? Orsome were union employees and some not?

No.

ALL the Members of Bloomingfoods – Owner and Owner-Employee alike, union or non-union employee, alike  – are facing the same possible future: the stark reality of the closure of their co-op (or what once was their co-op) or – at the very least – a reduction in the number of storefronts and the dismissal of an even larger number of employees.

Worse case: they are facing a future with a town – home! – which no longer has a food co-op.

A beloved forty year-old co-op – which was founded by Member-Owner families like yours and mine – may go belly-up…

…or, even worse, may be seamlessly assumed by a large, national corporation; formally ending its life as a locally-owned, member-owned and operated American food co-operative, and becoming …something else.

Strong grassroots action – family-helping-family – kept us here at Honest Weight Food Co-op from that fate. Let us hope that Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owners and Bloomington’s families can rise to the challenge and defend their ownership of their locally-owned & locally-operated food co-op.

And, we here at HWFC are still on our guard. That does not end, especially when $500,000 was recently spent by the former Board to weaken and eliminate our control and ownership. (Please refer back to the blog header, by John Philpot Curran.)

WE OWNERS DEFENDED OUR LOCALLY-OWNED CO-OP: A SIX-MONTH ADVOCACY BATTLE

          We defended what is ours.

Our new Board is (mostly):

-pro-HWFC
-pro-Member-Owner Labor
-pro-Good Employee Working Conditions
-pro-Local Farmers and Local Food Producers
-pro-a Co-op which Remains Locally-Owned and Locally-Operated

Our annual elections are over, by just eight days. We have a newly-configured set of nine new Board members, and Member-Owners invigorating all of our Committees. We have a brand new Member-Owner newsletter, the Co-op Voice! We are invested – and investing – in strengthening the roots of our locally-owned and locally-operated food co-operative.

LOCAL INDIANA CO-OP VOICES SPEAK: WE NEED TO LISTEN
THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF STRONG GRASSROOTS ADVOCACY, GO WE

          Let me share some of what Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are saying, through their blogs. Some of the observations are eerily similar to experiences we have had here at HWFC – these stories could be ours:

Posted October 9, 2014 Bloomingfoods Co-op Crisis, Act II. Unite Bloomingfoods marches to Board Meeting by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp at Exopermaculture:

But wait a minute, you say. Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!

something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!

…The March was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. with the Co-op Board Meeting at 6:30. I got to the East Side Store, where the march was set to begin, at about 5:20. Not many folks there yet. Would they come?

Ten more minutes, and the crowd had swollen enough to make a good showing for our short march to the board meeting. Oops! Once there, we were stopped. Not allowed in. What? Somebody opened the door to tell us. The fire marshall has decreed that only 40 are allowed in the room. Are you on the list. Did you RSVP? Oops, maybe four of us RSVPed. Okay, you can go in.

The rest of us, and that’s most of us, milled around some more, kvetching about not having even known that we were supposed to RSVP! Was this the first time a board meeting had required an RSVP from member-owners? The answer to that was never clear to me. Whatever was going on behind that innocuous looking front window was something we were not going to be privy to?[emphases added] [59]

Here is a local media account of this same Bloomingfoods Board meeting, held on October 7, 2014:

Anyone who was not a member-owner was also not allowed in and some of the member-owners were turned away because fire code only allowed so many people in the room at one time. [60]

Posted August 9, 2014 Why do I Shop at Bloomingfoods? by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham at The Road Goes On:

It also quickly became apparent that there was almost no transparency. The newsletter didn’t talk about coop issues. The minutes from board meetings were conspicuously absent. Indeed, until recently I had no idea when board meetings even were. They weren’t advertised.2 The newsletter mostly included fluff articles and local events. I had no idea what was going on internally to the coop, and no clear channel for finding out…

The more I shopped at Bloomingfoods, the more I realized that they carried very little local produce. What they did carry all seemed to either not be labelled with its origin … Most of what Bloomingfoods carries is big organic. Much of it is even conventional.

As I got to know local farmers, I started to learn about what the coop required of them in order to carry their produce. One local farmer I spoke to told me that he had given up trying to sell to Bloomingfoods. When he’d attempted in the past he’d been told to match the prices of the big organic farms in California. Which is impossible for him to do, and unreasonable for a coop to ask of him. [emphases added] [61]

Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp:

…After a short slide show of graphs from the NCGA folks that alerted us both to our predicament and its national context, the microphone was turned over to the member/owners present, with lots of warnings to be civil, to not speak too long, and so on. I was surprised. Do they need to tell us to be civil? We are always civil here, so civil in this community, by and large, that the former GM and his minions got away with way too much stasis for way too many years.

Though we were warned repeatedly not to comment, but simply to ask questions — one question each, please — and hand in written comments to the board afterwards, everybody in line had things to say, and none of them were confined to one question. That the board sought to confine comments to questions led to agitation, a sense of revolt and dismay — and then, simply, ‘disobedience.  [emphases added]  [62]

BLOOMINGFOOD’S MANAGEMENT SPEAKS

          Let me end with comments made by Management of Bloomingfoods: Paula Gilbertson, who was the acting-GM at Bloomingfoods, brought in from National Coop Grocers (NCG, https://www.ncg.coop/), in an interview with Joe Hren from WFIU radio (Independent Public Media):

June 29, 2015 Bloomingfoods Acting GM On Communication, Pricing And Staff

Hren: Most of what I’ve heard about were more administrative-type moves. Is that going to continue to happen or are there other plans for some sort of new marketing with the store.

Gilbertson: This is sort of phase one. The opportunities in Bloomington are great and I think the co-op serves the market very well. I think we can refine and change with the times and catch up with simple things that we didn’t have to do 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

Hren: And what are some of those things?

Gilbertson: We’ll want to take advantage of social media in terms of having discussions, having more information, having more communication available.

Hren: And with those members, besides shopping, how do you keep them involved or do you want to keep them involved in this process of change that’s going to happen?

Gilbertson: Member forums, on a monthly basis to have dialogue with the members of the board that they’ve chosen as their representatives, those are regularly scheduled. We will be sending out regular communication to members about the transition plan and what’s happening with this. Bloomingfoods has this opportunity to open the doors wide and talk with its members.

Hren: So what now, you just had the meeting and I assume this will be a long process…what can people expect to start happening now?

Gilbertson: We’ll kind take it one step at a time. We’ll communicate more frequently and more often, we’ll updated people and our next big push will be for the annual meeting in October.

Hren: This is a trend that’s happening probably across the country. Are there other things that Bloomingfoods can learn outside of Bloomington to bring that here to help in that situation?

Gilbertson: We’ve noted that it has slowed down the growth of some of our co-ops when competition comes to town and there are more players. But it makes us better and makes us focus on those core strengths we have. I think we will have embraced a lot of what co-ops across the country have learned as competition has come into there area: there is something unique the cooperative ownership structure offers.

Hren: So besides the surveys, is there anything else the customers could see in the stores? Maybe prices or other items?

Gilbertson: Actually we’re working on pricing right now to be implemented the first week of July and we’re working hard on that as we speak. We’re looking at where we have opportunities to adjust our prices  and serve our members better. So hopefully you’re going to see happier staff and staff more in tune with what’s going on and more informed, so I would hope there would be more engagement with customers and staff. (END) [63]

January 12, 2016 Indiana Public Media reports Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager:

Bloomingfoods has hired a new general manager. Tony Alogni will start the job on March 1st.

Currently, Alongni holds a position at the second-largest co-op in the country, Hanover Co-Op in Hanover, New Hampshire… [64] [65] [66]

                                                                                                                                                                             © Laura Hagen

[1] This is reminiscent of HWFC’s marketing tool of “Shareholder Saturdays:” why do Monthly Work (3 hours) as a Member-Owner and get 8% off when you can buy on “Shareholder Saturdays” for 10% off – and do no work!

This marketing strategy, however, cleverly  removes any incentive for Member-Owners to invest in and commit to their local co-op. We are relegated to the role of customers (getting a coupon) …rather than of Owners.

[2] The move to initiate reductions to HWFC MLP discounts had already begun at the  June, 2015 Membership Meeting. This Board’s attempt to end our MLP on October 23, 2015 was an attempt to sink the nail in that coffin.

[2a] Member-Owners, see the official Board minutes for October 20, 2015, here: http://www.honestweight.coop/page/board-meeting-minutes-99.html

[2b] The term “on the floor and administration” is significant: Owners of a co-op hold responsibilities for the operation of a co-op store; traditionally met through Owners completing a regular (weekly, monthly) work shift in the store. Booting us out of the store “and administration” means we are severed from store operational control: leaving the coast clear for Management to assume 100% control of operations, and for the Board to be able to reasonably argue that bylaws’ changes are in order. (See also endnotes 34a and 57a.)

Please read: A Letter to Shareholders, written by Member-Owner and attorney, Kate Doyle.

[3] It has since been determined that the “cost” of our Member Labor Program is not what derailed our budget, see endnotes 17 and 19.

Our Treasurer’s first Quarterly Financial report will explain, in detail, how the former Board massively over-spent co-op savings in the last year.

[4] Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc. (see: http://shemcohen.com/); Mark Goehring, CBLD Team Leader and Thane Joyal, CDS Consulting Co-op (seehttp://www.cdsconsulting.coop/;  http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/mark-goehring ; http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/thane-joyal )

See my two posts, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, here and GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL! here; see the sections BYLAWS: LOTS OF READING AND THINKING TO DO and ALICE IN WONDERLAND DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Is this a Bylaws Task Force or a Better End Member-Labor Task Force?

 [5] CDS Consulting Co-op; Change Events, Inc.; Corning Place Communications; Dowling Law PLLC; Couch White LLP.

In addition, see:here, here, here, here, here and, finally, here.

[6] This letter was hand-couriered to the NYSDOL after a fully-executed petition to oust current Board members, via an emergency Special Membership Meeting, had been personally handed to the acting Board President, Deb Dennis, on Saturday, October 24, 2015. See here.

[7] See the secret Board letter to the NYS Department of Labor, here.

[8] See the FOIL request, here.

[9] The secret meeting, between an HWFC Board representative (GRC co-chair, Ursula Abrams) & two Board law firms (attorneys John Vero of Couch White and Joanmarie Dowling of Dowling Law) and NYSDOL employees, took place on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, after our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting, held on November 30, 2015! (Do you recognize the pattern here: just ignore the legal wishes of co-op owners and bull ahead?) The decision to prevent Member-owners from attending this meeting was made by acting President Deb Dennis, who confirmed this fact to a packed Board meeting on January 5, 2016!

To this date, we do not know meeting content nor outcomes.

A written report to Membership, presented by Ursula Abrams, then co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC), who was the only other Board-invited guest to this meeting, has since been confirmed to have been written and/or edited by the Strategic PR firm hired by the Board.

The GRC had a responsibility to the Member-Owners of this co-op to share this meeting date, time, place and agenda with Member-Owners: it did not do so. It had lost sight of the fact that it is not a committee of the Board; it was originally founded by the Member-Owners of HWFC to watchdog the actions of another out-of-control Board. The GRC was tasked with reporting directly to Membership (as well as to the Board).

In other words, the GRC, which is elected by the Membership, is a Committee which serves at the pleasure of the Membership; whom, in this case, it ignored.

See here, under section entitled, Secrecy.

[9a] Member-Owners see here for Ms. Abrams report:  http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BdNwsltr/1449203735_Inside%20Scoop%202015-12-03.pdf

[10] Member-Owners see here.

[11] A properly structured Member-Owner Labor Program at a food co-op is absolutely allowable in NYS, with the presumption that the bylaws are properly written and the “owners” have control over the operations of the co-op. See this document, here, written by our Board Treasurer, Kate Doyle, Esq.:

[12] Corning Place Communications’ website lists Hinman Straub as its partner. See Corning Place’s website, here. See the 2015 NYS JCOPE Report, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/pubs/POL/2015_%20Annual%20Report_%20FINAL_4_8_16r.pdf

[12a] Search NYS JCOPE website, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/view_filing.html

Also NYS citizens may search the Project Sunlight website, https://projectsunlight.ny.gov/ . Project Sunlight is the the work of Blair Horner, a longtime, respected citizens’ advocate from NYPIRG. See: http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/attorney-general-andrew-cuomo-appoints-blair-horner-new-special-adviser-policy-and

[13]Astroturfing” is fake grassroots’ actions – used to thwart and undermine citizen groups, the real grassroots – which meet the agenda of a paying client or corporation: in this case the paying client was our own Board of Directors.

See definitions of “astroturfinghere and here. See my post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Current Bylaws ARE POWERFUL here; especially the sections SECRET & SILENT STEALTH PR STRATEGISTS PULLING THE BYLAWS’ STRINGS? and STRATEGIC PR FIRMS COST…HOW MUCH? AND THEY DO WHAT TO GRASSROOTS ACTION?

[13a] We citizen, grassroots advocates were up against a vicious, well-funded fight to stop our actions and silence us. My contempt for fake grassroots or astroturfing – usually funded by silent, monied corporations or those with political ends, and executed by professional Strategic PR operatives – knows no bounds. The fact that it was our own Board & top Management (LT) which participated in this – and funded this operation with our own collective co-op savings! and used it against us, the Owners & families of the food  co-operative – leaves me beyond speechless.

[13b] This November 11, 2015 post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Stifled Communication ARE POWERFUL! gives a taste of what we were up against, 19 days into it.

[14] A recent review of invoices from this firm, Corning Place Communications, has confirmed former Board payments for such “astroturfing” activities. The former Board paid Corning Place Communications $20,000 during 2015! A portion of one of these letters, with this text, was read by Board candidate (and new Board member) Tim Corrigan, at our annual Membership and Board Elections’ Meeting on April 17, 2016.

[15] See CDS Consulting Co-op, under “Co-operative Governance,” here.

[16] This was the largest Membership Meeting in our co-op’s 39 year history!

The grassroots advocacy done by this group of “Petitioner’s for an Emergency Special Membership Meeting” was and is phenomenal! 38 days: petitioning & “tabling” at our co-op, “clipboarding” in the parking lot, late-night meetings, daily organizer email updates, the formation of several member-owner websites (including this Grassroots Action is Powerful! blog, here!) and a FB page, a mailchimp blast e-list, getting petition paperwork done, phone calling, info-meetings with Membership, legal docs re. MLPs in NYS, orange “Let’s Chat” t-shirt donations, a new written policy on petitioning at HWFC, organizing the meeting, FOIL Letters, communications’ struggles overcome, printing up ballots, preparing food…  …and all this with the DIRECT OPPOSITION of the Board which clamped down on ALL means of communications between Member-Owners, while leveraging & lobbing the professional astroturfing services of the Board’s Strategic PR Firm against us!…

The outpouring of energy, effort & commitment from these Member-Owner individuals and families has directly  led to a co-op which is, once again, continuing on with its original mission of being locally-owned, “Member-owned and Member-operated…”

It is an honor to be working with all the fellow Member-Owner, grassroots advocacy heroes: who are – simply – families helping one another to keep our co-op strong, locally-owned and locally-operated.

[16a] Subsequent to our SMM, Duke Bouchard and Lexa Juhre resigned their top Management positions (as part of HWFC’s three-person Leadership Team (LT) ).

[17] This board spent “$500,000 to eliminate member labor and [on] strategic planning to design its replacement;” “[o]ver $200,000 on Central Avenue building since moving to new store;” and “$75,000 in bonuses paid to LT over three years.” Member-Owners see here.

[18] Please see this document, written by Kate Doyle, Esq., to understand MLPs and NYS law.

[19] At the January 5, 2016 Board meeting, it was announced to Membership, by our newly-elected Board members, that the former Board had spent $257,000 on legal fees in only six months (since July, 2015). This former Board was spending $42,833 a month (!!!) to two law firms, to assist them in their agenda to end our MLP, change our bylaws, remove Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation and implement a replacement to our MLP.

The Quarterly Financial Report, which our Treasurer is preparing, will shock all of us. The monies used by the former Board – to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner power – came directly out of our HWFC savings. These are the funds you and I, and all the other HWFC Member-Owners, collectively “own:” the funds which positioned us as a financially-healthy food co-op, funds which should have been used in the furtherance of our mission. Instead, our savings was used against us, in order to eliminate the power & control we legally hold in our co-operative corporation.

[19a] Member-Owners see the Board minutes here: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BoardMin/1453937765_2016-01-05_Board_Minutes_Edited.pdf

[19b] Ms. Dennis confirmed the fact of the AP interview to a packed room at the December 15, 2015 Board meeting.

[19c] See the AP article by Michael Hill, here: http://bigstory.ap.org/article/0d4fa593e5944ae09c0a2a773f0fd47e/will-work-food-co-op-programs-end-amid-labor-law-fears

[19d] Also, see my December 16, 2015 blogpost, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Executive Committees ARE POWERFUL! here. It is shocking that a locally-based AP reporter would focus on Dennis’s agenda and completely ignore the fact that a historic HWFC emergency meeting with ~720 participants had just taken place, 1-2 days prior to his interview. Not newsworthy enough?

[19e] Thank you to Tim O’Brien  and the Times Union for staying on this story! We grassroots families here at HWFC are very lucky to have a reporter of Tim’s caliber who’s following our advocacy efforts to defend our food co-operative and to keep it locally-owned and locally-controlled.

Follow the story through his eyes, since October 16, 2015, here.

[20] See the Times Union, dated October 16, 2015,  Honest Weight Food Co-op Considers Dropping Member Workers in Store by Tim O’Brien, here.

[20a] The text of the two straw polls – with the official  election results from our SMM – is as follows:

4. Member review and vote on recommendation for the Board to research and consider a different Management Structure.

Straw poll results are as follows:
67.7% Voted Yes the Board may consider a different management structure

395 Yes – Board may consider different management structure
188 No – Board is not encouraged to consider a different management structure

5. Member review and vote on a finding of no confidence in the members of the leadership team and request that the board initiate review, pursuant to the employee manual, regarding each member of the leadership team.

Straw poll results are as follows:
69% Voted to Change the Leadership Team

393 Voted to Change the Leadership Team
176 Voted to Keep the Leadership Team

See the Special Meeting Notice  (pp. 1 & 4) and the Official Election Results.

[21] This was also a straw poll. See the Official Election Results.

[22] John Serio, Secretary, also did not maintain his Board seat at our SMM on November 30, 2015. On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down: Deb Dennis, Leif Hartmark, Roseann Coto-Batres, and Roman Kuchera.

[23] See Tim O’Brien’s Times Union article, Six Win Seats on Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, in the Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Times Union

[23a] Member-Owners, see the official election results here: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BdNwsltr/1461700126_Inside%20Scoop%202016-04-26.pdf

[23b] I think the many gardeners here at Honest Weight, would agree: Chris, you fed the roots when they needed feeding!; and thereby, you protected the plant.

[24] As an aside, for those who love bungalows, Arts & Crafts homes, 1930’s kitchens, and wood (!), read this book about the Hoosier cabinet, The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, by Nancy R. Hiller, who lives in Bloomington. See her website, here and see her blogpost about the Hoosier cabinet she designed for Bloomingfoods’ newest store, Elm Heights.

[25] See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/members/

[26] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/banner_slider/locations-2/kirkwood-announcement/

http://www.yelp.com.au/biz/bloomingfoods-bloomington-7

and http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/future-of-downtown-bloomingfoods-uncertain/article_b8a42455-c427-5056-8f0b-a8cfc59aa67a.html

[27] See the October 3, 2014 statement at the UCFC 700 website: http://ufcw700.org/2014/10/03/support-bloomingfoods-workers/

[27a] See these two articles about unionization at Bloomingfoods in The Ryder, written by Robert F. Arnove, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University (unknown if is he is a Member-Owner of B’foods):
http://www.theryder.com/2014/12/21/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods/
http://www.theryder.com/2015/02/08/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods-part-2/

[27b] See this September 15, 2014 blogpost by Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham, Dear Bloomingfoods, Please Don’t Hire Union Busters, here: http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/dear-bloomingfoods-please-dont-hire-union-busters

[27c] See this December 4, 2014 Indiana Daily Student (IDS) article, Fighting to be Heard: http://www.idsnews.com/article/2014/12/fighting-for-a-voice

[27d] See this July 23, 2015 article Bloomingfoods Workers Ratify Their First Union Contract at the UFCW 700 website.

[27e] See this July 13, 2015 article, Bloomingfoods Agrees To Tentative Deal With Union Workers from Indy Public Media: http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-agrees-tentatative-deal-union-workers-84813/

[28]  HWFC also received advice to commit to two (2) expansions in one year, 2013, as well! We moved to a brand new building (which went way, way, way over budget) and we opened a small venue at the Empire State Plaza (ESP), located near the state capitol building in downtown Albany. Too much, too fast; where did this advice come from?

[28a] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/grocery-options-grow-bloomington-local-shop-struggles-83801/

[29] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/business/whole-foods-coming-to-bloomington-s-college-mall-in/article_f175d14e-19ab-11e4-bde5-0017a43b2370.html

and

http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/by-whole-foods-market-on-way-to-college-mall/article_5bc3b87e-7923-5555-b22b-cdd5d1478356.html

[30] Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) and co-ops which are National Coop Grocers (NCG) members utilize the same national wholesaler: United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNFI).

[31] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/417-board-announcement/

http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-gm-resigns-coop-undergo-changes-83238/

[32] https://www.ncg.coop/ and http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/bloomingfoods-future-leadership/

[32a] See here: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/bloomingfoods-future-leadership/

[33] Bloomingfoods and HWFC are both member co-ops of National Coop Grocers (NCG). See: https://www.ncg.coop/find-co-op

and

National Cooperative Grocers Helping Bloomingfoods Be Better Grocers

[33a] https://www.ncg.coop/about-us

[33b] See: http://partners.ncga.coop/sites/default/files/2016%201st%20Half%20NCG%20Program%20Introduction.pdf

[33c] See: https://www.unfi.com/

[33d] See: https://www.ncg.coop/newsroom/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-unfi and http://www.theshelbyreport.com/2015/08/20/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-with-unfi/

[33e] “Virtual chain” or “virtual value chain” is the business model NCG utilizes with its food co-ops. See the  “Frito-Lay” example in Exploiting the Virtual Value Chain by Jeffrey F. Rayport & John Sviokla, here: https://hbr.org/1995/11/exploiting-the-virtual-value-chain/ar/

See here for general explanation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_value_chain

See NCG and “virtual chain,” here:  http://partners.ncga.coop/sites/default/files/2016%201st%20Half%20NCG%20Program%20Introduction.pdf

[33f] See: http://www.theshelbyreport.com/2015/08/20/ncg-signs-primary-distribution-agreement-with-unfi/

[33g] See: http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20151102005138/en/United-Natural-Foods-Extends-Distribution-Partnership-Foods

[3gh] http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/united-natural-foods-inc-extends-itshpartnership-with-whole-foods-market-95400729.html

[33i] See: https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/

[33j] It is unknown what percentage of UNFI’s FY 2015 net sales from the category independently owned natural products retailers is represented by NCG’s “combined annual sales” of $1.8 billion. It must be a large percentage, given the fact that UNFI holds a “primary distribution agreement” with NCG.

[33k] See here: https://www.last10k.com/sec-filings/unfiunder “Business.”

[33l] See here.

[33m] See here.

[33n] See here. https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

[33o] See here: https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

[33p] See here: https://biz.yahoo.com/e/150930/unfi10-k.html;_ylt=AwrBTzihoyNXGcoAhKxXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTBybGY3bmpvBGNvbG8DYmYxBHBvcwMyBHZ0aWQDBHNlYwNzcg–

[34] On April 1, 2016 Lucky’s Market and Kroger’s announced a “strategic partnership.” See: http://www.luckysmarket.com/press-release/

 [34a] Our Board &Management tried to pull this same manuever on us, ending  Member-Owner Labor “on the floor and administration;” we immediately filed legal papers for an emergency Special Membership Meeting. (See endnotes 2b and 57a.)

In the minutes for Bloomingfoods 2015 Annual Meeting on October 18th “NCG Consultant Paula Gilbertson and the Bloomingfoods’ Consumer Services Department” is this:

Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Volunteer Program. We are extremely limited on in-store volunteer opportunities due to labor law and other factors, so we are introducing the Bloomingfoods Ambassadors Program to allow our owner-members to volunteer
with organizations in – line with our ENDS statement for a discount/incentive at Bloomingfoods. [emphasis added]

What is reiterated is the use of the vague statement “labor law and other factors” as a reason to halt Member-Owner Labor in the store. See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/151018-AnnualMeetingMinutes2015-DRAFT-1.pdf and an explanation of “ENDS:” ENDS Statement: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/co-op/about/

[34b] We caught a similar alteration in language usage at Honest Weight Food Co-op. The Board sends announcements through its e-Inside Scoop. The former Board had started calling itself the “Honest Weight Board of Directors.” The word “co-operative” had disappeared.

[34c] Lushin, Laddie, Esq. Co-op Member Labor Programs Under the Fair Labor Standards Act: A Matter of Economic Reality. Braintree, VT, 2009. See: here.

Please research the work of Laddie Lushin, Esq, a VT attorney who specializes in nonprofit and co-operative law and who has written about Member-Labor Programs at food co-ops, from a legal standpoint.

[35] A straw poll survey conducted by one of our Member-Owners, who took the time to call NYS food co-ops, found many thriving Member-Labor Programs. There are many  US food co-ops (which do not belong to National Coop Grocers (NCG) ) which sustain active, Member-Owner Labor programs.

Do your own straw poll. Develop a list of all the food co-ops in your state – in addition to the ones which are members of NCG; call each one with a list of questions about Member-Labor at their co-op; make sure to connect up with actual Member-Owners, not just Board & Management representatives.

The Gold Standard for Member-Owner Labor in a food  co-op, for many of us here in Albany, is the Park Slope Food Co-op in Brooklyn. Every member must work and this is rigorously supported (and enforced); they have very few paid employees; the public is not allowed in to shop (but they can always become a member!); Member-Owner discounts range from 20-40% off. Park Slope recently joined the national  NCG network, see: https://www.foodcoop.com/ and https://www.ncg.coop/partners-find/ny/park-slope-food-coop

[36] See Critical Legal Information, by Kate Doyle, Esq., who is our current Board Treasurer:

[37] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-layoffs-expected-business-declines-83509/

[38] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-co-op-announces-layoffs-amidst-increased-competition/article_aad9b893-840e-5b11-befe-ced2d02eacb9.html

[39] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-meeting-hints-at-more-layoffs/article_cf4184c7-a923-552b-9a5c-09449c1015a9.html

[40]  Posted to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp, on June 23, 2015. See, https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[41] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[42] See under “Clients” at http://cdsconsulting.coop/

[43] Read the relevant sections in each of my blogposts: here, here, here and here.

[44] There is evidence in Board minutes that HWFC Boards have been working with CDS Consulting Coop since December 2009: at least six years. Member-Owners see: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BoardMin/1358112288_2009-12-01_Board_Minutes.pdf

[45] The former HWFC board executed a contract with CDS Consulting Co-op in December, 2014, specifically for CDSCC’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CBLD) with its ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template.

[46] An estimated tally of the amount HWFC has paid to CDS Consulting Co-op over the  last almost three years is $84,000.

[47] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[48] See the comments by Donald Kreis, Esq., a current candidate for the Board of Directors of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH, who is supported by the co-op advocacy group, Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), relating to CDSCC and the NCG contract, in his December 17, 2015 blogpost, The ‘Share of Stomach’ Challenge at the Hanover Co-op: December Board Report, here: http://www.kreis.coop/blog/?offset=1450493078922

[49] Cooperative Grocer Network (http://www.grocer.coop/ ) lists, as its three sponsors:
CDS Consulting Co-op          (CDSCC: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/ )
National Coop Grocers          (NCG: https://www.ncg.coop/ )
National Cooperative Bank  (NCB: https://www.ncb.coop/ )

Website accessed on April 19, 2016.

[50] Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[51] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[52] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[53] February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons, by Mimi Yahn entitled Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, updating her article Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op.

[54] Private email correspondence dated December 8, 2015.

[55] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[56] See CDSCC under “Co-operative Governance, here: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/cooperative_governance/

[57] The paper & electronic copies I have of the CDSCC ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, provided to HWFC in 2015, includes this text, in Article III 3.2. However, CDSCC’s website has since amended their Template (rev. 02/24/16) and this clause has been removed: http://library.cdsconsulting.coop/wp-content/uploads/CBLD-Fresh-Start-Bylaws-Template.pdf

[57a] Please read the Letter to Shareholders written by Member-Owner Kate Doyle, here, for a clear explanation of the difference between a shareholder and a Member-Owner of a food co-operative.

Another way co-op bylaws are being manipulated (e.g. this was recommended to HWFC by CDS Consulting Co-op, in documents they prepared for HWFC), so as to gut Member-Owner power & control, is by adding new shareholders and, at the same time, removing Member-Owners from store operations (end MLPs). The PR slogan “One member, one vote” is being utilizedutilized move this agenda.

Result? Same endgame as in Article III 3.2: Member-Owners cannot carry a vote. They have lost corporate power & control. Who’s in control? The Board.

The term “shareholder” belongs to a top-down, traditional corporate structure with a Board in control.

The term “Member-Owner” or “Owner” belongs to a co-operative corporation.

In other words, research carefully before even considering changing your food co-op corporate structure & bylaws to include thousands of new shareholders. Lots of US co-ops are not making this change to their corporate structure and bylaws. (See endnotes 2b and 34a.)

[57b] See: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#P

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#H

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/bloomingfoods-market

[57c] See Ms. Yahn in Losing Our Principles, here: http://www.commonsnews.org/site/site05/story.php?articleno=11411&page=1#.VyegkL69gVD

[58] See Ms. Yahn’s December 3, 2015 letter to the Member-Owners at HWFC thanking us for “standing up to this co-optation, perversion and corporatization of cooperative governance!” here: https://hwfcinfohub.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/more-from-mimi-yahn/

[59] Posted October 9, 2014 to Exopermaculture by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2014/10/09/bloomingfoods-co-op-crisis-act-ii-unite-bloomingfoods-unite-marches-to-board-meeting/

[60] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-employees-voice-concerns-coop-board-72940/

[61] http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/why-do-i-shop-at-bloomingfoods

[62] https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[63] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/84227-84227/

[64] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[65] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/general-manager-update/

[66] Member-Owners of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH started an independent, grassroots organization, after disagreements with co-op Management & Board over firings at their co-op, and other issues. See Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), here: https://www.facebook.com/concernedaboutthecoop

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Final Vote Tallies ARE IN!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

UPDATE! April 27, 2016. Please see the update to the story about Bloomingfoods Co-op in Indiana, here. Look at the top of the page and in the “Comments” section, below the post.

Here are the final official vote tallies for the two candidates whose total ballots were each subject to a recount:

Ned Depew                         197
Anastasia Onorata           195

Ned Depew was elected to this Board seat by two (2) votes.
Thank you very much to Anastasia for running for the Board!

And thank you to Collin Thomas and Howard Brent, as well!

Here are the percentages of voters who voted for each candidate:

NAME:                            % OF VOTERS:
Tim Corrigan                           81.9
Carolynn Presser                   80.2
Kate Doyle                               76.8
Saul Rigberg                            75.1
Richard Donegan                  63.6
Rebekah Rice                         60.7
Ned Depew                              55.6

This candidate was not elected to the Board:
Anastasia Onorata               55.1

Neither of these candidates received the required 25% plurality of the vote:

Collin Fox Thomas                21.8
Howard Brent                         21.2

For the 620 of us who voted at our emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM) on November 30, 2015, two of the three candidates we voted for – Kate Doyle and Carolynn Presser – won this election and are among the candidates who received the highest support from voters on Sunday, April 17, 2016.

The third Board member whom we elected at our SMM, Nate Horwitz (who was not up  for election this time ’round) is currently seated as our Board President.

Saul Rigberg, who was appointed to the Board on March 1, 2016, and was chosen by Nate, Carolynn and Kate (as well as by Board members Daniel Morrissey and Ned Depew), was also among the candidates who received the highest support from voters on April 17, 2016.

Carolynn and Kate originally ran on a platform which strongly supported our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) & issues of Member-Owners of this co-operative, as well as transparency in co-op governance. The high level of support these two candidates, and Saul – their choice for a team member – received from HWFC Member-Owner voters on April 17, 2016, demonstrates Membership’s trust in and support of their positions as leaders of our co-operative.

Tim Corrigan and Rebekah Rice also ran for the Board at our SMM on November 30, 2015. It is heartening that they both chose to run again 4 1/2 months later – and won!

Richard Donegan is a new Board member and we welcome him to our Board of Directors and look forward to getting to know him!

Welcome and congratulations to the full slate and new Board of Directors of the Honest Weight Food Co-op:

Nate Horwitz, Daniel Morrissey, Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle, Saul Rigberg, Tim Corrigan, Richard Donegan,  Rebekah Rice and Ned Depew

 FYI, below are the official election results from this week’s Inside Scoop:

===========================================

354 valid votes were cast, so 88 votes equals a 25% plurality.

Tim Corrigan                        290
Carolynn Presser                  284
Kate Doyle                             272
Saul Rigberg                          266
Richard Donegan                  225
Rebekah Rice                         215

Anastasia Onorata                Subject to recount
Ned Depew                            Subject to recount

Neither of these candidates received a 25% plurality of the vote.

Collin Fox Thomas                 77
Howard Brent                        75

=====================================

~~~

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Election Results SAVED OUR CO-OP!

Posted by Laura Hagen, PROUD HWFC Member-Owner

NEW as of 4/19/16: Here is a list of upcoming HWFC meetings and here is the URL to copy:  https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/16yKAhB3xQJjZjKEHWkLIvdo2rIz3X6PK4E8N63pVWv4/edit?pref=2&pli=1#gid=0

HOT OFF THE PRESS: See Tim O’Brien’s post, Six Win Seats on Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, in the Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Times Union. Thank you Tim for staying on this story! Please take a minute to thank Tim! by e-mail at tobrien@timesunion.com or phone at (518) 454-5092. We grassroots families here at HWFC are darned lucky to have a reporter of Tim’s caliber who’s following our advocacy efforts to defend our food co-operative and keep it strong and locally-controlled!

Don’t believe me? Do a search over at the TU on “Tim O’Brien” and “Honest Weight Food Co-op” – here – and follow the story through his eyes, since October 16, 2015.

Today’s post will be short and sweet (an unusual occurrence around here). The ELECTION RESULTS from last night are in and they are official (skip this intro and scroll below, if you just can’t wait!!!)

Welcome to my new HWFC Member-Owner readers, many of whom just found out last night I’ve been doing a blog here, GRASSROOTS ACTIONS ARE IMPORTANT!, since November 1, 2015, about matters of interest to Member-Owners of HWFC. From a Grassroots perspective, that is!

Enjoy reading past posts by putting the term grassroots in the search box. And please read all the posts in my Election Series this week: yesterday’s GRASSROOTS ACTION and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP., the partner to today’s post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Election Results SAVED OUR CO-OP! (Yesterday’s post was, I believe, the most read post, to date.)

Additional Election Series posts are: GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Meet the Candidates ARE IMPORTANT!; GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Voting on Sunday ARE IMPORTANT!; the popular GRASSROOTS ACTION Can Stop Skunkworks! (Check out the Reader Comments); and, finally, GRASSROOTS ACTION AND Current Board Accomplishments ARE POWERFUL!

With six posts in ten days, some involving significant research …I’m taking a break!

Here are the HWFC Annual Election results, directly from the Inside Scoop:

=======================================================

INSIDE SCOOP

The three members of the Ad Hoc Election Committee, appointed by the Board of Directors of Honest Weight Food Co-op to conduct the Election of Board Members at the April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting, certified the votes cast at the meeting, and the results for six seats follows. The votes for the seventh seat were too close to call, and the Ad Hoc Election Committee will conduct a recount for the seventh seat and will certify the results Tuesday night.

354 valid votes were cast, so 88 votes equals a 25% plurality.

Tim Corrigan                        290
Carolynn Presser                  284
Kate Doyle                             272
Saul Rigberg                          266
Richard Donegan                  225
Rebekah Rice                         215

Anastasia Onorata                Subject to recount
Ned Depew                            Subject to recount

Neither of these candidates received a 25% plurality of the vote.

Collin Fox Thomas                 77
Howard Brent                        75

Thank you all for participating in this election. The contribution of your time and energy is what makes Honest Weight the outstanding co-op it is.

Nate Horwitz, Daniel Morrissey, for the Board
Rita Nolan, Sandy MacKay, and Janet Sorell, Ad Hoc Election Committee

END
==========================================================

Congratulations to our winners and a sincere thank you to all ten (10) candidates.

Everybody who showed up last night – you, we were awesome!

Democracy in action! We were all – again – part of an HWFC Membership Meeting which was extremely well attended (there were more than 500 of us in attendance)!

Go refresh your memory if you have forgotten our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015 and those election results.

Thank you to the Nominations Committee and the Ad Hoc Election Committee for developing and keeping to a process which we trust. Special thanks to Rita Nolan!

Thank you to the Membership Committee for all your hard work in preparing for our meeting last night, getting us parked safely, signing in the voters, room set up, and helping with room clean up afterwards.

Thank you to Jessica for taking notes.

Thank you to the GRC for on-site support.

Thank you to Paul Rosenberg and Bob Henshaw for providing the sound system and audio support.

Thank you to Nate and Daniel for moderating and representing our Board, and thank you to Nate for taking time away from a really important family commitment this weekend so that you could attend our Membership Meeting!

Thank you to everybody for the wonderful desserts and snacks.

Please, if I have forgotten anybody, let me know!

Last but not least, thank you to all ten (10) of our candidates for the time, energy and commitment you gave to our co-operative in making a run for the Board. We had an incredible slate of candidates this time ’round and it is a testament to the renewed & hopeful energy at our co-op that we had ten (10) candidates to fill only seven (7) seats!

Abundance! Commitment! Talent! Transparency! Team mind! Extra amounts of good energy!

Now that’s a co-op we can all be proud to be a part of!

The breathe of fresh air which greeted us last night when we got home from the elections – the windows were all open and cool, sweet, spring air greeted us – is a harbinger of the breath of fresh air which greets us all with these HWFC Board election results this morning!

Post me a note, below, with your reflections about the elections. And, see you next blogpost!

~~~~~~

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Large Voter Turnout Tomorrow WILL SAVE OUR CO-OP.

RE-DIRECT, April 27, 2016: This post has been edited and re-named GRASSROOTS ACTION Needed by Bloomingfoods Food Co-op Owners in Indiana and re-directed here, for the benefit of Bloomingfoods, Indiana readers.

Info about the HWFC Annual Board Nominations and Elections was deleted because they are over …and we Member-Owners prevailed! Go here and here, for our Board election results.

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran


UPDATE: April 27, 2016 Bloomington, Indiana’s Food Co-op, Bloomingfoods, Board/  Management Releases Announcement About Store Closings and More Possible Employee Layoffs. After a public meeting held by the Board/Management of Bloomingfoods last night, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, this announcement was released this morning.

For more information, see my post in Comments, below.


 04/17/16: TODAY, SUNDAY!! Attend our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

~~~~~~

PAST IS PROLOGUE
THE DANGER FOR HWFC IS NOT OVER YET

         Past is Prologue? An eerily similar circumstance to Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) in Indiana? Is HWFC really out of the woods yet?

The following story is about the devolution of Bloomingfoods, a Bloomington, Indiana food co-op founded in 1976, the same year as HWFC, and which also, coincidentally, grew to have a similar numbers of shareholders (about 13,000) as HWFC.

It is also about the Honest Weight Food Co-op, located in New York’s capital city, Albany, and a group of Member-Owners of that co-operative fighting that same devolution.

Recent history at both of these American food co-ops is – in significant ways – eerily similar. Bloomingfoods’ story could be Honest Weight Food Co-op’s story.

BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA AND ITS CO-OP, BLOOMINGFOODS

          I am, in addition to being a longtime Member-Owner of HWFC, a Member-Owner of Bloomingfoods Co-op. I lived in Bloomington for several years, returning to Albany in 2013.

My first action when arriving in Bloomington – a small, beautiful, friendly mid-western, college town, with its liberal culture – was to join their co-op, Bloomingfoods. I support US food co-ops wherever I go! I had always shopped there whenever professional and personal reasons brought me to town. I was pleased that they had grown – from just the original, funky, converted, two-story home, downtown, made from  local Indiana limestone – to having three storefronts, convenient to both residents and Indiana University students.

Bloomingfood’s prices, although higher than the local Kroger’s, were still always much lower than prices I paid at HWFC (not factoring in our 24% discount for weekly Member-Owner Labor): Bloomington has a lower cost of living than Albany. I was impressed with the large selection of local Amish foods available; those prices were usually the lowest. Bloomingfoods also supported and hosted local Farmer’s Markets, both in the Eastside parking lot on Tuesday afternoons, and at the Near Westside store, on a street closed to traffic on Saturday mornings. B’foods was proud of its connections to local Indiana and mid-west farms and I had no difficulty purchasing local, organic fruits, vegetables & pastured eggs & meat.

I did most of my food shopping at B’foods, but I didn’t have the time to do Member Work, nor get involved. However, Member Work only gained me a 10% reduction in purchases at the register. I could just as easily take advantage of both once-a-week Member Day discounts and one monthly Wildcard Day (both 10% off). [1]

This made me really appreciate the value of our 24% discount as weekly working Member-Owners at HWFC!

BACK HOME TO HWFC
BOARD & MANAGEMENT SECRET OPERATIONS

          In 2013, I returned back home to Albany, NY, resuming Member-Work and shopping at HWFC, albeit in its brand new, shiny, big, store on Watervliet Avenue.

On October 23, 2015, our former Board made a direct threat to the legal power of Membership by attempting to end our Member-Owner Labor Program (MLP) which would have, consequently, ended our right to vote. Without the right to vote, Member-Owners would lose their legal control of the co-operative corporation. [2]

Rather than the standard Board communication – the electronic “Inside Scoop” – it was a small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board near the exit, on that Friday, which announced the Board’s intent to

“…end member labor on the floor and administration by January 1, 2016…” [2a]

Acting President Deb Dennis and her Board attempted to do this behind the backs of Membership, blatantly ignoring the fact that changes to the MLP rest solely and unambiguously with the Member-Owners of our co-operative corporation, as per our bylaws.

The loudest argument we kept hearing from the former Board was that member discounts at HWFC were what was killing our co-op’s budget and had to go. [3]

At the same time they were attempting to end our MLP, there was a strategic and pervasive push by the former Board focused on changing those same bylaws. We uncovered what were clearly-manipulated Strategic Planning and Bylaws Task Force planning processes, both managed by outside consultants, including one who is engaged in “… leading organizational change.[4]

I was shocked by the entrenched pattern of the Board and three-person Leadership Team (top Management or LT) working together in secret: excessively long and repeated Executive Sessions, and the prolific & expensive use of national .coop consultants, local consultants, a Strategic PR & Lobbying firm and (two) law firms, which were utilized in secret after Membership was asked to leave the room …and the Board room door was shut. [5]

There is no doubt about the fact that this former Board intended to do away with our MLP and, thereby, our right to vote. A secret letter, hand-couriered [6] to the NYS Department of Labor (DOL) [7] – uncovered through a FOIL request by a Member-Owner of HWFC, Julie Harrell [8] – not only made it clear that the Board was “transitioning” the co-op, but that Management (LT) would be participating in this process of “transition.”

The former Board shared their secret “transition” plan with the DOL – the top labor regulatory body in NYS – in flagrant disregard of the fact that our bylaws require Membership vote and approval of any changes to our MLP: a vote which had never taken place.

At a subsequent secret meeting with the NYS DOL – attended solely by two law firms hired by the Board and Board-invitée Ursula Abrams, co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC) – the MLP issue was pushed. [9] [10]

Why? As far as we can figure – given that secrecy still shrouds this operation – their intent was to, in effect, turn our co-op into the DOL, in the hopes that DOL would issue a written ruling that Member Labor Programs at NYS food co-operatives, are (somehow) illegal. [11]

Secrecy had to be utilized by this former Board in their dealings with the NYS DOL; a plan with this level of skulduggery would never have passed the muster of the Member-Owners.

This Board of Directors, in its decision to attempt to manipulate the top labor regulatory body in NYS into sanctioning our MLP – while knowing full well that the corporation’s owners knew nothing of this plan – utterly ignored its fiduciary responsibility to that co-operative corporation and its Member-Owners.

Not only was this Board utilizing two legal teams – one with offices in Washington, DC – it had hired a very expensive Strategic PR & Marketing firm, partners with one of the state’s top-ten lobbyists, here in the state which hosts Wall Street. [12] This PR firm, which was also registered as a lobbyist for HWFC [12a] – was using its citizen-busting ‘professional grassroots’ techniques (aka an “astroturf operation” ) to thwart the authentic grassroots advocacy efforts of Member-Owners. [13] At every step of the way, Member-Owners were prohibited from talking to one another;  communication was systematically and professionally hijacked. [13a]

Very recently-uncovered contracts and correspondence between the HWFC Board, Management and this same firm, confirm the fact that it was retained to assist the Board in its efforts to “sunset the member worker program.” [14]

Finally, this former Board was under contract with CDS Consulting Co-op and its CBLD program: CDSCC is a national .coop firm advising many other food co-op Board’s across the country and promoting its Co-operative Board Leadership Development program:

Cooperative Board Leadership Development (known as CBLD and pronounced C-build) is an award-winning innovative program designed to support your board and general manager (GM). [15]

That it did.

FAMILIES DEFEND THEIR LOCAL FOOD CO-OP, TOGETHER

          Well, in just 38 days, petitioners for an emergency meeting confronted these threats to our co-operative corporation, and on November 30, 2015 held an historic emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM) attended by ~710 people, 620 of whom were voting Member-Owners of HWFC, which, ultimately, disempowered that Board and resulted in two-thirds of our Management Team (LT) leaving within several months. [16] [16a]

The former Board’s secret maneuvers and massive PR campaign to change our bylaws, end our Member-Owner Labor Program, and the power of our vote were uncovered, as was the (previously unknown) $75,000 in bonuses paid to Management (LT), over three years. [17]

Current Board counsel has advised that our MLP is defendable – given our current bylaws – and supported under NYS law. [18] The former Board’s claims that our MLP was killing our budget have been proved false. What was killing our budget was the $ .5 million this Board spent to “eliminate member labor and [on the] strategic planning to design its replacement”!!  [see 17] $500,000 of our collective co-op savings was utilized by this Board to pay CDS Consulting Co-op, Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc., Corning Place Communications, Dowling Law PLLC, and  Couch White LLP …to aid this Board in their stealth agenda of separating ownership of our co-operative from us, the Member-Owners. [19]

Bill Frye, the President just prior to Deb Dennis, was quoted on October 16, 2015, as this Board’s secret agenda was rolled-out, by Albany’s Times Union reporter, Tim O’Brien: [19a]

“‘We would like to get the member workers off the floor of the store. It’s very expensive,’ he said … ‘They are really not as a effective and efficient. They almost have to be retrained every time they come into the store. They also like to chat.'” [20]

Bill Frye was removed from the Board – forty-five days after this quote hit the NY capital’s streets – at its emergency SMM on November 30th …by a packed room, full of the owners & their families of this 39 year-old co-operative corporation, many of whom “like to chat.” The Board secretary, John Serio, did not retain his Board seat. Three new Board members, supportive of our MLP and transparency, were elected: Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and Nate Horwitz.

69% of the Membership voted no confidence in current Management, the three-person Leadership Team (LT) of Duke Bouchard, Lexa Juhre and Lilly Bartels, as well as voting to implement a new Management structure (both straw polls). [20a]

Finally, 85.7% of Member-Owner voters at the SMM – 504 people – voted to disapprove the Board’s decision to “…end member labor on the floor and administration…” [21]

On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down, including Dennis herself. At our next Membership Meeting & Annual Elections, held on Sunday, April 17, 2016 we took the entire Board (one seat is still not official.) [22] [23]

That small piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s cork board – pulling the trigger on their stealth plans to end Honest Weight Food Co-op’s Member-Owner Labor Program, our vote, and our control of our co-operative corporation – had been silently pinned up on a Friday afternoon, October 23, 2015.

The following morning, Chris Colarusso initiated a petition for an emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM). She said that it only took 1 1/2 hours to get 65+ Member-Owner signatures on that petition.

Chris came to that Saturday morning co-op meeting prepared. Thank you, Chris!

Her legally-executed document signed by the Member-Owners of our food co-operative corporation and calling for an emergency meeting of the Membership – was placed in acting President Deb Dennis’s hands by Chris on Saturday, October 24th …a little more than 24 hours later.

This story is a testament to the living, breathing power of local families helping each other out, using real community, real co-operative, and real grassroots action, all of which are alive and well at this American food co-op, near the banks of the historic Hudson River, in Albany, NY.

~~~

A thoughtful citizen advocate might, at this juncture, take the time to pause, reflect …and ask:

Just what was the Board of a simple upstate NY food co-op doing spending a half-million dollars to buy the services of: two law firms – one with DC offices; registered lobbyists & PR Strategists – partners to a top-ten NYS lobby firm; a nationally-recognized .coop firm – building airtight Board-GM alliances  …and an organizational change agent?

BACK TO THE HOOSIER STATE & BLOOMINGFOODS  [24]

          Several weeks ago, I was again in Bloomington.

I was shocked at the state of Bloomingfoods.

This forty year old – formerly thriving and vibrant Member-Owned & locally-owned food co-op, beloved by Bloomington families – and a lot like Honest Weight Food Co-op – has:

1. Permanently lost its “Owner Volunteer Program” (last summer);
2. Changed its “Owner Discount Structure” for the worse; [25]
3. Significantly reduced the sale of locally-grown and/or produced foods;
4. Seen the closing of its flagship (funky & well-loved!) first storefront; [26]
5. Seen the layoffs of Employees;
6. Seen the layoff of Managers;
7. Announced it expects see more staff layoffs;
8. Experienced turmoil when unionizing activities occurred, which were, initially, put down by union-busting attorneys hired by the Board; [27] [28]
9. Expanded, with not one but two new outlets, within the same year – only to find the recommendations they received from consultants, and others, to expand had financially over-extended & weakened them;
10. Seen the closing of the wonderful garden center at the Eastside store;
11. Experienced Board meetings to which Member-Owners were denied entrance and participation;
12. Got its Member-Owners – who personally invested money in the co-op – very worried about the loans they have made to Bloomingfoods;
13. Lost 20% in revenue, in part, when a Lucky’s (a Colorado-based natural & organic chain) moved in to town last year;
14. In its future, a Whole Foods, which is targeted to open next year: its possible location, the Sears’ store at the mall (minutes away from the Eastside co-op store); [29] [30]
14. Seen its (formerly modest) prices skyrocket (!), forcing shoppers to seek lower prices elsewhere in town;
15. Had its operations temporarily taken over by acting GM Paula Gilbertson from National Coop Grocers (NCG). [31] [32]

Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods appeared to have lost control of their locally-owned, locally-operated food co-op.

Its operations had been assumed by a nationally-based corporation, National Coop Grocers.

Honest Weight Food Co-op, like Bloomingfoods and 150 other US co-ops, representing 200 stores, is also a member co-op of National Coop Grocers. [33]

TALKED TO THE LOCALS

          What stunned me was the change in prices! Everything had gone up! I called my husband and we compared prices between the exact same brand items here at HWFC and there at Bloomingfoods: pre-packaged foods like organic, bottled tomato paste, coconut & olive oil, Coconut Aminos, gluten-free crackers. Everything was more expensive than at HWFC.

Unlike several years ago – when Bloomingfoods prices were always cheaper than HWFC – there was a complete reversal: this mid-western food co-op was charging prices higher than an upstate New York co-op! In fact, prices had gone up since my last visit to town in October, 2015, only five months ago.

A change in the cost of living in Indiana (there has not been a significant change) does not explain nor account for this dramatic rise in Bloomingfood’s prices.

No longer is Bloomingfoods in Indiana cheaper than HWFC in New York. Those days are gone.

Gone was the large selection of locally-grown or produced Amish foods. For example, I could find no Amish cheeses at the West Side co-op; the price for local Amish chicken had skyrocketed. More in evidence was meat from (national?) suppliers, with brand names I was unfamiliar with. I could find no local, grass-fed, grass-finished beef (in the midwest?)! The cost of organic butter was absolutely not affordable. I could not find the local, inexpensive Amish butter I used to buy.

And sauerkraut? Again, this is the mid-west, Indiana is home to Amish, Mennonite and plenty of German & Swiss families; sauerkraut is a staple, one of the four basic food groups! They had Bubbie’s, which I used to buy at HWFC (until I researched how it is processed and quickly switched to a locally-produced, live, organic, sauerkraut from the Hudson Valley or from Hawthorne Valley Farms in Harlemville, NY): the price for either Bubbie’s or a locally-made sauerkraut was astronomical!

I talked to Member shoppers, several staff, and community members in Bloomington. A staff member, when I asked what was going on with prices and a change in atmosphere at the co-op said (a direct quote): “I don’t know man, it’s almost like we were taken over or something.” A floor manager cheerfully said they had a new GM and they were tightening their belts. A friend who has friends who are personally & financially invested in Bloomingfoods, stated her friends are afraid for their financial investment (Member-Owner loans) in Bloomingfoods.

Gone were the shelves at the end of an aisle with locally-made crafts, candles, jewelry & kitchen gadgets, which I always loved!: replaced with that week’s latest promotional or (non-local, nationally-promoted) sale item.

The three storefronts I visited (one, Elm Heights, was brand new to me; see endnote 24) were all glossy, clean, high-end looking: chic-chic. The shelves were very neatly stocked & full.

Bloomingfood’s flagship store – the funky, two-story, comfy “home” – was gone. Its doors are closed. [See endnote 26: a picture is worth a thousand words.]

Bloomingfoods uses the same paper goods as HWFC and, if memory serves, the same paper bags (with the handles that always break). The sale flyers look the same as ours. Every aisle is picture-perfect, in fact, the product layout on shelves could have been a mirror to that at HWFC.

Our two co-ops have been transformed to look more like expensive food boutiques…

…rather than the place to both purchase low-cost, high-quality, sustainable, locally-grown & produced organic foods, and work shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbors, as our families connect up with and support local, organic farm families.

This food co-op in Indiana, with its glossy, picture-perfect store lay-outs and fully-stocked shelves, is in trouble. An adjunct professor friend of mine told me she can no longer afford to shop at Bloomingfoods; she hits sale days at Lucky’s (Wednesdays) and has switched to shopping almost 100% at Krogers. [34]

WHAT HAPPENED TO B’FOODS MEMBER-LABOR PROGRAM?

          On April 10th, I emailed Bloomingfoods and asked what had happened to the Member-Labor Program. This is, in part, the reply I received from Jean Kautt, Marketing and Member Services Manager, Bloomington Cooperative Services Inc.:

We discontinued our owner volunteer program last summer for several reasons (this was publicly announced at our annual meeting in October [2015])…

…Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs due to changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities. It has gotten very complicated in the past 40 years! After conferring with our legal advisor and our labor union representative, it was apparent that we were no longer able to offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past. We are still exploring other ways for our owners to be active at the co-op, and with a national network of almost 200 co-ops to share information with, there are some good ideas out there…

I was instantly sensitive to the use of the terms “volunteer program” and “volunteer opportunities” when referring to, what we here at HWFC call our “Member-Owner Labor Program” or MLP. Here, the word “owner” had disappeared. [34a]

It is also not factual to state that, “Nationally, most co-ops have had to discontinue their volunteer programs…”  There are many US co-operatives which continue to utilize Member-Labor. [35]

I also would like it confirmed that B’foods Labor Union did, in fact, agree that B’foods could “…no longer … offer the volunteer opportunities we had in the past…”, as this email implies. A union, agreeing with Management, to sunset Member-Labor at a co-operative? Really?

The NCG representative, Paula Gilbertson, assumed the role as acting GM of Bloomingfoods in June, 2015.

That same summer, Bloomingfoods’ “owner volunteer program” was permanently shut down. In addition, significant staff layoffs were announced (see below).

I was struck by how utterly similar Bloomingfoods’ (or at least their Marketing and Member Services Manager’s) reasons for ending their Member Labor Program were, to the reasons put forward by our former Board. Some of the language in this April email was virtually identical to words uttered by HWFC former Board Members last October, when they attempted to permanently shut down our Member Labor Program.

Funny, this email says that things have “gotten very complicated in the last 40 years.” HWFC and Bloomingfoods co-ops have both been locally-owned and operated for 40 years – very successfully. I don’t remember any “complications” during that time period – here at HWFC in NYS anyway [36] – which necessitated ending our Member-Labor Program for good. I can’t believe that things are that much more “complicated” in the state of Indiana.

It is a very recent phenomenon, this idea being promoted nationally, that Member-Labor – and, hence, Member control and local control – are threats to a co-operative corporation. These are, in fact, fundamentals of a co-operative! Yet here we find Member-Owners at two different food co-ops being fed the same vague, undefined, threatening language, “changes in labor laws, tax laws, and insurance liabilities:” language being wielded as a tool to dis-empower co-op Member-Owners…

…no, let me call a spade a spade: these vague threats are being wielded to peel away the control & ownership of a co-op from the Member-Owners.

~~~

Local control of US food co-operative’s is under attack; control of organic food is being undermined. The individuals & families who are invested in the co-op and who are also deeply invested in their local, hometown community are losing control of both their food co-ops and their food supply.

HOW MANY B’FOODS EMPLOYEES WERE DOWN-SIZED OR LET GO?

          I’ll let media articles & blogposts speak for themselves:

Bloomingfoods: Layoffs Expected As Business Declines
June 15, 2015

The co-op is reducing overhead in order to operate profitably with lower sales and several middle management positions were eliminated last week resulting in a number of layoffs,” acting general manager Paula Gilbertson [from NCG] said in a press release…

She says more layoffs are expected as Bloomingfoods management seeks continued reductions in its operating expenses. [37]

Bloomingfoods Co-op Announces Layoffs Amidst Increased Competition
June 16, 2015

Bloomingfoods Co-op has laid off 18 middle management employees in the past week — with more expected… [38]

Bloomingfoods Meeting Hints at More Layoffs
June 23, 2015

See the Herald Times article. [39]

Iconic Bloomingfoods Co-op starts to “right its ship.”
June 23, 2015

…on June 9, 2015, the General Manager resigned and everybody heaved a sigh of relief. This was a needed first step taken by a board that had since added two (or three?) new members and had gradually and subtly moved from its years-long default position of doing whatever the GM wanted to understanding and acting independently.

Within a few more days, 40 management positions were eliminated, with more to come… [40]

Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager
Jan 12, 2016

about a dozen members of the managerial staff were let go. [41]

MORE TO THE STORY, a dot coop FIRM: CDS CONSULTING CO-OP …YET AGAIN

          It is noteworthy that both co-ops, Bloomingfoods and HWFC, have been or are clients of CDS Consulting Coop; in fact, Bloomingfoods is a featured client on CDSCC’s website and its former three-term, Board president, Art Sherwood was and is a CDSCC consultant. Both of these US food co-ops – Bloomingfoods and HWFC – have relied upon the consulting services of this nationally-advertised .coop firm, with national interests and national ties: interests not necessarily based in nor springing from each of the local communities of these two food co-ops. [42] [43] [44] [45] [46] [47] [48] [49]

Contrast the glowing picture painted of Bloomingfoods by CDSCC – one of their featured clients – with this assessment of the co-op by National Co-op Grocers (NCG), at the time acting GM Paula Gilbertson arrived from NCG. This was captured on June 23, 2015 by blogger and Bloomingfoods’ Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp:

Last night I attended a Member/Owner OpenHouse set up by the Bloomingfoods board, to let us know what has been going on with the reorganization, spurred on by the assessment and guidance they — or rather, WE — are receiving from the National Coop Grocers Association, which serves 150 co-ops nationally, and has been brought in during this crucial transition to help stem the bleeding which, according to the NCGA, is the worst they have seen. Though food co-ops nationwide are going through hard times, for Bloomingfoods, ‘the path to solve for cash-positive is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered.’ [emphases added] [50]

One has to pose the obvious question: if CDSCC’s consulting services for Board & Management training are so successful, why is this CDSCC-featured co-op – in such dire straits? Why is Bloomingfoods “the worst they [NCGA has] seen,” according to this B’foods Member-Owner’s blog report?

NCG’s assessment – “‘a path to solve for cash-positive [which] is the most difficult we’ve ever encountered…'” should include a recommendation to the Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods to review the deliverables to and the cost of this national group of .coop consultants, for all contracted years. [see endnote 46] [51]

~~~

Author and Member-Owner of the Putney, VT food co-op, Mimi Yahn has written about CDS Consulting Co-op, with a wake-up call to US food co-op owners to guard their bylaws. In her January 14, 2015 article in The Commons, Losing Our Principles, she states:

…The wording in the CDS bylaws template eliminates nearly everything that makes the current by-laws specific to the Putney Co-op and to cooperative governance. It is generic and vague enough to make for an easy and completely legal transition from a cooperative entity to a subsidiary of a large corporation…

…The proposed bylaws represent a shift away from cooperative, member-controlled governance to an entity modeled on hierarchical corporate structure and control.

We also learned that behind this fundamental shift is a large national consulting firm, CDS Consulting Co-op…

…In my own experience serving on bylaws committees with different nonprofits and community organizations, I’ve never seen a better, more eloquent, and more clear set of bylaws than those currently governing the Putney Co-op.

From the inclusion of the beautifully worded cooperative principles (removed from the proposed bylaws) to the specifics of board responsibilities and member rights (both also removed), the current bylaws are clearly and unequivocally cooperative in governance and progressive in nature.

The proposed version, on the other hand, is a bare-bones corporate model, a boilerplate one-size-fits-all template that can apply as easily to the Putney Co-op as it can to a Whole Foods or Pepsico subsidiary…

…trust was seriously damaged when the board attempted to force a vote [on the new bylaws] at the annual meeting and imperiously attempted to shut down the discussion and questions by members…

…Characterizing the concerns of members about fundamental revisions to the bylaws as a matter of “perception as opposed to reality” doesn’t help the board’s case or credibility. Nor did one lengthy discussion at the December meeting over their proposed change, which would allow members to attend, but not participate in general meetings.

Despite the vehement assertions of the board that there is no difference beyond semantics, there is. It’s called democracy. [emphasis added] [52]

In Still Searching for Democracy at Putney Food Co-op, in the February 11, 2015 issue of The Commons, Ms. Yahn continues:

…No wonder, then, that when the policy governance model [promoted by CDS] states unequivocally that the policies made by the board must “establish control over the entire organization,” co-op boards across the country adopt this mandate unquestioningly. And when members protest, we are branded and dismissed as “alarmist,” “uninformed,” “micro-managers,” and worse.

The model also mandates that these new policies must replace “more traditional documents such as mission statements, strategic plans, and budgets” and a crucial part of this governance shift is rewriting the bylaws.

That’s where the bylaws template provided by CDS to the Putney Food Co-op board comes in.

And so this begs the most important question of all: Do the member owners have any voice left, or is CDS dictating the means, the ends, and all the policies, procedures, and bylaws in between that govern the Putney Food Co-op? [emphasis added] [53]

Ms. Yahn notes the trend towards the “corporitization” or “Stepfordization” of US food co-ops, in her two well-researched articles and one letter to the editor. Pay close attention to examples of the exclusion of local, Member-Owner control and the strengthening of the axis of power between Board & Management. (Be sure to read the Comments at the end of each):

Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online, a project of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

A slightly different version of Ms. Yahn’s article was published on February 4, 2015 entitled Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op. The publisher, VTDigger.org, “is a statewide news website that publishes watchdog reports on state government, politics, consumer affairs, business and public policy.

Ms. Yahn updated her article, Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op, with Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, in this February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons Online.

In December, I emailed Mimi Yahn and asked whether or not the Member-Owners of the Putney Food Co-op had retained or eliminated their original bylaws. Ms.Yahn stated, “CDS was ultimately successful…[54]

They were eliminated. Putney Food Co-op’s “better, more eloquent, and … clear set of bylaws” is history. [55]

~~~

CDS Consulting Co-op’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development training or CBLD Team Leader, Mark Goehring, along with CDSCC consultant Thane Joyal, personally worked with our former Board. To remind you, CBLD is a “program designed to support your board and general manager (GM).” [56] Foisted upon our co-op last spring, by the former Board, was CDSCC’s CBLD product called the ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, thankfully never brought to a vote nor ratified by our Membership.

An example of the gutting of Member-Owner’s power and control, promoted by CDSCC, is the Special Meetings’ clause in its Fresh Start Bylaws. Fresh Start allows for Special Membership Meetings, however Article III 3.2, informs us that the “Decisions made at any special meeting are advisory only.”[57]

This is reminiscent of Ms. Yahn’s story about her Vermont co-op.

Where would HWFC be today if, on October 23, 2015, when we HWFC member-owners were confronted with the actions of an out-of-control board, we had the CDSCC CBLD Fresh Start Bylaws instead of our own? Could we have held an emergency Special Membership Meeting? Would it have allowed us the right to stop the actions of a board run amok?

We could have held a Special Meeting; however, our decisions would have been advisory, not legally-binding. Under these CDSCC Fresh Start Bylaws, Article III 3.2, the former Board would have retained full power and control. Our Member-Owners could not have stopped any of their actions through our emergency Special Membership Meeting.

The Special Membership Meeting (SMM) is – at many US co-ops – the only way for local co-op owners to halt a wayward, dysfunctional, power-grabbing Board …or a Board being unduly influenced by national consultants. Eliminate the power of the SMM in the bylaws… …monkey with the bylaws’ definition of “shareholders” vs “Member-Owners” …and a handful of people, at the top, will control your co-operative corporation.

~~~

Three US food co-ops – in Vermont, New York and Indiana – with local, Member-Owner control & ownership of their co-operative corporation under attack, compromised …or gone. All three are (or were) CDSCC clients. [58]

If I were a Bloomingfoods Member-Owner, I’d grab the bylaws (dig up old copies, as well) and start attending Board meetings; in the February 2016 Board Minutes under item 4, Bylaw Changes are calendared in for March and August, 2016.

And I would get to the “SPECIAL MEMBER-OWNER MEETING: THE FUTURE OF BLOOMINGFOODS” on Tuesday, Apr 26th @ 6:30 pm – 9:00 pm, Rhino’s Youth Center, 331 S Walnut St., Bloomington IN. Since notice of this meeting was only sent out via email five days ago, on Thursday, April 21, 2016 …you may not have heard about the meeting …about your future. The email says:

Please join our new General Manager, Tony Alongi, along with our Board of Directors to learn about current business conditions and future plans for our co-op.

SAD STORY, BUT WHAT’S IT GOT TO DO WITH HWFC?

          What does all this have to do with our co-op here in Albany, New York?

We Member – Owners here at Honest Weight Food Co-op stopped a train on November 30, 2015 at our emergency Special Membership Meeting: stopped, in its tracks, the actions of an out-of-control Board with its strong & secret alliance with out-of-control Management: an alliance which excluded Member-Owners and which, in fact, sought to remove Member-Owners from power.

We Member-Owners – including our Member-Owners who are employees – successfully defended and maintained control of our locally-owned food co-op…

…for now.

We did not lose control of our co-operative in November. We wrestled back control…

…for now.

The path we were on is eerily, in fact almost exactly like the path of Bloomingfoods …except that we Member-Owners defended our co-op. We kept local control and we kept Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation.

Bloomingfoods did not.

We stopped our train…

…but for how long?

By the way, did it matter to this story that some of the Members were Member-Owner employees and some of the Members were simply Member-Owners?

No.

ALL the Members of Bloomingfoods – Owner and Owner-Employee alike  – are facing the same possible future: the potential closing (or reduction in size, best case) of their co-op.

YOUR VOTE TOMORROW – WITH NO EXAGGERATION – WILL DETERMINE HWFC’s FUTURE!

          With no attempt to exaggerate or to manipulate you, I am stating the fact that the election tomorrow will determine the future of our beloved forty year-old food co-op: the Honest Weight Food Co-op, Inc.

The Member-Owners of Bloomingfoods Co-op, in Bloomington, Indiana did not stop their train in their tracks. Now, they have lost the power & control of their forty year-old food co-op.

As a result, they are now having to confront the very real possibility – the stark reality – of the closure of their co-op (or what once was their co-op) or – at the very least – a reduction in the number of storefronts and the dismissal of an even larger number of employees (union employees or not).

Worse case: they are facing a future with a town – home! – which no longer has a food co-op.

A beloved forty year-old co-op – which was founded by Member-Owner families like yours and mine – may go belly-up or be bought up.

WE OWNERS HAVE TO DEFEND OUR LOCALLY-OWNED CO-OP TOMORROW

          It’s time to – again – defend what is ours.

We Member-Owners – and I include all our Member-Owners who are also employees, because we are all in this together – we, together, can vote to keep our co-op going in the direction our current Board has been taking us: see their list of accomplishments, here.

Six Board members have done an amazing job in only four months! Imagine what this team will do with a full complement of nine (9) Board members!

We need Member-Owners to show up, to listen, and to vote for candidates who are:

-pro-HWFC
-pro-Member-Owner Labor
-pro-Good Employee Working Conditions
-pro-Local Farmers and Local Food Producers
-pro-a Co-op which Remains Locally-Owned and Locally-Operated

Ten (10) announced candidates are running for seven (7) open Board seats. Select seven from among the ten candidates tomorrow night. These ten  candidates have honored our democratic process & transparent nominations process.

Given recent rumors of a rush to announce candidates from the floor tomorrow night – and thereby doing an end run around our democratic process – I am recommending that you not vote for anyone tomorrow who is nominated from the floor.

LOCAL INDIANA CO-OP VOICES SPEAK: WE NEED TO LISTEN
BUT FOR THE GRACE OF ELECTIONS TOMORROW, THERE GO WE

          Let me share some of what Bloomingfoods Member-Owners are saying, through their blogs. Some of the observations are eerily similar to experiences we have had here at HWFC – these stories could be ours:

Posted October 9, 2014 Bloomingfoods Co-op Crisis, Act II. Unite Bloomingfoods marches to Board Meeting by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp at Exopermaculture:

But wait a minute, you say. Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!

something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!

…The March was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. with the Co-op Board Meeting at 6:30. I got to the East Side Store, where the march was set to begin, at about 5:20. Not many folks there yet. Would they come?

Ten more minutes, and the crowd had swollen enough to make a good showing for our short march to the board meeting. Oops! Once there, we were stopped. Not allowed in. What? Somebody opened the door to tell us. The fire marshall has decreed that only 40 are allowed in the room. Are you on the list. Did you RSVP? Oops, maybe four of us RSVPed. Okay, you can go in.

The rest of us, and that’s most of us, milled around some more, kvetching about not having even known that we were supposed to RSVP! Was this the first time a board meeting had required an RSVP from member-owners? The answer to that was never clear to me. Whatever was going on behind that innocuous looking front window was something we were not going to be privy to?[emphases added] [59]

Here is a local media account of this same Bloomingfoods Board meeting, held on October 7, 2014:

Anyone who was not a member-owner was also not allowed in and some of the member-owners were turned away because fire code only allowed so many people in the room at one time. [60]

Posted August 9, 2014 Why do I Shop at Bloomingfoods? by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham at The Road Goes On:

It also quickly became apparent that there was almost no transparency. The newsletter didn’t talk about coop issues. The minutes from board meetings were conspicuously absent. Indeed, until recently I had no idea when board meetings even were. They weren’t advertised.2 The newsletter mostly included fluff articles and local events. I had no idea what was going on internally to the coop, and no clear channel for finding out…

The more I shopped at Bloomingfoods, the more I realized that they carried very little local produce. What they did carry all seemed to either not be labelled with its origin … Most of what Bloomingfoods carries is big organic. Much of it is even conventional.

As I got to know local farmers, I started to learn about what the coop required of them in order to carry their produce. One local farmer I spoke to told me that he had given up trying to sell to Bloomingfoods. When he’d attempted in the past he’d been told to match the prices of the big organic farms in California. Which is impossible for him to do, and unreasonable for a coop to ask of him. [emphases added] [61]

Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp:

…After a short slide show of graphs from the NCGA folks that alerted us both to our predicament and its national context, the microphone was turned over to the member/owners present, with lots of warnings to be civil, to not speak too long, and so on. I was surprised. Do they need to tell us to be civil? We are always civil here, so civil in this community, by and large, that the former GM and his minions got away with way too much stasis for way too many years.

Though we were warned repeatedly not to comment, but simply to ask questions — one question each, please — and hand in written comments to the board afterwards, everybody in line had things to say, and none of them were confined to one question. That the board sought to confine comments to questions led to agitation, a sense of revolt and dismay — and then, simply, ‘disobedience.  [emphases added]  [62]

BLOOMINGFOOD’S MANAGEMENT SPEAKS

          Let me end with comments made by Management of Bloomingfoods: Paula Gilbertson, who was the acting-GM at Bloomingfoods, from National Coop Grocers (NCG), in an interview with Joe Hren from WFIU radio (Independent Public Media):

June 29, 2015 Bloomingfoods Acting GM On Communication, Pricing And Staff

Hren: Most of what I’ve heard about were more administrative-type moves. Is that going to continue to happen or are there other plans for some sort of new marketing with the store.

Gilbertson: This is sort of phase one. The opportunities in Bloomington are great and I think the co-op serves the market very well. I think we can refine and change with the times and catch up with simple things that we didn’t have to do 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.

Hren: And what are some of those things?

Gilbertson: We’ll want to take advantage of social media in terms of having discussions, having more information, having more communication available.

Hren: And with those members, besides shopping, how do you keep them involved or do you want to keep them involved in this process of change that’s going to happen?

Gilbertson: Member forums, on a monthly basis to have dialogue with the members of the board that they’ve chosen as their representatives, those are regularly scheduled. We will be sending out regular communication to members about the transition plan and what’s happening with this. Bloomingfoods has this opportunity to open the doors wide and talk with its members.

Hren: So what now, you just had the meeting and I assume this will be a long process…what can people expect to start happening now?

Gilbertson: We’ll kind take it one step at a time. We’ll communicate more frequently and more often, we’ll updated people and our next big push will be for the annual meeting in October.

Hren: This is a trend that’s happening probably across the country. Are there other things that Bloomingfoods can learn outside of Bloomington to bring that here to help in that situation?

Gilbertson: We’ve noted that it has slowed down the growth of some of our co-ops when competition comes to town and there are more players. But it makes us better and makes us focus on those core strengths we have. I think we will have embraced a lot of what co-ops across the country have learned as competition has come into there area: there is something unique the cooperative ownership structure offers.

Hren: So besides the surveys, is there anything else the customers could see in the stores? Maybe prices or other items?

Gilbertson: Actually we’re working on pricing right now to be implemented the first week of July and we’re working hard on that as we speak. We’re looking at where we have opportunities to adjust our prices  and serve our members better. So hopefully you’re going to see happier staff and staff more in tune with what’s going on and more informed, so I would hope there would be more engagement with customers and staff. (END) [63]

January 12, 2016 Indiana Public Media reports Bloomingfoods Hires New General Manager:

Bloomingfoods has hired a new general manager. Tony Alogni will start the job on March 1st.

Currently, Alongni holds a position at the second-largest co-op in the country, Hanover Co-Op in Hanover, New Hampshire… [64] [65] [66]

                                                                                                                                                                             © Laura Hagen

=========================================

[1] This is reminiscent of HWFC’s marketing tool of “Shareholder Saturdays:” why do Monthly Work (3 hours) as a Member-Owner and get 8% off when you can buy on “Shareholder Saturdays” for 10% off – and do no work!

This marketing strategy, however, cleverly  removes any incentive for Member-Owners to invest in and commit to their local co-op. We are relegated to the role of customers (getting a coupon) …rather than of Owners.

[2] The move to initiate reductions to HWFC MLP discounts had already begun at the  June, 2015 Membership Meeting. This Board’s attempt to end our MLP on October 23, 2015 was an attempt to sink the nail in that coffin.

[2a] Member-Owners, see the official Board minutes for October 20, 2015, here: http://www.honestweight.coop/page/board-meeting-minutes-99.html

[3] It has since been determined that the “cost” of our Member Labor Program is not what derailed our budget, see endnotes #17 and #19.

Our Treasurer’s first Quarterly Financial report will explain, in detail, how the former Board massively over-spent co-op savings in the last year.

[4] Shem Cohen of Change Events, Inc. (see: http://shemcohen.com/); Mark Goehring, CBLD Team Leader and Thane Joyal, CDS Consulting Co-op (seehttp://www.cdsconsulting.coop/;  http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/mark-goehring ; http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/consultants/thane-joyal )

See my two posts, GRASSROOTS ACTION and current bylaws ARE POWERFUL!, here and GRASSROOTS ACTION and Bylaws (Again) ARE POWERFUL! here; see the sections BYLAWS: LOTS OF READING AND THINKING TO DO and ALICE IN WONDERLAND DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE Is this a Bylaws Task Force or a Better End Member-Labor Task Force?

 [5] CDS Consulting Co-op; Change Events, Inc.; Corning Place Communications; Dowling Law PLLC; Couch White LLP.

In addition, see:here, here, here, here, here and, finally, here.

[6] This letter was hand-couriered to the NYSDOL after a fully-executed petition to oust current Board members, via an emergency Special Membership Meeting, had been personally handed to the acting Board President, Deb Dennis, on Saturday, October 24, 2015. See here.

[7] See the secret Board letter to the NYS Department of Labor, here.

[8] See the FOIL request, here.

[9] The secret meeting, between an HWFC Board representative (GRC co-chair, Ursula Abrams) & two Board law firms (attorneys John Vero of Couch White and Joanmarie Dowling of Dowling Law) and NYSDOL employees, took place on Wednesday, December 2, 2015, after our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting, held on November 30, 2015! (Do you recognize the pattern here: just ignore the legal wishes of co-op owners and bull ahead?) The decision to prevent Member-owners from attending this meeting was made by acting President Deb Dennis, who confirmed this fact to a packed Board meeting on January 5, 2016!

To this date, we do not know meeting content nor outcomes.

A written report to Membership, presented by Ursula Abrams, then co-Chair of the HWFC Governance Review Council (GRC), who was the only other Board-invited guest to this meeting, has since been confirmed to have been written or edited by the Strategic PR firm hired by the Board.

The GRC had a responsibility to the Member-Owners of this co-op to share this meeting date, time, place and agenda with Member-Owners: it did not do so. It had lost sight of the fact that it is not a committee of the Board; it was originally founded by the Member-Owners of HWFC to watchdog the actions of another out-of-control Board. The GRC was tasked with reporting directly to Membership (as well as to the Board).

In other words, the GRC is a Committee which serves at the pleasure of the Membership; whom, in this case, it ignored.

See here, under section entitled, Secrecy:

[10] Member-Owners see here.

[11] A properly structured Member-Owner Labor Program at a food co-op is absolutely allowable in NYS, with the presumption that the bylaws are properly written and the “owners” have control over the operations of the co-op. See this document, here, written by our Board Treasurer, Kate Doyle, Esq.:

[12] Corning Place Communications’ website lists Hinman Straub as its partner. See Corning Place’s website, here. See the 2015 NYS JCOPE Report, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/pubs/POL/2015_%20Annual%20Report_%20FINAL_4_8_16r.pdf

[12a] Search NYS JCOPE website, here: http://www.jcope.ny.gov/view_filing.html

Also NYS citizens may search the Project Sunlight website, https://projectsunlight.ny.gov/ . Project Sunlight is the the work of Blair Horner, a longtime, respected citizens’ advocate from NYPIRG. See: http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/attorney-general-andrew-cuomo-appoints-blair-horner-new-special-adviser-policy-and

[13]Astroturfing” is fake grassroots’ actions – used to thwart and undermine citizen groups, the real grassroots – which meet the agenda of a paying client or corporation: in this case the paying client was our own Board of Directors.

See definitions of “astroturfinghere and here. See my post, GRASSROOTS ACTION and Current Bylaws ARE POWERFUL here; especially the sections SECRET & SILENT STEALTH PR STRATEGISTS PULLING THE BYLAWS’ STRINGS? and STRATEGIC PR FIRMS COST…HOW MUCH? AND THEY DO WHAT TO GRASSROOTS ACTION?

[13a] A recent review of invoices from this firm, Corning Place Communications, has confirmed former Board payments for such “astroturfing” activities.

[14] The former Board paid Corning Place Communications $20,000 during 2015! A portion of one of these letters, with this text, was read by Board candidate (and new Board member) Tim Corrigan, at our annual Membership and Board Elections’ Meeting on April 17, 2016.

[15] See CDS Consulting Co-op, under “Co-operative Governance,” here.

[16] This was the largest Membership Meeting in our co-op’s 39 year history!

The grassroots advocacy done by this group of “Petitioner’s for an Emergency Special Membership Meeting” was and is phenomenal! 38 days: petitioning & “tabling” at our co-op, “clipboarding” in the parking lot, late-night meetings, daily organizer email updates, the formation of several member-owner websites (including this Grassroots Action is Powerful! blog, here!) and a FB page, a mailchimp blast e-list, getting petition paperwork done, phone calling, info-meetings with Membership, legal docs re. MLPs in NYS, orange “Let’s Chat” t-shirt donations, a new written policy on petitioning at HWFC, organizing the meeting, FOIL Letters, communications’ struggles overcome, printing up ballots, preparing food…  …and all this with the DIRECT OPPOSITION of the Board which clamped down on ALL means of communications between Member-Owners, while leveraging & lobbing the professional astroturfing services of the Board’s Strategic PR Firm against us!…

The outpouring of energy, effort & commitment from these Member-Owner individuals and families has directly  led to a co-op which is, once again, continuing on with its original mission of being locally-owned, “Member-owned and Member-operated…”

It is an honor to be working with all the fellow Member-Owner, grassroots advocacy heroes: who are – simply – families helping one another to keep our co-op strong, locally-owned and locally-operated.

[16a] Subsequent to our SMM, Duke Bouchard and Lexa Juhre resigned their top Management positions (as part of HWFC’s three-person Leadership Team (LT) ).

[17] This board spent “$500,000 to eliminate member labor and [on] strategic planning to design its replacement;” “[o]ver $200,000 on Central Avenue building since moving to new store;” and “$75,000 in bonuses paid to LT over three years.” Member-Owners see here.

[18] Please see this document, written by Kate Doyle, Esq., to understand MLPs and NYS law.

[19] At the January 5, 2016 Board meeting, it was announced to Membership, by our newly-elected Board members, that the former Board had spent $257,000 on legal fees in only six months (since July, 2015). This former Board was spending $42,833 a month (!!!) to two law firms, to assist them in their agenda to end our MLP, change our bylaws, remove Member-Owner control of our co-operative corporation and implement a replacement to our MLP.

The Quarterly Financial Report, which our Treasurer is preparing, will shock all of us. The monies used by the former Board – to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner power – came directly out of our HWFC savings. These are the funds you and I, and all the other HWFC Member-Owners, collectively “own:” the funds which positioned us as a financially-healthy food co-op, funds which should have been used in the furtherance of our mission. Instead, our savings was used against us, in order to eliminate the power & control we legally hold in our co-operative corporation.

[19a] Thank you to Tim O’Brien  and the Times Union for staying on this story! We grassroots families here at HWFC are very lucky to have a reporter of Tim’s caliber who’s following our advocacy efforts to defend our food co-operative and to keep it locally-owned and locally-controlled.

Follow the story through his eyes, since October 16, 2015, here.

[20] See the Times Union, dated October 16, 2015,  Honest Weight Food Co-op Considers Dropping Member Workers in Store by Tim O’Brien, here.

[20a] The text of the two straw polls – with the official  election results from our SMM – is as follows:

4. Member review and vote on recommendation for the Board to research and consider a different Management Structure.

Straw poll results are as follows:
67.7% Voted Yes the Board may consider a different management structure

395 Yes – Board may consider different management structure
188 No – Board is not encouraged to consider a different management structure

5. Member review and vote on a finding of no confidence in the members of the leadership team and request that the board initiate review, pursuant to the employee manual, regarding each member of the leadership team.

Straw poll results are as follows:
69% Voted to Change the Leadership Team

393 Voted to Change the Leadership Team
176 Voted to Keep the Leadership Team

See the Special Meeting Notice  (pp. 1 & 4) and the Official Election Results.

[21] This was also a straw poll. See the Official Election Results.

[22] John Serio, Secretary, also did not maintain his Board seat at our SMM on November 30, 2015. On January 5, 2016 four members of Deb Dennis’s Board stepped down: Deb Dennis, Leif Hartmark, Roseann Coto-Batres, and Roman Kuchera.

[23] See Tim O’Brien’s Times Union article, Six Win Seats on Honest Weight Food Co-op Board, in the Tuesday, April 19, 2016 Times Union

[24] As an aside, for those who love bungalows, Arts & Crafts homes, 1930’s kitchens, and wood (!), read this book about the Hoosier cabinet, The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, by Nancy R. Hiller, who lives in Bloomington. See her website, here and see her blogpost about the Hoosier cabinet she designed for Bloomingfoods’ newest store, Elm Heights.

[25] See: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/members/

[26] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/banner_slider/locations-2/kirkwood-announcement/

http://www.yelp.com.au/biz/bloomingfoods-bloomington-7

and http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/future-of-downtown-bloomingfoods-uncertain/article_b8a42455-c427-5056-8f0b-a8cfc59aa67a.html

[27] See these two articles about unionization at Bloomingfoods in The Ryder, written by Robert F. Arnove, Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University (unknown if is he is a Member-Owner of B’foods):
http://www.theryder.com/2014/12/21/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods/
http://www.theryder.com/2015/02/08/the-unionization-of-bloomingfoods-part-2/

[28] See this September 15, 2014 blogpost by Bloomingfoods Member Daniel Bingham, Dear Bloomingfoods, Please Don’t Hire Union Busters, here: http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/dear-bloomingfoods-please-dont-hire-union-busters

[29] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/business/whole-foods-coming-to-bloomington-s-college-mall-in/article_f175d14e-19ab-11e4-bde5-0017a43b2370.html

[30] Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) and co-ops which are National Coop Grocers (NCG) members utilize the same national wholesaler: United Natural Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ: UNFI).

[31] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/417-board-announcement/

http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-gm-resigns-coop-undergo-changes-83238/

[32] https://www.ncg.coop/

[33] Bloomingfoods and HWFC are both member co-ops of National Coop Grocers (NCG). See: https://www.ncg.coop/find-co-op

[34] On April 1, 2016 Lucky’s Market and Kroger’s announced a “strategic partnership.” See: http://www.luckysmarket.com/press-release/

[34a] We caught a similar alteration in language usage at Honest Weight Food Co-op. The Board sends announcements through its e-Inside Scoop. The former Board had started calling itself the “Honest Weight Board of Directors.” The word “co-operative” had disappeared.

[35] A straw poll survey conducted by one of our Member-Owners, who took the time to call NYS food co-ops, found many thriving Member-Labor Programs. There are many  US food co-ops (which do not belong to National Coop Grocers (NCG) ) which sustain active, Member-Owner Labor programs.

Please research the work of Laddie Lushin, Esq, a VT attorney who specializes in nonprofit and co-operative law and who has written in favor of Member-Labor Programs at food co-ops, from a legal standpoint.

Do your own straw poll. Develop a list of all the food co-ops in your state – in addition to the ones which are members of NCG; call each one with a list of questions about Member-Labor at their co-op; make sure to connect up with actual Member-Owners, not just Board & Management representatives.

[36] See Critical Legal Information, by Kate Doyle, Esq., who is our current Board Treasurer:

[37] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-layoffs-expected-business-declines-83509/

[38] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-co-op-announces-layoffs-amidst-increased-competition/article_aad9b893-840e-5b11-befe-ced2d02eacb9.html

[39] http://www.heraldtimesonline.com/news/local/bloomingfoods-meeting-hints-at-more-layoffs/article_cf4184c7-a923-552b-9a5c-09449c1015a9.html

[40]  Posted to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member Ann Kreilkamp, on June 23, 2015. See, https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[41] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[42] See under “Clients” at http://cdsconsulting.coop/

[43] Read the relevant sections in each of my blogposts: here, here, here and here.

[44] There is evidence in Board minutes that HWFC Boards have been working with CDS Consulting Coop since December 2009: at least six years. Member-Owners see: http://www.honestweight.coop/uploads/BoardMin/1358112288_2009-12-01_Board_Minutes.pdf

[45] The former HWFC board executed a contract with CDS Consulting Co-op in December, 2014, specifically for CDSCC’s Co-operative Board Leadership Development (CBLD) with its ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template.

[46] An estimated tally of the amount HWFC has paid to CDS Consulting Co-op over the  last almost three years is $84,000.

[47] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[48] See the comments by Donald Kreis, Esq., a current candidate for the Board of Directors of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH, who is supported by the co-op advocacy group, Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), relating to CDSCC and the NCG contract, in his December 17, 2015 blogpost, The ‘Share of Stomach’ Challenge at the Hanover Co-op: December Board Report, here: http://www.kreis.coop/blog/?offset=1450493078922

[49] Cooperative Grocer Network lists, as its three sponsors:
CDS Consulting Co-op
National Coop Grocers
National Cooperative Bank

See: http://www.grocer.coop/

Website accessed on April 19, 2016.

[50] Posted June 23, 2015 to Exopermaculture  by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[51] Bloomingfood’s January 2016 Board  minutes indicate they are participating in CDS Consulting Coop’s CBLD trainings: http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/January-2016-Minutes.pdf

[52] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[53] February 11, 2015 Letter to the Editor in The Commons, by Mimi Yahn entitled Still Searching for Democracy at the Putney Food Co-op, updating her article Searching for Democracy at the Putney Co-op.

[54] Private email correspondence dated December 8, 2015.

[55] Losing Our Principles was published on January 14, 2015, by The Commons Online. “The Commons, Commonsnews.org, and the Media Mentoring Project are projects of Vermont Independent Media, a nonprofit source of news and media education in southern Vermont.

[56] See CDSCC under “Co-operative Governance, here: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/cooperative_governance/

[57] The paper & electronic copies I have of the CDSCC ‘Fresh Start’ Bylaws Template, provided to HWFC in 2015, includes this text, in Article III 3.2. However, CDSCC’s website has since amended their Template (rev. 02/24/16) and this clause has been removed: http://library.cdsconsulting.coop/wp-content/uploads/CBLD-Fresh-Start-Bylaws-Template.pdf

Another way co-op bylaws are being manipulated, so as to gut Member-Owner power & control, is by adding new shareholders. By buying into the “One member, one vote” PR slogan, utilized to manipulate (which we heard echoed at our co-op), a co-op with 11,000 new shareholders added, instead of working, Member-Owners, will find it virtually impossible to both get enough signatures for a Special Membership Meeting and to reach quorum at that meeting.

Result? Same endgame as in Article III 3.2: Member-Owners cannot carry a vote. They have lost corporate power & control. Who’s in control? The Board.

The term “shareholder” belongs to a top-down, traditional corporate structure.

In other words, research carefully before even considering changing your food co-op corporate structure & bylaws to include thousands of new shareholders. Lots of US co-ops are not making this change to their corporate structure and bylaws.

[58] See: http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#P

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/our_clients.php#H

http://www.cdsconsulting.coop/case_studies/bloomingfoods-market

 [59] Posted October 9, 2014 to Exopermaculture by blogger and Bloomingfoods Member-Owner Ann Kreilkamp at https://www.exopermaculture.com/2014/10/09/bloomingfoods-co-op-crisis-act-ii-unite-bloomingfoods-unite-marches-to-board-meeting/

[60] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-employees-voice-concerns-coop-board-72940/

[61] http://theroadgoeson.com/articles/article/why-do-i-shop-at-bloomingfoods

[62] https://www.exopermaculture.com/2015/06/23/iconic-bloomingfoods-co-op-starts-to-right-its-ship/

[63] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/84227-84227/

[64] http://indianapublicmedia.org/news/bloomingfoods-hires-general-manager-92167/

[65] http://www.bloomingfoods.coop/general-manager-update/

[66] Member-Owners of the Hanover Food Co-op in NH started an independent, grassroots organization, after disagreements with co-op Management and Board over firings at their co-op, and other issues. See Concerned About the Co-op (CATC), here: https://www.facebook.com/concernedaboutthecoop

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Current Board Accomplishments ARE POWERFUL!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

HOT OFF THE PRESS!

Honest Weight Food Co-op Makes Front Page of Times Union Business Section today. See the article:

Honest Weight Food Co-op’s Board Majority Again Up For Election
by Tim O’Brien, here.

Tim O’Brien quotes HWFC Board candidate Howard Brent: “the previous board went off the deep end.”

ALERT! STILL HOT OFF THE PRESS! Here is the Co-op Voice’s April, 2016 edition, with the Q&A Responses of all ten (10) announced candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday. And, here are the candidates’ bios and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd.

HOT REMINDER: Don’t forget your personal Committee’s of Correspondence: personally call five (5) HWFC Members whom you know. Remind them to vote on Sunday. Ask them to each call five (5), etc. Done.

~~~

Busy morning! I need my steaming, fragrant cup – no, pot of organic Jade Oolong tea, to bring this blogpost to bed, fast!

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each blogpost this week (see April 9, April 12 and the popularSkunkworks” post of April 13 (come visit the Comments underneath. Join in!), I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

CURRENT HWFC BOARD ACCOMPLISHMENTS: A.W.E.S.O.M.E!

Today’s information from our Board (see below) will tell you all about the incredible things our current Board of Directors has accomplished! Accomplished in just four short months!!!

Let’s remember that three of those Board members – Nate Horwitz, Carolynn Presser and Kate Doyle – were elected at an emergency Special Membership Meeting (SMM), held on November 30, 2015, called for by the Membership to confront a threat to our co-operative corporation and stop the activities of an out-of-control Board of Directors. Two of those Board members – New Depew and Daniel Morrissey, who were Board incumbents when we held our SMM – received the highest votes of confidence from Membership at the SMM. One of those Board member – Saul Rigberg, who also ran for election on  November 30 – was appointed by the above five Board members, to come join their team, on March 1, 2016.

That historic emergency meeting, held on Monday evening, November 30, 2015 had ~620 voting Member-Owner shareholders come out to vote (just four days after Thanksgiving, remember!) In addition, there was a total of ~720 attendees!

We broke any and all Honest Weight Food Coop records from our 40 year history, for Membership Meeting attendance: and this was an emergency Special Membership Meeting, called for by a petition of the Membership on October 24, 2015.

In just 38 days SMM petitioners convinced ~620 HWFC Owners to get out, confront a threat to our co-operative corporation (see here, here, here, here, here and, finally here) …

…confront that threat, and vote.

~620 of us sure did, ~720 including shareholders and our families! (See the official election results, here.) We all successfully defended our food co-operative corporation from those threats.

Well, now it’s time for the Member-Owners of HWFC to review just what this Board team of six Member-Owners has done for us and for our co-operative, in only four (4) months!

This document should convince you that we did the right thing on November 30, 2015! It should also convince you of the imperative that we ALL get out and vote this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Sophia’s!

There are plans afoot (and read the comments below) to derail this election. Supporters of the former Board and former Management are busy digging through our bylaws to find any way to re-take our Board on Sunday.

We have to prevent them from disrupting our co-operative meeting process …once again.

See, these people don’t honor or respect the democratic process. Secrecy, fear, intimidation and last minute, planned maneuvers to disrupt are at the top of their playlist. At our emergency SMM they tried this on the floor …and failed miserably. But it looks like that’s what they’re going to try again: this time a run to try and grab Board seats at the very last minute from the floor.

My upcoming blogposts on Friday, Saturday and Sunday will provide more details. And, go and read the Reader Comments, under my April 13 Skunkworks post: an issue of “blank ballots” and Sunday’s election posted by Nickleson Cook over at the Let’s Talk HWFC FB page (Nickleson is the co-chair of the HWFC Communications Committee, BTW).

Your vote is THE ONE SURE-FIRED WAY to insure that the  former Board – and its supporters – never get a foot in the door on our board, again.

We again need LARGE NUMBERS of Member-Owners to turn out and vote!

YOU NEED TO CONTINUE TO DEFEND WHAT A MAJORITY OF US DID ON NOVEMBER 30, 2015.

Can we equal the ~620 voters who came on November 30th? Let’s go for it!

Our bylaws call for a total of nine (9) Board seats: seven (7) seats are up for election. Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey are not up for election this time ’round.

We need to support the incumbent Board members (four are up for election: make your choices), and bring our Board up to full, by adding enough seats to vote for seven (7) candidates on Sunday! (BTW, election note: a ballot will be considered spoiled (not counted) if you vote for more than seven (7) candidates. So, count carefully when you cast your ballot: seven names only.)

And I have no secret ballot to hide: I know I am voting for Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and their choice, Saul Rigberg …and by so doing, following up on our historic elections of November 30, 2015. They have proved their ability to lead. I will decide upon my remaining four votes …way, way before the elections (see why, here) on Sunday.

CURRENT HWFC BOARD ACCOMPLISHMENTS

Without further ado, here is the current edition, April 14, 2016, of the HWFC Inside Scoop, listing all of our current Board’s accomplishments!

Work accomplished in only four months by six people! Imagine what this team will do with three (3) additional Board members!

For the convenience of my readers, some of whom are seniors and people with disabilities and/or on fixed incomes, who have limited e-mail availability to timely information, here is the URL for this information (http://www.honestweight.coop/page/inside-scoop-184.html) and, below, is the text, copied & pasted, word-for-word:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

INSIDE SCOOP

News and Views from Honest Weight Food Co-op Board of Directors

April 14, 2016

It’s a Wrap!

The Tuesday, April 5, 2016 Board meeting ended without ceremony, yet its adjournment marked the last session at which the current six Board of Directors will meet as this Board of Directors. After the April 17 election, the newly-elected member-owners will join continuing Directors Nate Horwitz and Daniel Micah Morrissey to create a full complement of nine Directors on our Board. In acknowledgement of the ending of the tenure of the current Board, we offer the following as a list of accomplishments by this group of Directors in service of our Co-op.

Fiduciary Responsibilities

+ Hired new legal counsel and confirmed that the Co-op’s use of member labor complies with federal and state labor laws. (New counsel’s legal opinion underscored former legal counsel’s opinion, though such former legal counsel’s opinion had not been presented to membership.)
+ Reinstituted compliance with legal requirement that minutes be kept of Executive Sessions of Board of Directors.
+ Placed a hiring freeze on new positions while assessing co-op’s financial status.
+ Obtained numerous financial documents previously unexamined by the former Board, but relevant to the ordinary course of HWFC’s business.
+ Exposed previous expenditures on consultants and attorneys.
+ Requested billing statements and work products of relevant consultants.
+ Hired an Interim CFO to lead the Co-op during a search for a new, permanent CFO.
+ Proposed a new management structure for HWFC, with a Chief Cooperative Officer, who would supervise a Chief Financial Officer and a Director of Operations, in order to create better accountability and supervision of top-level management.
+ Incorporated the mission and purpose of HWFC directly from the By-Laws and into the job performance standards of the proposed new top-level management positions, similar to Benefit Corporation Principles.

Governance and Legal

+ Declared null and void the previous Board Ethics Statement, which essentially imposed a gag rule on the Board and created confidentiality requirements that were unnecessary under the New York Business Corporation Law.
+ Cleared a backlog of several years of filings with the State Liquor Authority to clear up delinquencies that jeopardized HWFC’s liquor license.
+ Updated the Co-op’s delinquent “Corporate Black Book,” which the Co-op is legally required to have complete and ready to produce to the Internal Revenue Service and other relevant government agencies.
+ Created a Corporate Compliance Committee (which subsumed the work of the By-Laws Task Force) composed of attorneys and other regulatory or audit specialists in order to
  • review HWFC’s By-Laws, manuals, policies, and practices to ensure compliance with the By-Laws and internal consistency within each of the documents, and
  • review applicable laws and regulations to ensure compliance with such laws and regulations.

+
Began reviewing HWFC’s By-Laws with the intent to present proposals to member-owners for minor tweaks and corrections which will improve governance by member-owners and bolster member-owner labor at the Co-op.
+ Began reviewing the primary contract between NCG and the HWFC to determine and understand the benefits as well as the risks of the contractual obligations we have.
+ Created a Membership Marketing Committee, whereby member-owners can engage in innovative, aggressive marketing programs and efforts to complement the marketing efforts by employees in order to promote HWFC and increase sales and profitability.
+ Approved an Idea Facilitation Process whereby member-owners will solicit from the shopping public suggestions for improving the shopping experience at HWFC.

Reduced Expenditures

+ Imposed a moratorium on the use of consultants and attorneys without justification to and permission of the Board.
+ Initiated the legal process to terminate the need for HWFC to file an unnecessary semi-annual prospectus, which had been filed since 2009, and which costs HWFC $40,000 per year.
+ Authorized a settlement with the landlord of 484 Central Avenue to terminate the lease and cover contractual damages.  (Saving approximately $40,000/year.)
+ Publicized the facts regarding the expense of mailing notices to member-owners, and promoted switching to email delivery of notices. In first effort, encouraged over sixty member-owners to switch from postal mail to email. At no extra expense, added email enrollment forms to mailed Notices of April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting in order to increase notifications by email. (A minimum annual cost of $2000.)
+ Authorized the sale of the “grease bus” for $2500 to a local farm.
+ Authorized an analysis of credit and debit card usage and fees and initiated efforts to inform member-owners about the positive financial effects of using HWFC gift cards. (A current store expense exceeding $250,000 annually.)
+ Year to date, Co-op experienced two consecutive months’ profit as compared to same months in 2015.

Member-Owner Services

+ Began implementation of an equitable thaw of the former board’s freeze on 24% member-owners, with intent to monitor financial impact.
+ Transferred the Owner Services Coordinator (OSC) to direct supervision of the Board of Directors and away from supervision by the Leadership Team, in order to create more direct accountability of the OSC to the Board, and thereby, to member-owners.
  • Instructed the OSC to ascertain from each department the number and types of member-owner work that is discrete and distinct from employees’ work.
  • Instructed the OSC to begin cataloging member-owners’ skills and qualifications in order to create a “member-owner resource bank” that can be referred to for member-owner shifts when tasks are needed to be accomplished for work that falls outside of any paid employees’ job descriptions.

+
Proposed creating a “Member-Owner Accountability Committee,” to develop initiatives to present for member-owner approval including:
  • Establishing incentives for better member-owner time, attendance, and work effort accountability;
  • Developing a member-owner-to-member-owner “member-owner expectations” document addressing the rights and expectations of member-owners from other member-owners about responsibilities as owners and employers; and
  • Creating a network of co-ops to share expertise and experience in co-op related matters, already in progress.

+
At the January 31, 2016 Membership Meeting, attended by over 250 member-owners:
  • Requested HWFC’s Interim CFO to present financial information to member owners in clear and specific detail, and entertain questions from member-owners.
  • Held a “Committee Fair” at which all Board committees tabled and answered member-owner questions about committee work, and encouraged and invited new committee members.
  • Held “Member-Owner Workgroups” at which member-owners brainstormed ideas for addressing issues that member-owners identified as areas of concern or for improvement or initiative at HWFC.   Topics were varied and ranged from addressing environmental issues to increasing profitability to decreasing expenditures to improving member-owner labor program to improving marketing.

+
Promoted and increased member-owner participation by establishing a distinct email address for each committee, publicized on HWFC’s website, in order to promote and increase committee participation by member-owners.
+ Directed the Membership Committee to create a “Membership Meeting Procedures Guide.”

Employee Relations

+ Held ten (thus far) Executive Committee Reach Out Days, and
  • Met individually with over 30 Department Managers, Assistant Managers, and staff to learn ways to improve the way HWFC does business, to identify barriers to increased productivity, and to initiate discussions around problem-solving, improving teamwork, creating employee incentives for time and attendance and increasing productivity, and improving professional development;
  • Ascertained top needs by department managers and staff:
    • better time and attendance policies for accountability for staff and member-owners;
    • signage in each department and throughout the store;
    • training on SMS;
    • more weekly member-owners; and
    • better inter-department and top-level management communication.

+
At member-owners’ request, met with member-owners to hear concerns about and ideas for improving employment conditions at the Co-op.
+ Promoted and increased employee communication and participation by establishing a distinct email address for staff liaisons to the Board and the Personnel Committee.
+ Directed outgoing employees to create policy manuals for their jobs to ensure smooth transitions for any future vacancies.
+ Drafted proposal for a pilot program whereby, after consecutive quarters’ profitability, member-owners would work in place of their employees in order to provide two paid holidays for staff. After initial assessment and sustained profitability, intent would be to incrementally add more holidays to choices for staff to take and for member-owners to work for their employees. (To be introduced at May 3rd Board meeting)

Communication Improvements

+ Authorized the creation of a member-owner-run newsletter, the Coop Voice, to improve communication within the Co-op community.
+ Produced six Inside Scoops that generated praise for being positive and informative.
+ Improved accountability for HWFC’s website information.
+ Directed HWFC’s website be updated by removing obsolete information and adding current information.
———————————————————-
In just four and a half months, we learned a lot, met often, disagreed frequently, but agreed way more often, we worked diligently to fulfill our responsibilities as Directors of the co-operative corporation we own, and we made advances toward correcting the direction of the Co-op as mandated by the member-owners who voted us to stay on the Board or to be on the Board. We appreciate the opportunity to have served our co-operative community.

Honest Weight Food Co-op Board of Directors

Carolynn Presser, Daniel Morrissey, Kate Doyle, Nate Horwitz, Saul Rigberg and Ned Depew
board–at–honestweight.coop
END
==============================================

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran

~~~

GRASSROOTS ACTION Can Stop Skunkworks!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

ALERT! HOT OFF THE PRESS! Here is the Co-op Voice’s  April, 2016 edition, with the Q&A Responses of all ten (10) announced candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday.

Here are the candidates’ bios and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd.

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each blogpost this week (see April 9 and April 12), I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting and Board Elections this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Candidates (see here for meeting details, here for the agenda and  here, here and here for candidate information)
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages
6:00 – 8:00 pm
MEMBERSHIP MEETING

~~~

SKUNKWORKS OPERATION RUMORED

MASS FLOOR NOMINATIONS PLANNED?

AN ATTEMPT TO WATER DOWN DECLARED CANDIDATES’ VOTE TALLIES, PREVENTING THEIR ELECTION

We are hearing persistent rumors that a group of HWFC Members may be planning an attempt to water down the vote tallies of the eight (8) candidates who met the deadline for candidacy and participated in the process (and the two (2) who got their applications in late): for a total of ten (10) announced candidates.

Seven (7) Board seats are up for election.

What does this mean?

Once quorum is reached (when the required number of voting Member-Owners has been reached), our Membership Meeting is called to order. At the appropriate time in the agenda, the declared candidates will each be allowed equal time to make a statement to the Membership. After this occurs, there will be a call from the meeting moderator for nominations from the floor, which our bylaws appear to allow. [1]

We are hearing rumors that there is a plan to have a large number of candidates nominate themselves from the floor.

Should 5 or 7 or 10 people do this, it could act to take away votes from the ten (10) declared candidates.

Why does this matter?

Any one candidate who does not receive at least 25% of the vote at our election (a plurality), will not have met the minimum requirement for election to the Board. Their name will be removed from consideration.

So, if we have 600 voting Members show up to vote, each of the ten (10) declared candidates must receive at least 150 votes, to have met the minimum requirement of 25% of the votes.

Any candidate who receives less than 150 votes – if there are 600 voting Members – will have his or her name removed from consideration for Board election.

If more than seven (7) candidates receive enough votes to sit upon our Board, the seven (7) with the largest number of votes (a majority) will be elected.

ANNOUNCED CANDIDATES HONOR OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS

Eight candidates made a public commitment to Membership and followed our process for announcing their candidacy for the Board. They announced with enough time for Member-Owners to get to know them and their positions. They took time to fill out an application and submit it on time, attend Meet the Candidates Forums at HWFC, and participate in a Q&A sponsored by the Co-op Voice. (Two additional candidates got their applications in late.) This makes for a total of ten (10) announced candidates for the Board.

These ten (10) candidates took the time to plan: checking with their families, making sure they can sustain the commitment, time and energy needed to serve on our Board. They have honored our process and insured that Membership had ample opportunity to meet them, get to know their views and ask questions.

This ability to plan, commit follow through, communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process, demonstrates some of the very leadership qualities we want to see in a potential Board member.

NOMINEES FROM THE FLOOR: WHY ARE THEY WAITING ‘TIL THE LAST MINUTE TO RUN?

Our bylaws currently appear to allow for nominations or self-nominations for Board election. I’m not an attorney, but there appears to to me to be some clear ambiguity in the bylaws on this issue. [1]

That said, why would a group of Members chose to wait until the absolute very last minute to put their names forward, without granting Membership any time to hear their platform or to get to know them?

That is quite disrespectful of the Membership.

Given all the communication and discussion – well ahead of time – about our annual Membership Meeting and Elections, and the well-organized planning process by both the Nominations and Membership Committees (thank you very, very much everybody!), how can anyone – or a group  of anyones – defend waiting until minutes before the election to announce their intention to run?

Why would a group do this? What is the motive for this group action?

At the very least, it demonstrates a lack of the ability to communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process. It demonstrates a will to subvert democratic process and it demonstrates poor leadership qualities. These are qualities I will not cast a vote for.

THEIR REAL MOTIVES?

It is likely that the real motive is to shift votes away from the ten (10) publicly-announced candidates – a ploy to water down the vote – so that some or all of the announced candidates cannot reach the minimum number of votes (25%) to be considered.

In  other words, their names would be tossed out from the running.

We could end up with some or none of the previously-declared candidates or Board incumbents reaching the 25%, or candidates from the subversive “From-the-Floor-Nominations-Group” being elected to our Board.

Or we could end up  with no candidates for the Board being elected.

A PLAN TO UNDERMINE OUR DEMOCRATIC PROCESS MAY BE IN PROGRESS

If there is any plan to have 5 or 7 or 10 people nominated from the floor, that indicates to me – not an intent to run for any legitimate reason, rather a plan – as a group – to disrupt, agitate, thumb their noses at, and undermine the democratic and co-operative principles by which we were founded and by which we operate.

If our bylaws allow that these individuals each be allowed time to address Membership (and that is also unclear to me from our bylaws) [2] – we will have a very long meeting. It does not at all seem fair that a group of candidates announcing their intent to run minutes before an election, should be given equal time to address Membership, as the candidates who declared their intention to run well ahead of our Annual Elections.

It looks for all the world like this is a plan to attempt to get rid of our four seated Board members – Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle, Saul Rigberg and Ned Depew – and, at the same time, an attempt to grab some of the Board seats by members of this subversive group.

Or, maybe this group hopes to dilute the vote enough so that nobody gets elected.

Or, maybe they hope that by spreading rumors – ahead of the Election – a good percentage of HWFC Member-Owners will not show up to vote, out of fear.

Finally, this group could simply wish to cause disruption to the Membership Meeting and Elections.

Likely, it’s all of the above.

Planned disruption of this nature – deliberately designed to cause agitation, conflict, hostility, and fear at a Membership Meeting of our food co-operative – needs to be called out ahead of time.

This type of determined aggression and offensive behavior at our co-op needs to have the light of day shone down upon it each and every time it is uncovered.

If there is a group of HWFC members who are participating in this plan, you  need to step forward  – NOW – and declare your names and your intentions. Please post below, we Member-Owners want to know who you are.

If you have information about this plan, you need to immediately step forward and alert Membership Meeting planners (see below). [3]

PLANNING DISRUPTION TO  OUR PROCESS IS DESPICABLE

This action, as well as the planning of this action, is despicable.

Spreading a rumor that this action may occur – using a tactic of fear so that Member-Owners may be too afraid to attend our Membership Meeting and vote on Sunday – is despicable.

I would not want any of these individuals to serve on our Board or in any leadership capacity in our co-operative.

BUT THE BYLAWS SAY PEOPLE CAN SELF-NOMINATE FROM THE FLOOR, DON’T THEY?

That may be correct. [1]  That does not mean that a group of people can manipulate the intent of the bylaws, with an endgame of disrupting, agitating, causing conflict and derailing a nomination’s process, a Membership Meeting, and an Annual  Election.

The bylaws also state that we will, above all, behave in a co-operative manner.

These actions are not at all co-operative.

SECRET PLANNING …AGAIN

Planning of this nature – ahead of time, in a small group, in secret, behind the back of Membership, subverting the will of Membership – comes straight out of the playbook of the former Board of Directors [4]

…who, let’s remember, had the help of one of Albany’s top-ten Strategic PR & Lobbying firms, as well as help from a very, very pricey national .coop firm, to help  in scripting political actions against the voting, shareholders – the owners – of our co-operative corporation. [5]

This current subversive action has all the feel – yet again – of an action planned by paid pros, who are trained in astroturfing (fake grassroots’ actions used against citizen groups, which meet the agenda of a paying client or corporation): that is, in subverting real grassroots actions (like our co-op’s annual Membership Meetings and Elections).

This current (rumor-mill) action seems all too familiar to me. Doesn’t it to you, too?

After all, the former Board and (their supporters) didn’t just go away after November 30, 2015 – the date of our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting – and, remember, this is the first Board Election since we Members challenged and put down their activities.

Makes sense that these supporters would try to re-take the Board …somehow …or at least throw a monkey-wrench into the works.

Think I’m paranoid? The $500,000 (!) the former Board spent on attorneys and consultants (pros) to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner legal power & control in our co-operative corporation should lay that thought to rest. [6]

Go watch your favorite Wall Street movie again. What do you call it when a Board of Directors tries to secretly wrestle control of a corporation from the shareholders?

We cannot permit this kind of destructive infiltration at our co-op, ever again.

We Member-Owner-Shareholders – the grassroots of HWFC – need to keep control of our Board on Sunday, April 17, 2016.

HERE’S WHO’S RUNNING: OUR DECLARED CANDIDATES

Below are the names of our declared candidates: here are their bios, Q&A Responses and here is a summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd:

Howard Brent
Tim Corrigan
Richard Donnegan
Kate Doyle
Anastasia Onorata
Carolyn Presser
Rebekah Rice
Saul Rigberg

New Depew and Collin Thomas are (late) declared candidates. Ned’s bio is tacked to the Member-Owner bulletin board, at the back of the co-op. I have no information about Collin’s bio.

Let’s not forget that the seven (7) people we elect on Sunday will be joining Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey, who are incumbents and not up for election at this time.

That will be our team!

WHAT TO DO

SIMPLE!

  1.  CHOOSE YOUR SEVEN (7) CANDIDATES AHEAD OF TIME
  2. CALL FIVE (5) HWFC MEMBERS WHOM YOU KNOW: REMIND THEM TO COME VOTE
  3. PREPARE A DELICIOUS SNACK OR DESSERT POTLUCK TO SHARE
  4. COME OUT AND VOTE ON SUNDAY! WE NEED LARGE VOTER TURNOUT!

1. Follow through on the elections we had at our historic emergency  Membership  Meeting on November 30, 2015: we elected Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle and Nate Horwitz (Nate is not up for election at this time): Re-elect Carolynn and Kate!

2. Nate, Carolynn and Kate chose Saul Rigberg to join their team on the Board: Elect Saul  Rigberg!

Elect the three (3) individuals who are currently on our Board – Carolyn Presser, Kate Doyle and Saul Rigberg – who have served with distinction, honor and integrity under difficult circumstances …and are seated as a result of our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015.

3. Preview the candidates’ bios, their Q&A Responses and the summary of the Meet the Board Candidates Meeting from April 3rd now. Of the seven (7) remaining candidates, select four (4). Make your decision now as to which four (4) additional candidates you will vote for.

4. Attend the Meet the Candidates Forum at St. Sophia’s, prior to the Membership Meeting on  Sunday; it starts at 4:00pm. If you were undecided going into the Forum, come out of it with the names of the seven (7) candidates you wish to vote for firmly decided. Go into our Dessert Potluck at 5:30pm knowing whom you are voting for.

5. Do not support or allow agitators – for any  reason – to disrupt our Membership Meeting on Sunday.

Too many Member-Owners have worked too hard and very co-operatively since October 22, 2015 – to take back our co-op – to allow such a disruption to our democratic process.

Support the candidates who have exhibited good leadership qualities by honoring our nominations’ process and declaring their candidacy well before this Annual Election, and most importantly, understood that Membership needs a chance to get to know the candidates before voting for them.

WHY YOU NEED TO SHOW UP AND VOTE THIS SUNDAY

We – the Member-Owners – are the grassroots! Real grassroots work triumphs over skunkworks, every time, baby!

Do not succumb to any fear you may have – which this group may be deliberately pumping ahead of time; they want you to be afraid, they want you to not show up and vote! Don’t allow their brokering of fear – executed using secrecy, innuendo and whispered intimidation – to stop you from voting! As author Susan Jeffers said: Feel the fear and do it anyway!

That old saying, There’s power in numbers is not meaningless. ~620 of us showed up to address an emergency at our co-op – reigning in an out-of-control Board – and voted to correct the problem on November 30, 2015! Meeting attendance was ~720! Historic, guys! We confronted the secret agendas and fear then …and we triumphed! If you were there you were witness to and part of that incredible, historic, grassroots, food co-op power!

Individuals, families & community standing strong to defend what is ours!

Let’s follow through and do it again.

Your participation on Sunday is CRUCIAL to insuring that we Member-Owners seat a Board which honors democratic principles and which has people on it who have demonstrated – well ahead of this election – that they have the ability to plan, to follow through, to communicate in a public and transparent way, and to work co-operatively with our process, as part of a team.

These are the leadership qualities for which I will cast my votes on Sunday.

And I have no secret ballot to hide: I know I am voting for Carolynn Presser, Kate Doyle and Saul Rigberg …and by so doing, following up on our historic elections of November 30, 2015. In just three – four months, they have proved their ability to lead.

I will decide upon my remaining four votes …way before Sunday.

Please, you do the same.

~~~

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.

John Philpot Curran [7]

====================================

[1] See HWFC bylaws, dated April 26, 2015, under Board of Directors, Standing Committees, Nominating Committee, 461 (pp. 16-17):

461 Nominating Committee

The Nominating Committee shall be responsible for recommending new Board members to fill openings as they occur and for recommending Board candidates to the Membership. The work of the Nominating Committee shall not preclude the right of any Member to be nominated or self-nominated.

I found no reference to floor nominations being allowed under Membership, Regular Membership Meetings, 342 (pp. 8-9), or Board of Directors, Terms and Elections, 410 (pp. 10-12).

There appears to be ambiguity, in that the reference to nominate or self-nominate occurs only under 461, Board of Directors, Standing Committees, Nominations Committee, not under either 342, Membership, Regular Membership Meetings, or 410, Board of Directors, Terms and Election.

342 and 410 are both silent on the issue of nominations from the floor, self or otherwise, at the HWFC annual Membership Meeting & Board Elections.

[2] I can find no language in our current bylaws, dated April 26, 2015, which address this issue.

[3] If there is a group of HWFC members who are participating in this plan, you need to step forward – NOW – and declare your names and your intentions. Please post below, we Member-Owners want to know who you are.

If you have information about this plan, you need to immediately step forward and alert Membership Meeting planners (Membership Committee: MembershipComm-AT-honestweight.coop

I will find out the names of the exact right people to contact and update this post, here, with that information.

[4] The four Board members who subsequently quit our Board on 01/05/16, 36 days after censure by Membership at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15 are:

Name             Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure

Acting-President Deb Dennis       (67.9%)
Treasurer Leif Hartmark              (65.2%)
Roman Kuchera                             (67.8%)
Rossana Coto-Batres                     (58.4%)

Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.

[5] The former HWFC Board of Directors had contracts executed in 2015 with both Corning Place Communications, Albany, NY and CDS Consulting Co-op, Putney, VT.

[6] The Quarterly Financial Report, which our current Treasurer, Kate Doyle, is preparing, will shock all of us. The monies used by the former Board – to undermine and eliminate Member-Owner power – to pay all these attorneys and consultants came directly out of our HWFC savings: the funds you and I, and all the other HWFC Member-Owners, all collectively “own:” the funds which positioned us as a financially-healthy food co-op. Our savings was used against us, in order to eliminate the power & control we legally hold in our co-operative corporation.

Member-Owners, see the Agenda for the April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting and Annual Elections, here. It states: “$500,000 [was spent] to eliminate member labor and strategic planning to design its replacement.

[7] See the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. and Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted, p. 200, #1054.

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Voting on Sunday ARE IMPORTANT!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

UPDATE: April 13, 2016: Here is the Co-op Voice’s April, 2016 edition, with Q&A with all the candidates running for our Board of Directors on Sunday.

My blog theme this week is:

Why Vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the HWFC Membership Meeting?

After each post, I hope you will come away having yet another really important reason for attending our co-op’s Annual Membership Meeting this Sunday, April 17, 2016 at St. Sophia’s Church (see here for details) when we elect our Board of Directors.

LOCAL FOOD

Do you know how fortunate we Member-Owners of this food co-op are?

We have the absolute ability to influence the co-op’s food purchasing & food labeling policies. We have the ability to express our wishes that the co-op purchase more locally-produced food, which is certified organic. We have the right to find out just where that grass-fed, grass-finished beef with the green label in the Meat Department comes from; we can find out the exact name of the farm (Sweet Tree Farm), we can even go visit that farm (Carlisle, NY, hop, skip and a jump west out Route 20) and speak directly with the farmers (Frank Johnson & Judy Pangman).

We have the ability to express our desire that foods which the Produce Department sells (fresh fruits & vegetables) which are labelled organic, will list the country of origin of these organic foods (Did you even know that this is now a critical fact to know?) We can request more locally-grown organic vegetables. We can query the Cheese Department and get exact details about that artisan goat cheese from Au Sable Forks, NY or information about the farm in Vermont which produces that aged, raw milk cheese which our family loves.

In the mood for a roadtrip? Go visit that farm in Au Sable Forks (Asgaard Farms), meet the goats and the couple (David Brunner and Rhonda Butler), which is creating award-winning  goat cheeses from the Adirondacks. (I’ve been to Asgaard Farms; it is worth the trip! And you will learn about Rockwell Kent, to boot – a famous American artist who used to own the farm – while getting a stunning view of Whiteface Mountain – a view which Kent admired and painted.)

LABELING

Let me run with the labeling issue. If we are dissatisfied with the lack of disclosure on a food we want to purchase (Is it organic? Is it certified organic? What country is it from? Who grew it? When was it harvested? What is its expiration date? Was this organic garlic from China irradiated at the border? How far away is the farm where this was grown? How do we know it is truly organic with no pesticides? Was fracking water used to water these organic strawberries from California? Does this “organic” honey from South America have high-fructose corn syrup added to it? Is this organic tea from China really organic or do we have a better chance with tea grown in Taiwan? Are there GMOs in these crackers or in this vitamin or herbal supplement?) we can ask the Manager to check and get us more information. We can make a labeling recommendation to that Manager. If the information we get back is not sufficient, if we don’t get the result we want, we can speak to the acting GM.

If we get less than the result we desire from store personnel, we can track down which Committee handles this issue (Nutrition and Education Committee) and start serving on that Committee. We can find out the history of the issue at HWFC through the Committee. We can share the knowledge we have gathered, so that the labeling policy is amended for the benefit of ALL HWFC shoppers, including our own family.

If pushing the issue through a Committee doesn’t work, to the satisfaction of our family, we can seek to bring the issue to the attention of Membership via articles in our brand new Member-Owned Co-op Voice newsletter (see here for more information and for the Voice’s premiere edition!), the Coop Scoop (I have high hopes for change here; what used to be a monthly Membership newsletter we all eagerly read has become a quarterly marketing tool), or petitioning Membership (tabling, clipboarding), for example, to raise awareness at the co-op.

Ultimately, if enough Members agree to the importance of the issue, if can be brought to the attention of Membership and brought to a vote at a quarterly Membership Meeting.

This all requires that you are able to work with, to co-operate with, other Members and Member-families which may have slightly different labeling issues than your own. You need to have patience for process. You need to know this will take time. You need to allow for other viewpoints. You need to feel comfortable educating your own Committee members, who may just not yet understand the critical importance, which you see, clear as a bell.

We, as Member-Owners of our co-operative are NOT powerless. We can influence. We can initiate change. We can be heard. We can educate. We can be part of a team of Members at HWFC which makes the labeling policy better for ALL families who shop at HWFC.

Labeling: “Biggest Box” Supermarkets Don’t Care

You cannot participate like this at your favorite local supermarket (let’s label this fictitious local supermarket “Biggest Box.”) You have been relegated to the role of shopper, customer. The Biggest Box corporate headquarters makes the decisions, they are passed down through the ranks to each US corridor or region, and the Biggest Box GM here in Albany has to deal with what corporate gives him or her to deal with. S/he may sign off that the tractor trailer delivered certain quantities of a product from a regional distribution center, but s/he has no influence over the sourcing or labeling of the product the semi’s delivered.

The employees of Biggest Box just do what they’re told; the GM turns a quarterly profit, the stockers unpack and stick a label on each item and get it on the shelves, the cashiers take the item and charge you for it.

Biggest Box may have a line of “natural” or “organic” foods. However, if you, as a shopper, want to have organic vegetables or beef & pork labeled with their country of origin at Biggest Box, or purchase local, pastured eggs that are guaranteed fresh (not three weeks old), you can bet you will have a difficult time making any headway.

The corporation has its national policies which are sent down the chain to be adhered to by the local outlet; ultimately, there may be investors to please, who expect to see a return on their dollars invested in Biggest Box. Biggest Box is profit-driven and pleasing one local family or even a bunch of local families is of no importance to corporate.

The Biggest Boxes out there have a top-down corporate structure. Things don’t readily spring from the bottom-up and flourish in this Corporate system! Foods are stored (how fresh is that food?) and trucked in from central warehouses (how much does the gas & travel factor raise your prices?) to each Biggest Box, because that is what is efficient, convenient and profitable for corporate. The product sourcing, the labeling policies, the choice of stuff you can buy, are replicated throughout the entire country, region-by-region and store-by-store and you – the customer – get what you get, take it or leave it.

It is likely that the Biggest Box in Albany, NY looks the same and sells the same “natural” and “organic” products, which carry the same labels, as does the Biggest Box in Brooklyn, NY, Brattleboro, VT or Bloomington, IN. Even the paper or plastic bags you get are branded and they all look just the same.

Folk Musicians Got it … Years Ago

Malvina Reynolds wrote this song about ticky-tacky boxes in 1962; listen to Malvina and Pete Seeger as each sings their own version. Join in, it’s been too long since we all sang!

Little Boxes
Malvina Reynolds
Pete Seeger
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside, little boxes all the same.
There’s a pink one and a green one and a blue one and a yellow one,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky and they all look just the same.

It would be a real shame if food co-ops were made out of ticky-tacky, now wouldn’t it?

COOL AMENDMENT: WATCH THE BEEF AND PORK YOU BUY!

We now have to be detectives when it comes to whole foods (to me, these are foods with, usually, one ingredient): meat, eggs, milk, cream, butter, olive oil, vegetables, fish, fruit. You now need to know where these foods come from; how they are produced, grown, watered; if they are from a foreign country, are they irradiated at the border;  and what new laws and regulations are allowing yet more obscurity in the food labeling and/or production of the food.

For example, a big issue for me has become: just what is the certifying agent at the US borders which allows foreign-grown or foreign-produced foods to pass inspection and be blessed with the prized US label, “certified organic?” And, are they really irradiating that food!!!

Labels on our food nowadays serve more to obscure what is in the food, than to illuminate exactly what we are eating. Labels are designed to hide; this serves the needs of the corporations  – making a profit from selling the food; it does not at all serve the needs of a family.

A very recent example regarding a whole food, is an amendment to the country of origin labeling (COOL) regulations. In December, 2015, slipped into the Federal Budget was a clause allowing an amendment to COOL regs.: see CFR, dated 03/02/16:

Removal of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling Requirements for Beef and Pork Muscle Cuts, Ground Beef, and Ground Pork

This rule removes certain mandatory COOL requirements from retailers (as defined by the law and regulations) and their suppliers. Retailers are no longer required by the rule to provide country of origin information for the beef and pork that they sell, and firms that supply beef and pork to these retailers no longer must provide them with this information. In addition, firms in the supply chain for beef and pork are also relieved from the requirements associated with mandatory COOL, from cattle and hogs downstream to muscle cut and ground beef and pork sold at covered retail establishments.

We will no longer be able to ascertain where our beef and pork comes from, its source! This is a whole food! This means the beef and pork you purchase – or the hamburgers or steak or bacon you eat at a local restaurant – could well be coming out of China (well known for its highly contaminated, heavy-metal-containing foods, including foods labeled as “organic”).

Your right to know has just been taken away. The grocery stores, suppliers, wholesalers, when asked, can simply and legally say: I have no idea where this meat comes from.

Do you want to be eating any meat which comes out of China? This country’s agricultural issues with pollution and heavy metal contamination of the soil and water is well known. The 2016 COOL amendments have just insured that this meat may reach your table -at home, at a friend’s home or at a restaurant -and you will never even know it.

I note that at HWFC I can still determine the source of the locally-produced grass-fed, grass-finished beef which we buy every week from Sweet Tree Farm in Carlisle, NY. Thank you Sweet Tree Farm for farming locally and supplying this happy Paleo family in Albany, NY, through the Honest Weight Food Co-op! Thank you for honest, clear-to-understand labels! Thank you Frank & Judy from Laura & Tim! You are truly sustaining the health of our family with your superior farming practices & honest, transparent labeling.

This new COOL amendment may actually help local farmers like Sweet Tree Farm; my family is committed to only purchasing local grass-fed, grass-finished beef with a label on it which disclosed where it’s from, in this case, a family farm in Carlisle, NY.

Researching the source, content, and method of growing or producing the food you buy is no longer an option in 2016 America …if you care about the physical & mental health and well-being of your family and if your family, like mine, believes that food is our best medicine, which we “take” three times a day.

We, at HWFC, Can Work Together to Address Issues Like These

At HWFC we are supported in finding out where our food comes from and what’s in it and we can still get the highest quality, organic foods so necessary for our families. There are big problems at our co-op’s borders (some national “natural” and “organic” wholesalers and Big Food companies are more interested in muscling in and making money off of food co-ops than in protecting the food supply for our families), but we at HWFC are a group of aware shoppers who can work together to confront this threat, and others, which arise through dealing with the national food industry and its investors.

Biggest Box would shrug its shoulders and offer no help.

Many people shop at HWFC because we want safe, whole, organic foods; there are many like-minded Member-Owners at HWFC who will work hard, together, so that our food supply becomes even safer and healthier for our families.

We can be sure that our co-op is a member of organizations like the Weston A. Price Foundation” (WAPF), the Organic Consumers Association, the Northeast Organic Farmers Association (NOFA and NOFANY): several of my go-to places when I need accurate, up-to-date food information. We can bring to co-op committee meetings articles from people like Chris Kresser, a highly-respected acupuncturist who has an awesome website discussing, not only the Paleo diet, but cutting-edge research on food industry & safety issues, diet & nutrition. Kresser is a middle-of-the-road Paleo proponent who has awesome podcasts and reliable information. Chris Masterjohn is another favorite from the Paleo & WAPF world, with a PhD in Nutritional Sciences and support for a traditional, whole foods diet: see his two blogs, The Daily Lipid and Mother Nature Obeyed and his website, Cholesterol and Health.comCooling Inflammation is my go-to blog for easy-to-understand, scientific information on bacteria, gut health, immunity, and fermented foods, as is Mr. Heisenbug  (who seems to have “bugged out,” but his archives are still awesome!) and Tim Steele’s Vegetable Pharm blog will have you amazed at all the stuff you did not know about potatoes and resistant starch (uh, oh, if you do not know what RS is, you better start your own research, double-time)! (Alright, can’t stand the suspense? Go, geek out.)

A reliable source I always hit when I am beginning research on a food-related issue is Dr. Mercola.

We can write articles and submit them to the Co-op Voice (HEY!, here is the Co-op Voice’s Premiere Issue!) or even start a blog with information of interest to HWFC Member-Owners (<Smile> and Welcome to Grassroots Action Is Important! See my first blogpost from November 1, 2015, here, started 10 days after it all began on October 22, 2015, with an innocent-looking piece of paper tacked up to the Board’s board at our co-op.)

We even have a second local, independent blog, Member-Owned HWFC, which we can hit for up-to-date information, hereMember-Owned is the place to go for (unofficial but accurate) Board meeting minutes which are posted, hot-off-the-press, immediately after a Board meeting; you’ll also find current info and perspectives of Member-Owners posted there.

Finally, we can keep an eagle-eye focused on the food purchasing policies and practices of our co-op. In  light of events that transpired late last year at our co-op – with an out-of-control Board trying to end our Member-Owner Labor Program, remove Member-Owner power in the co-operative corporation, and change our bylaws & corporate structure – I am more inclined than ever to especially watchdog this issue at our co-op in the coming year.

SUPPORT LOCAL AND REGIONAL FARM FAMILIES AND LOCAL FOOD ECONOMY

The northeast has the fastest-growing population of small family farms in the United States; how lucky are we to live right in the middle of all that farming abundance!

And, unlike Biggest Box, small family  farms are not part of the the national food “industry;” small, local, family farms are managed by families like yours or mine. They have a commitment to their local & regional communities, they have local friends & neighbors, and they are invested – with their time and dollars – in keeping the food supply high-quality and local.

It is my firm belief that the best answer for our families – and for HWFC – is to buy local & organic, as much as possible. We need to increase our relationships with local organic farmers, farmers who raise pastured pigs & chickens/eggs, farmers who raise grass-fed, grass-finished beef, organic vegetables and fruits, raw milk cheeses & organic dairy, organic fermented foods, honey from local beekeepers’ hives who use organic hive principles. We need to support the local farm families who have chosen to grow us food and who do so with integrity, honesty, hard work, and in the healthiest & most humane manner possible. Their products are local and, therefore, fresher than anything trucked in to us, including from CA and FL.

We HWFC families need to join hands with our local and regional organic, bio-dynamic, sustainable and “Farmer’s Pride” farm families and build the economic strength & co-operation between the HWFC city families and the country farm producers who support us and our food co-op.

COME AND VOTE LIKE ~620 OF US DID ON NOVEMBER 30, 2015!

Follow through on the incredible action a roomful of ~720 people took – with ~620 being active voting Members at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015.

That is only 4+ months ago! Come. Show up. Bring dessert potluck. Be there to vote!

Do not allow the era of secrecy at Honest Weight Food Co-op to return. Don’t allow those who govern by stealth and secrecy to ever get a foot in the door at Honest Weight Food Co-op again. [1]

Retain our right, as Member-Owners, to know where our food comes from, what’s in it, who produced it and how it’s labelled. Keep this part of HWFC open & transparent by voting for a current Board which is actively practicing transparent governance.

Please come and vote next Sunday from the slate of eight (8) declared candidates, who have honored our candidates’ process and two (2) who joined in, late.

We know that Kate Doyle, Carolynn Presser and Saul Rigberg are committed to transparency and building trust with membership, and that they support a strong Member-Owner Labor Program. We elected Kate, Carolynn, and Nate Horwitz (who is currently not up for election) on November 30, 2015, at our historic emergency Special Membership Meeting. Saul was selected by Nate, Carolynn and Kate to join their team on the Board.

Come vote for Kate, Carolynn and Saul on Sunday night.

Follow through on the actions of the largest Membership Meeting HWFC has ever had in its history: select four more candidates whom you feel will complement this team and let’s come away from this meeting on Sunday with a Board whom we trust and who is responsive to Membership and who will govern with transparency and accountability to the Membership.

Here are the names of the eight (8) declared candidates and their bios and Q&A Responses:

Howard Brent
Tim Corrigan
Richard Donegan
Kate Doyle
Anastasia Onorata
Carolynn Presser
Rebekah Rice
Saul Rigberg

Ned Depew and Collin Thomas are (late) declared candidates. Ned’s bio is tacked to the Member-Owner Bulletin Board, at the back of the co-op.

Let’s not forget that the seven (7) people we elect on Sunday will  be joining Nate Horwitz, President, and Daniel Morrissey, who are incumbents and not up for election this time ’round.

That will be our team!

Come and exercise your right to vote as a working, share-holding, Member-Owner of the Honest Weight Food Co-operative, Inc. We all need you!

Here are the meeting details for our Sunday, April 17, 2016 Membership Meeting, beginning at 4:o0PM (Meet the Candidates); 5:30 Dessert Potluck; actual meeting begins at 6:00pm. See you there!

BTW, did you personally call, this last weekend, five co-op Members whom you know and remind them to come to the meeting? And did you ask them to each call five?

~~~

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
John Philpot Curran [2]

==================================

[1] The four Board members who subsequently quit our Board on 01/05/16, 36 days after censure by Membership at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15 are:

Name             Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure

Acting-President Deb Dennis       (67.9%)
Treasurer Leif Hartmark              (65.2%)
Roman Kuchera                             (67.8%)
Rossana Coto-Batres                     (58.4%)

Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.

[2] See the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. and Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted, p. 200, #1054.

GRASSROOTS ACTION and Meet the Candidates ARE IMPORTANT!

Posted by Laura Hagen, HWFC Member-Owner

ALERT. ALERT. ALERT.

Tomorrow, Saturday, April 9, 2016 is a Meet the Candidates Forum at Honest Weight Food Co-op, from 1-3pm. Please plan to attend and meet the eight declared candidates for our Board of Directors. Bring questions!

Dear Loyal Grassroots Action Readers,

My life as a professional musician called me away …enticed me away …charmed me away, since my last blog post in late January. Teaching recorder and Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music and building a music studio demands a lot of time – time I had given over to our co-op since events transpired on October 22, 2015. I don’t regret all the time and energy and research and writing, petitioning and so on, which I have contributed, not for one minute! So many of us did the same thing: sharing of our family, personal and professional time to work together, to re-orient our co-op, to wrestle things in a new, positive, healthy and sustainable direction, so that all of our Member families and the general public can benefit from the community that is our food co-operative.

Juggling life required that I get back to the music stand and practicing, teaching and performing, and getting new students (both young adult musicians and adults) interested in learning to play the recorder and all the incredible and beautiful repertoire for small recorder ensembles composed during the 15th – 18th centuries.

How’s that for esoteric?

And I make music with my colleague Alan Thomson, who is also an HWFC member you all know, who plays awesome piano. We are working on building up local gigs, so if you need music for a party, school event, picnic, wedding or family thing, political happening, English Country Dance, contra or square dance …you know who to call! Recorder and keyboard, you  haven’t lived until you’ve heard us!

So, Grassroots Action is back and I can’t wait to hear from you! Please check in below and let us all know how you are doing. I have missed our repartée, your comments, and our dialogue, and our …well our chatting. You remember chatting, right? So, let’s connect back up. And thank you to the many loyal readers who contacted me and urged me to get back to writing again!

Oy, I listened …I’m back!

Look how far we have come! We Members of Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany, NY are poised to have our annual elections on Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

SAVE THE DATE RIGHT NOW!

GET TO YOUR DAYTIMER, TABLET, I-PHONE, LAPTOP, PAPER CALENDAR or COMPUTER and WRITE IT IN!!! NOW!!!

THIS MEANS YOU.

GET CLEARANCE FROM YOUR FAMILY or BRING YOUR FAMILY! DESSERT IS PART OF THE DEAL! POTLUCK DESSERT, THAT IS, AND YOU KNOW HOW WE ALL LOVE DESSERT.

Once again:

HWFC MEMBERSHIP MEETING AND ANNUAL ELECTIONS

Sunday, April 17, 2016 at the St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church at 440 Whitehall Road in Albany, NY.

4:00 – 5:30 pm Meet the Board Candidates. Click here for candidate information and here for the agenda.
5:30 – 6:00 pm Dessert Potluck and opportunity for conversation. Please bring a healthy snack or a dessert item to share. HWFC will provide beverages.
6:00 – 8:00 pm MEMBERSHIP MEETING

Here are the eight declared candidates:

Howard Brent
Tim Corrigan
Richard Donegan
Kate Doyle
Anastasia Onorata
Carolynn Presser
Rebekah Rice
Saul  Rigberg

Thank you to these eight candidates for taking the time to decide to run, to clear it with their families, to seek to undertake a job that is demanding, and for all getting their applications in on deadline, as established by the Board.

Hopefully, all eight declared candidates will attend tomorrow’s Meet the Candidates Forum at HWFC from 1-3pm.

Those of you who came to our emergency Special Membership Meeting at St. Sophia’s on November 30, 2015 – the ~720 of you! – know Kate Doyle and Carolynn Presser, who were elected to the Board by a majority of you that night, along with Nate Horwitz. Everyone who voted for Kate and Carolynn that night needs to show up for the elections on Sunday, April 17th. They are both up for election. Why show up?

Carolynn and Kate have been doing yeoman’s work – I mean that they have been putting in hours and hours of their time, daily and  weekly, as our Secretary and Treasurer and as part of our Executive Committee. If you have been coming to Board meetings and the Membership Meeting in January, 2016, you know. If you have not, let me tell you that the amount of meeting, reading, research, talking to, listening to, meeting with again, analyzing, responding to, emailing, phone calling, emergency responding, non-emergency responding, attending meetings … they have been doing on our behalf is phenomenal. They are truly  working for us – the Membership – to take back our co-op.

Howard Brent, Tim Corrigan and Rebekah Rice also ran for the Board on November 30th, so please come and support them tomorrow in their bid. Saul Rigberg was recently appointed to the Board – temporary appointment and so needed – he also ran for the Board in November and is now Chairing our Corporate Compliance Committee. I am looking forward to meeting Anastasia Onorata and Richard Donegan as candidates tomorrow, and learning about their positions regarding the importance of strong local food supply and their solutions for our food co-operative.

Nate Horwitz, President and Daniel Morrissey will remain incumbents on the Board as they are not up for election this year. Ned Depew, Vice-President, did not get his candidate application in on time and is not a declared candidate. (04/10/16 UPDATE: Ned Depew attended the Meet the Candidates Forum yesterday and is a declared candidate. His application is tacked to the Member-Owner Bulletin Board, at the back of the co-op. Colin Thomas also attended and is a declared candidate, as well.)

Do you think you can just let things slide and not come out and vote on Sunday, April 17, 2016?  Think again.

Our current leadership is in need of more partners to help them tackle the chaos that the former Board left for them. Please remember that four of the (former) Board members just up and quit on January 5, 2016 – with no notice – and offered no help and played no role in transitioning the Board after they up and quit. These are the four Board members who, BTW, received the highest votes of non-confidence and censure (short of the 75% required for removal from the board) at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30, 2015. [1]

The current Board needs more hands on deck. They need good, solid community-minded people who are willing to dig in, as a team, and solve urgent problems, while exercising creativity.

This is not the time for complacency. This is not the time to assume other co-op Members will pick up your slack so you don’t have to make the effort and come and vote on a Sunday evening (April 17th). Why do I say this?

Because there are rumors that former leaders of our food co-operative are planning a comeback on Sunday, April 17th. There are rumors that people are planning to nominate from the floor, ignoring the co-operative process we have in place to get to know candidates ahead of time. There are rumors that those who believe in strong-arming are going to try muscle again. There are rumors that people who are not at all co-operative-minded are planning to disrupt the process.

Do you want to allow that to happen?

Will you come, be present, and join ranks with the large majority of us who respect and honor our nominations and election process?

Given the rumors, ask yourself this question: why would anyone or a group of anyone’s plan to nominate themselves from the floor on Sunday, April 17, 2016, instead of co-operatively planning ahead, getting their application in on-time, getting their bios up on our website, participating in the process, and give Membership a chance to know their views at Meet the Candidates Forums? The 8 declared candidates all did this: they respect our process. Their bios are up on our website. They have been attending our Meet the Candidates Forums. They will be answering questions posed to them in the brand new online Co-op Voice. They are honoring and respecting the democratic process we have in place.

So why would anyone or a group of anyone’s try to subvert that process from the floor on Sunday, April, 2016 at our annual Membership Meeting and annual Elections?

Our current Board is team-minded. Transparency, factual presentations, and full financial disclosure predominate as they work to uncover – and report out – the things the former Board of Directors did which were never disclosed to Membership. They are equally busy finding creative solutions and are doing so at warp speed.

I have witnessed – of our current Board – truthful guidance, democratic action, sharp awareness, intelligence, a thoughtful, compromising spirit, and a willingness to put in hours every day to right the ship.

I have witnessed the hours and hours of work Kate Doyle, our Treasurer, has put in, trying – and succeeding – in untangling an absolute fiscal mess left by the former Board and its Treasurer. She is charting a sensible course for the future, at the same time. In order to reach that level of clarity, vision and financial organization there is no way but to spend hours & hours of reading, sorting, writing, untangling, adding up, analyzing, and just doing the job. She has done it in an AMAZINGLY short period of time. Four months, guys, just four months.

We are all awaiting Kate’s first Quarterly Financial Report, as she discloses to us the facts she has uncovered relating to the secretive financial actions of the former Board and leadership of Honest Weight Food Coop in 2015: facts which most of us don’t yet know and which will, likely, shock us out of any latent complacency remaining. I will post it here, when it is released.

Carolynn Presser, our Secretary, is working hard to keep Board work and Board actions organized and making sure Membership knows what’s going on. She has formed an amazing Committee, the Corporate Compliance Committee. This Committee is going to take HWFC and go through every nook & cranny of our governance, finances, our policy manuals, bylaws, and so on, so that we will have a smooth sailing ship at the other end. Carolynn has asked me to join that Committee and I immediately accepted.  Carolynn’s sharp legal mind, her utter dedication to her job on our Executive Committee, and her commitment to an organic food supply which we control, locally, has given me full confidence and trust in her abilities and decisions.

Saul Rigberg is a co-op friend and colleague from years and years ago. I first met Saul when my husband and I were a part of the effort to stop that former Board from purchasing the old Quail Street Post Office (long story, another day). Saul and I worked together on Committees for a good two years to position the co-op into getting a new place, which ended up being Central Avenue. My husband then worked with Saul as they were both part of the very first Governance Review Council. Saul helped re-write the HWCF bylaws at that time, and did a great job. Saul has been an HWFC member for a long, long time and he is thoughtful, dedicated, he gets the job done, he is team-minded, and he has a sharp legal mind.

And, although Nate Horwitz is not up for election, I would be remiss in not applauding his ability to bring differing sides to common ground, to wield the gavel when it’s time to move on and his ability to reflect on past HWFC history as a means to guide us into  the future. Plus, he is almost always cheerful and calm, in the face of any discussion thrown his way!

Nate, Carolynn and Kate are the three people a majority of us voted for on November 30, 2015 at that historic emergency Special Membership Meeting. We did a good job! Saul was asked to join  this team and…

…they all need our support again! Carolynn, Kate and Saul need to be elected to the Board on Sunday evening.

And, as you will see in the coming days and months, as I blog more about it, that we did the EXACT RIGHT THING when we called for an emergency Special Membership Meeting. You have NO IDEA how much “right action” that truly was and how it was A Good Thing (to quote Winnie-the Pooh) that we did not waste one minute in taking action to put that former Board down. Chris Colarusso, thank you again for your petition, ready to go on October 23, 2015, less than 24 hours after that Board tacked up their paper notice to try and eliminate us.

One day I will write a post about what could have happened (here it is, that day turned out to be sooner than I expected!) if we Members remained complacent and had NOT immediately responded to that innocent-looking notice tacked up on the Board’s bulletin board on October 22, 2015. The notice that initiated a hellstorm of activity by the former Board, trying to end our Member-Owner Labor Program and …as it turns out…pretty much trying do away with the role Membership plays in our food co-operative: reducing us to mere figureheads who fork over share money, buy lots of food, and go away. But that is a post for another day.

BTW, have you picked a Committee to work with? At our Committee Fair at the January Membership meeting, many people joined up and Committees have new blood, new commitment, new ideas and new teams. I recommend you try it!

Each and every HWFC Member vote is important. Each one counts. You need to show up on Sunday, April 17th and vote. You need to protect what a majority of us did on Monday night, November 30, 2015 when we voted in new Board members, removed a former President, didn’t vote back in a former Secretary, and showed no confidence in the remaining Board members (save two) and no confidence in the three-person Leadership Team and asked for the Board to investigate a new Management structure. We made a powerful statement on that November night.

That was only 4+ months ago.

We need to do it again.

If we all don’t take the time to come, show up, listen and vote we could risk having all that incredible energy from 720+ people (a historic HWFC Membership meeting!) and all that great, powerful decision-making taken away from us.

I am not at all exaggerating when I say that the future of our co-op depends upon  it…upon your coming out to vote on Sunday, April 17th.

In the coming week I plan to blog about some of the financial & governance issues which took place at our co-op in 2015  and which our current Board has only been recently uncovering. Please note I said uncovering. They did not take the actions, order the actions, pay for the actions, or perpetrate the actions …they are only uncovering, discovering the actions, and disclosing them to us, the Membership.

You have not heard about some of these things. If you thought the former Board spent too much on consultants & legal teams & Strategic Lobby & PR Firms to help them in their fight to subdue & eliminate the legal powers of Membership and a bunch of grassroots advocate Member-Owners, wait ’til you hear what the current tabulated amount is. It’s way more than the $100,000 we heard as an estimate a few months back. They paid BIG BUCKS to try and put us down. OUR big bucks, BTW. OUR savings. OUR collective, hard-earned savings. Used against us in secret.

If you think everything’s under control and you can go back to life as it was …think again.

Am I trying to scare you? Yes.

Why?

Because the fight is NOT over and a Board of Directors which does not have the active support of Membership cannot do the job. That is impossible.

Recent history has taught us all that a Board of Directors that is not also watch-dogged can lead to a Board forgetting that it answers to Membership, forgetting that it has a responsibility to, and serves in a position of public trust to the Membership.

We need to all practice “eternal vigilance.” [2]  This Sunday is your chance to begin that practice again, if you have let it slip. Continue the work ~720 of us began on November 30, 2015 by voting on Sunday, April 17, 2016 to re-elect Carolynn Presser and Kate Doyle and electing Saul Rigberg to our Board of Directors.

There are local people, Members of HWFC, who  want to continue with the agenda which the former Board initiated and they will be coming out to vote on Sunday, April 17th. They are getting out the vote to their supporters. There are Members who consider the current Board a blip on the radar screen and want things to go back to the way they were.

Remember all my posts about the former Board’s secrecy, secrecy,  secrecy and still more secrecy? And there was this most recent gem. (How many times can you find the word secret in that last blogpost? I lose track.)

All that secrecy uncovered before (and after) our awesome, amazing, historic emergency Special Membership Meeting on November 30th?

Do you want those who wish to perpetrate secrecy upon us – again – to win the election next Sunday?

No, I didn’t think so.

If you are unsure, if you are waffling and deciding that you’d rather go for a hike next Sunday or catch a movie (assuming we may get more snow, welcome to the Capital Region) than come to a co-op meeting, please go grab a cup of Joe and re-read those blogposts (it’s way quicker for you to read them than for me to write them, take my word…!)

You cherish our food co-op like I do, like my family does, like many of us and our families do. It is a locally-owned and operated thing of great beauty. 40 years  old, this year, BTW!

It’s ours. Let’s keep it ours and make sure that the Members who want to go back to the way things were in 2015 do not prevail.

For example, did you know that there was a secret petition going around HWFC? Yes, it was only presented to certain people to sign. Special people. Selected people. It was kept hidden. No tabling, no open petitioning to everybody and anybody. No attempt at democracy. No making-sure-everybody-at-HWFC-knows-about-it. No, it was kept secret. That’s from the playbook of the former Board and I am doing my part to expose that destructive behavior, when it occurs at HWFC. More communication about the secret petition at another time (maybe); I don’t care to give it anymore precious blogtime right now.

Make sure that the current Board team we have is re-elected and joined by more partners who are like-minded. Give them our full-fledged support.

So, see you tomorrow at 1pm at HWFC when we Meet the Candidates. Expect some small fireworks. Also, expect to meet people who are intelligent, thoughtful, hard-working, committed, friendly and, best of all …kind.

And stay tuned. More blogposts to come before the election on Sunday, April 17th at St. Sophia’s. Information will be revealed that you don’t want to miss.

Be vigilant.

ACTION ITEM: TOMORROW MORNING, make a list of 5 co-op Member-Owners whom you personally know. Before the weekend is over, please personally call them and get their commitment to come the the Membership Meeting  on April 17th. (You all DO remember the Committees of Correspondence?!) [3]  Tell them to each call 5 co-op Member-Owners and do the same.

A thought and a quote for the evening:

We still control our food supply at the local level at HWFC (to a certain degree). We are going to have to band together and fight to retain that right and make it way, way, way stronger. Local organic fruits, vegetables, grass fed, grass-finished beef, pastured meat & eggs, organic, fermented foods, regional cheeses, specialty farm products, local connections, local power, local farmers, local, organic sustainable food and families helping each other, locally. [4]

The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
John Philpot Curran [2]

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[1] The four censured Board members who subsequently quit our Boar d on 01/05/16 are:
Name     Percentage of voters voting non-confidence & censure
Acting-President Deb Dennis   67.9%
Treasurer Leif Hartmark 65.2%
Roman Kuchera 67.8%
Rossana Coto-Batres 58.4%

Former President Bill Frye was unseated and Board Secretary John Serio was not re-elected to the Board at our emergency Special Membership Meeting on 11/30/15.

[2] See the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc. and Suzy Platt, ed., Respectfully Quoted, p. 200, #1054.

[3] See the Boston Tea Party Museum here.

[4] Read the book Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America, by Wenonah Hauter and read the book description at the Weston A. Price Foundation website, here. You will be shocked at how pertinent this book is to our situation at HWFC.

[5] You thought you would get away with reading a blogpost of mine without a footnote? Think again, my friend. History is a wonderful companion and teacher. We just need to take the time to search things out and be filled with wonder at how life repeats itself, through the generations, often for our benefit. All we need to do is pay attention, search, look for patterns, listen to the wisdom of our ancestors, and reflect. (Kindness ALWAYS helps.)

[6] If you need recorder lessons or music coaching or musicians for an event, you know who to call <smile>! Locally-grown historic music with your locally-grown food!