Submitted by Rebecca Tell
The very first thing I want to say after reading last night’s Inside Scoop is to coop employees.
We have a report back from Ursula Abrams about the meeting with the DOL. In some ways, as we knew was likely, it gives us very little new information. We know there are risks. We know that DOL is not interested in investigating us. We have choices to make about how to go forward, and they’re not going to tell us what to do.
There will be a tendency for each “side” to focus on the parts of Ursula’s message that reinforce what we understood before. Some will feel validated by “yes, there really are risks” and others will feel validated by “yes, they are really not interested in investigating us.” Both are real.
Here’s my request to you, the paid workers. Especially if you have been worried about the risks posed to the coop by member labor. You will hear people saying we should not just conclude that we need to change the member labor program based on the information we have been given. You will hear people voicing concerns about the process of how decisions were made around this meeting and who was there. You will hear people voicing concerns about how process will go in the future, calling to ensure the inclusion of more voices. Please do not assume that these folks are not listening to you.
Speaking for myself, here’s what I’m hoping for:
- We move closer to, not farther from, a cooperative where the decisions are made by the people who do the work – BOTH employees and members. We use that goal as our compass as we get creative thinking about how to be effective and how to manage risk to levels that we collectively judge to be acceptable.
- Employees get a better deal at work as they have a stronger voice in decision making and as we bridge the gaps between employees and members.
- We continue to differentiate ourselves in the market as a people-powered, values-oriented local food source, and make it plainly visible to Whole Foods that they have no reason to sabotage us (if they ever even thought of it) because our primary base wouldn’t shop there even if HWFC were shut down.
- We team up with other coops to advocate for new law / policy defining the how cooperatives fit within existing labor law, and advocate for definitions that clearly allow member labor and distinguish it from other problematic labor practices.
There can be lots of conversation about what exactly the goals should be. I’m not saying we should all just adopt mine, or even that mine won’t evolve. What I do hope you’ll get from my list is that working for member interests and working for employee interests don’t have to be contradictory.
Here’s what I’m focusing on from Ursula’s message. We have time. We can continue all these conversations, and brainstorm about what to do with everyone who cares, and take the time to get it right. I’m not saying we should drag it out for years and years – but we don’t have to make anything different by next month. DOL is not breathing down our necks. We can carry on as we have been until we collectively decide what direction we want to go.
So my bottom line for now is: please, please, when you hear folks advocating for member concerns, please don’t assume they are trying to override or ignore you. Please bring your own concerns to the table with the expectation that members will listen and work in good faith toward solutions that work for employees as well as for members. I for one will be doing everything I can not to disappoint you on that.