Allow me to take issue ( in a friendly way) with one aspect of
your
characterization of the large emergency membership
meeting two years
ago. You say that the members voted overwhelmingly to
"give Edward
another try". I don't think that's quite accurate.
Feel free to distribute this, or add it to your blog
First, for your readers a bit if background;
An active and vocal minority of the board at that time
consisted of
genuine coop "patriots" who wanted to steer the
organization back toward
its original mission by instituting sound governance and
transparency.
They were, however, thwarted at every turn by the board
majority which
perceived any attempts to establish a degree of
accountability within
the coop as indicative of a plot to oust the manager. A
number of the
board members who were loyal to the manager made
derisive comments about
the board minority and accused them of being part of a
"takeover" being
orchestrated by "leftists". One of the pro-management
directors had also
missed a number of meetings and was thus eligible for
dismissal
accourding to the by-laws. Since the board itself would not
take action
in the case lf the oft-absent director several board members
decided to
put it to a referendum so that the general membership could
vote to
recall the offending director ( or not). Since the effort to
launch such
a referendum is considerable, but is not multiplied by the
number of
directors one seeks to recall the petitioners added the
names of two
other directors to their appeal, and furnished compelling
arguments as
to why those others should also be dismissed. The
manager and his cadre
responded by issuing a counter-referendum aimed at the
directors they
perceived as being dis-loyal, although he reasons they
stated for
recalling them were arguably less convincing, and in some
cases they
were false altogether.
Next a few of the manager's flock began issuing
inflammatory e-mails
filled with false or exaggerated assertions. I became
involved by
answering those e-mails in publ;oic forums and detailing
their
hypocrisies. Those exchanges quickly escalated, though
not uniformly.
A special meeting of the membership was called and both
"sides" began to
strategize. The manager's camp put forward several
candidates to fill
the seats potentially to be vacated by their recall. This had
the effect
of giving the management's side extra floor-time at the
meeting as their
candidates were allowed to make introductory statements. I
had counseled
the initial recall petitioners to offer to drop their petition if the
management camp would do the same. They made the offer
but it was
rejected. I then composed a lengthy treatise illustrating the
history of
the conflict and proposing a path toward resolution. That
was
distributed to all who attended the meeting and it seemed to
reflect the
majority's outlook at the time. In voting, the membership
essentially
did what management was unwilling to do; they declined to
recall anyone
and issued a kind of rebuke to the management and
pro-management board
members.
So; there was never any affirmation toward the manager or
his
sympathizers, just a tactical decision not to purge them
outright.It
wasn't so much a case of giving them a "second chance"
as it was a
matter of putting them, figuratively, "on notice".
Since that time the energy among the coop patriots waned,
both due to
personal commitments, and due to continuing resistance
from the manager
and his enablers. For a brief period the patriots had a slim
majority on
the board, but they failed to adopt a sufficiently proactive
stance.
Evaluations were not conducted, not was there an audit. In
essence, not
much had changed. Then, through gradual attrition the
power on the board
shifted, again in favor of the manager. By that time many
members had
simply quit or let their memberships lapse ( myself
included). We were
generally aware that morale remained low, turnover
remained high, and
that the business was operating in the red with no
comprehensive records
being kept, or asked for. Were it not for the courageous
move on the
part of the staff to organize a union I might not have taken a
renewed
interest in the "market" today as there are cheaper natural
foods stores
in town with better selections and, although they make no
pretense of
espousing principles as noble as those the coop has
occasionally paid
lip service to, at least they are relatively straight forward and
honest.

If the staff is successful in forming a union it remains to be
seen
whether the management and board will bargain in good
faith. Their
having spent $5000 of the members' equity to hire a
union-busting lawyer
and to create an "ombudsan" do not inspire much
confidence in their good
intentions. If they try to bust the union , or compell the
workers to go
on strike I'll stand with the workers and walk the picket line
with
them, personally, as will many members of the community
at large. The
staff will win, of course, but at what expense? Even if the
manager
quits, as he has promised/threatened the organized
workers will inherit
his legacy of mis-management in the form of a failing
business and
dysfunctional organization. If the manager doesn't quit and
a contract
is signed I fear the manager may sabotage the business (for
instance, by
raising prices disproportionately) so as to blame its demise
on the
union. What is needed is a set of policy-based solutions
that include
better oversight on he part of the board, or the staff's
victory may be
short-lived and more symbolic than substantive.
Evan