I would like to take this opportunity to share some thoughts with, and about, Co-op employees. [And if you are reading this, don't forget to vote beginning April 1 at www.mycoopvote.com.]
First: We love you! The buildings are nice, and the stuff on the shelves is great, but without the employees who greet us and help us every day, there really isn’t a Co-op. The Board should do everything it can to make sure the Co-op continues to be a terrific place to work – because our values tell us to do that and because satisfied employees mean satisfied members.
Second: It’s a job. The Co-op will never be able to afford to pay you what you’re worth. Running grocery stores is hard and mostly blue-collar labor. That means workplace frustrations are almost inevitable. Some supervisors are better than others; some employees are better than others at meeting expectations. The Board can’t cure all workplace ills and sometimes the best we can do is to step back and commiserate with you as fellow human beings.
Third: You get to decide whether you want to be represented by a union. I’ve belonged to two of them myself, and been a shop steward in one of them. So I know their virtues and their drawbacks. I’m someone who believes we as a community should get past the knee-jerk reaction we’ve been conditioned to produce – that “union” equals “bad.” But the Board is by definition part of management, and at a co-op management’s job is to respect whatever the employees decide about unionization.
Fourth: Regardless of whether the law allows for “at will” employment, the Board should, and has, impose reasonable restrictions on management’s ability to fire people so that our workplaces are fair and humane. Showing people the door without an explanation isn’t acceptable.
Fifth: The Board can’t make personnel decisions. You deserve to have those calls made by people who do that sort of thing for a living, not a bunch of volunteer Board members. Our job is to hold management accountable for the kind of personnel decisions management makes – and if you think management has screwed up, I will want to hear about it.
Sixth: I reject the “paper bag” rule. That was my term for the unwritten rule that was laid on me when I joined the Board in 2003 – that it was inappropriate for me to have conversations with Co-op employees, especially while at one of the stores, lest anyone get the idea that I was trying to throw my weight around as an individual Board member. It felt like I was being told to put a paper bag over my head whenever I walked into one of the stores. Well, why can’t we just make sure everyone knows that (1) individual board members have no authority, and, therefore, (2) it’s not just OK but it’s actually good for individual board members and individual employees to talk to each other about the Co-op? If elected to the Board, I will never refuse to have a conversation with an employee (or a member) who wants to talk with me about the Co-op.
Seventh: We must hang together or we will hang separately. The grocery business is tough and getting tougher. The Hanover Co-op won’t live to be 100 if we just assume we’ll continue to be lucky enough to avoid a direct assault from one or more investor-owned supermarket chains. It’s imperative that the Board, the management and the employees find ways to work together and to trust one another. Being as transparent as possible, at the Board level, is key. If elected, I will do my best to make it so.