Friday, November 13, 2009

Ballot Box Tampering

An allegation has been made that at least one Ballot Box was tampered with during the WSM Election Process, the tampering apparently committed by someone from WSM's corporate office and/or senior management.

This allegation was made after I sent my e-mail to the WSM Elections Oversight Committee and to the WSM Board with suggestions for improving the WSM Election Process, to render it free from interference from the WSM corporate office - following post.

The allegation is serious enough that it could now give rise to questions about the validity of the WSM Election Process and the result. However, the Board of WSM is refusing to investigate the allegation properly.

As soon as the allegation came to light, it was reported to the WSM Elections Oversight Committee and also to the Board of WSM. Clause XIII.2 of the WSM Elections Manual clearly states that a disputed result must be investigated by the Board.

To date, no steps have been taken to undertake an investigation of the allegation in a manner which protects the person making the allegation, disciplines the perpetrator(s) and clears all those who might otherwise be associated with the irregular activities of one or a few.

Even sadder than the allegation itself and the refusal of the Board to investigate is the fact that this incident is set against a backdrop of irregularities and miscues over the past three Board Elections.

Indeed, the WSM Elections Task Force was set up after the Board Election of 2007 to draft the Elections Manual which was supposed to avoid any such misbehavior in the future.

What is even more disturbing is the suggestion that this incident may not be isolated. There is already considerable evidence that the 2009 Election in particular was dominated by the influence of the corporate office in other ways.

When the annual Election of a Worker Director to the Board of WSM is the only avenue left to WSM's workers to find expression in their worker co-op, because all the other pathways have been shut down by the corporate office, it is essential to meaningful worker input that the Election is kept free from any and all interference by the corporate office and senior management.

All of us at Weaver Street Market Co-operative are proud of the fact that we don't just sell groceries; we also sell a product called 'co-operation.' And we try our hardest to ensure that the quality of our co-operative product is as high as the quality of our grocery product.

Every single WSM store newsletter sets out on the first page those co-operative values to which we are all supposed to adhere if we are to have the highest quality co-operative product.

Those values include honesty, openness, and fair and democratic elections. If we do nothing when our democratic process and those values are subverted, then we fail in our duty to provide the highest quality co-operative product.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Free and Fair Worker Director Elections?

[What follows is an e-mail sent by me to the WSM Elections Oversight Committee and the Board of WSM for follow-up review of the elections process for Board Directors in 2009. I make suggestions as to how to overcome the continuing perception among workers in WSM that the elections for Worker Director are dominated by the corporate office.]

"Dear Mickey, Election Committee, et al,

First, and once again, congratulations to Curt [Brinkmeyer] and Rickie [White] for their success. Commiserations to you, Robert [Short]. Be consoled in this view: we belong to an even more exclusive club than the Board - those who have stood for the noble cause more than once, and lost!

You will note that I have not and will not be making any formal challenge to the results. I say that so that the views that follow will not be confused with looking at the past. I'm looking to the future, particularly with respect to the Worker-Owner Elections, to continue the mandate begun with the WSM Elections Task Force [of 2008, which was established at my instigation], namely to find ways to run the Elections in a fashion which appears totally fair to owners, so that they are encouraged to participate.

In that light, it is disappointing to note that, even though the number of Worker-Owners increased over a year ago, the number of Worker-Owner voters decreased. I do not think that incidental. And I have some suggestions.

Those suggestions may be seen as controversial, which is my point in making them after the deadline for challenging of the count by candidates.

Since the Election has been over, more than a handful of workers have approached me, especially from Carrboro, wondering why so few Worker-Owners voted, and expressing surprise.

And here, Curt, forgive me, but it is pertinent to the genuine perception by many workers of the Worker-Owner election process, many have also expressed amazement at the vote received by you.

The answer can be made less personal by reviewing winning figures in the past three Worker-Owner Elections:

Lori (2007) - 31
Jacob (2008) - 40
Curt (2009) - 34

Whenever I introduce names, there are some who think I am merely engaging in sour grapes, and avoid looking beyond that at the truth of what is felt by many among our workforce - and which prevents more of them voting, as they have also told me - and that is that there is no point in voting in a process that has been taken over by WSM's corporate office.

I'm not going to get involved in a polemic on that subject. I'm simply going to make a list of suggestions to help make future elections seem more independent, fair and accessible.

1) It is common practice in many large corporations not to allow staff from the corporate office to run for the Board. The view is taken that the primary role of the Board is to monitor the corporate office, and there is perceived to be a conflict of interest.

The point could be raised, then how do workers in the corporate office achieve representation on the Board? My answer would be through their Department Head, the General Manager.

I was encouraged to raise this point when others learned of the two nominations this time. I declined, on the basis that a successful challenge would leave only one candidate.

But I think that this is an issue which should be addressed by someone. A measure of disgruntlement, even disbelief, has been expressed to me at such a candidature this past election.

2) There is a strong sense in the co-op that there is a paucity of full information provided to workers - especially a breadth of information, beyond merely that which comes of out of the corporate office.

At the same time, there is a feeling that there is next to no opportunity to discuss that information in a meaningful context. Almost all of the avenues which used to be open to workers to discuss co-op matters have been shut down: open forums; Worker-Owner Program; full meetings of co-op workers; etc.

An informed workforce is an engaged workforce, whether that engagement is in work itself or in the wider affairs of the co-op, including voting.

Time and again in this past election, workers have said to me, I simply didn't know that. And I will be blunt. They didn't know it because it was not in the interests of the corporate office for them to know it.

The corporate office has a difficult job to do. But we cannot be a properly informed and engaged workforce if it is the sole font of information in our co-op.

It may not be the job of the Elections Committee, but I would like someone in this co-op to think seriously this coming year about improving communication to and from our workforce.

If it costs money, I have a budget neutral suggestion: cancel the Mystery Shopper Program and devote the funds saved to that communication.

If you want to get more focus and departmental contribution from your workers, try getting them engaged with communication, discussion and involvement, rather than forcing it out of them with outside folks, with no co-operative sensibility, spying on them.

As a first step, why not hand the whole Market Messenger over to an editorial committee of workers from all the units, under the editorship of, say, Elizabeth Friend, who is a reporter for WCHL, and writes for the store newspaper, and make it a bona fide workplace newspaper, to which the corporate office would have access, but over which it would not have exclusive control?

3) Following on from (2), in February of this year, I made formal request to the Board and to the General Manager for the usual Full Meeting of Co-op Workers to be held during the Elections, and to allow candidates to address the meeting and answer questions.

If we are serious about improving the engagement of our workers, and if we are realistic about that process, it is a nonsense to think that candidate tables, held during breaks, are going to do it. We must bring the elections to the workers, not ask the workers to give up their own time to hunt for the elections.

The Board finally handed my request to the General Manager, who wrote to me and told me he would be responding to me. He never did. In fact, none of the regularly scheduled store meetings or Full Meetings was held during the election process.

More than one worker has stated to me that they felt that the corporate office were simply taking the opportunity of avoiding allowing a non-corporate candidate speak to the workforce, to offer a point of view that was different to that of the corporate office.

I don't think that anyone in this co-op is that puerile. But it doesn't help that that is the sort of attitude floating around, causing such disillusionment among our workers, and disaffection with the voting process.

I would like to suggest that the Elections Committee recommend that the normal Full Meeting of Co-op Workers, which has always been held in August, next year be held after the close of nominations, and that candidates be allowed to address that meeting, and to answer questions, as a part of the formal elections process.

4) I know how hard it is to get Worker-Owners to volunteer. I say the reasoning is circular. So little opportunity is now afforded to workers fully and meaningfully to be engaged in the decisions that affect them that they no longer think there is any point in volunteering for anything.

That said, hopefully by opening up communications, discussion and the elections process itself, we will encourage a greater willingness to engage.

In the meantime, the Elections Task Force identified a concern that the Worker-Owner elections process be seen to be fully independent of the corporate office.

That independence was to be overseen and guaranteed by the ongoing Elections Committee. I know absolutely that every individual member of the EC has worked diligently on this process. But the fact remains that the overall composition of the EC was not seen as conducive to guaranteeing the independence of the W/O elections process. We need to work on that.

There should be only one Board Liaison. Their job is to ensure that the work of the EC does not conflict with Board Policy. No more.

This year we had the current Board Chair and last year's Board Chair both serving on the EC. Again, I'm going to be blunt about perception among workers.

The current Board Chair was not elected. Yet he was seen to be helping oversee the elections process. Last year's Board Chair was my opponent in 2008. Yet he was seen to be overseeing an election in which I was again a candidate.

Finally, we must do better at finding a Worker-Owner representative who is truly independent of the corporate office. In this past election, the W/O representative on the EC was the co-op's Human Resources Manager.

5) As I understood it, a primary remit of the EC was to ensure that there was never any perception of conflict between the independence of the W/O elections process and the corporate office.

Yet, with respect, time and again during this past process, there was a blurring of division between the EC and the corporate office.

I'd ask a question of the EC to be told that they did not know, the answer resided with someone from the corporate office.

If the explanation is that someone from the corporate office was also a member of the EC, then we should try to avoid that in future. Otherwise, we have the very conflict the EC was partially set up to avoid.

We should also not have a situation where a W/O candidate finds themselves asking difficult questions of an EC member who happens to be the person ultimately responsible for hiring and firing them (the Human Resources Manager). I can handle it. But what does this say for a new W/O looking at standing for the Board for the first time?

Also, last year, an independent e-mail address was established for candidates to correspond with the EC independent of the corporate office. Yet, again, I found myself, more than once, as a W/O candidate, having to correspond on difficult matters with an e-mail address of the corporate office, and with someone who was one of my electorate. That is not avoiding conflict of interest.

6) Specifically, two years ago, there were suggestions that ballot boxes had been opened during the voting process by someone senior from the corporate office.

The Elections Manual has a clause which states that the keys to the ballot boxes should be in the control of the EC. I understand from last year's EC Chair that that rule was interpreted as meaning that the keys should at all times during the voting process be in the care of the EC Chair, who should not be a W/O.

I do not believe that to be the case in this past Election. I believe keys were, for a time at least, in the hands of someone from the corporate office. That should be avoided in the future.

7) I would like to suggest that the Market Messenger, when announcing the election results, includes information on the total number of W/O's per unit, and the total number of votes cast, by unit. Not for each candidate. Just the total.

And can we please stop calling the corporate office ‘the Food House’? It is disingenuous at best, and dissemblance at worst.

The Food House is that part of the complex where they make food. The corporate office is a separate unit which houses the administrative/corporate staff. Our telephone lists make the distinction. Let's please keep them separate.

8) Which brings me to the point that was raised almost at the beginning. How is it that three election winners in a row, who seem to have nothing in common, who are known to different parts of our workforce in totally different degrees, achieve almost the same voting result?

With no disrespect to the individuals concerned - and this is something widely known among our workforce, it is mentioned regularly to me, and it stops many W/O's voting - there is a bloc vote, made up of corporate office staff and senior managers, which always votes for the status quo.

We could have an interesting discussion about the seeming absurdity of a situation where managers and corporate staff vote in the same elections as workers - and indeed that discussion was begun in the Task Force, but was never allowed to conclude.

It follows as night follows day that workers perceive that corporate staff already 'voted' on the direction of the co-op, since they crafted that direction in the corporate office (hence the admonition against corporate staff standing for Boards of Directors).

It also follows that workers perceive that senior managers have voted on the co-op's direction in their many manager meetings.

Workers wonder why the Worker Director election is not a process that allows them to elect a representative who can truly represent their only opportunity to have meaningful input on the direction of their co-op. They wonder why they have to contend with a bloc vote of managers and corporate staff - and it disillusions them.

Now, I put forward the idea of all workers having the vote. That got shot down by the manager and corporate office bloc vote.

Ok. But Curt and I discussed another idea. What say we create an equality of ownership status between consumer and worker, and one that makes it more equitable for workers?

Why not say all owners pay a flat fee of $100 to become an owner? Consumer or worker.

No multi-members per household confusion. One ownership; one fee; one vote. If you have 16 people in a house; then it's 16 fees, 16 ownerships, 16 votes.

And $100 becomes much more reasonable for workers.

That's it. I appreciate there may be some who say I'm simply trying to re-run the election. That's a matter for you. I'm not. There's no more I can say on that.

But the fact remains that there are many who have spoken to me, just since this election, who have said they did not vote because what they saw was an elections process dominated by the corporate office, and a pre-determined outcome.

Corporate office candidate; corporate-dominated EC; corporate-dominated communication; corporate-denied opportunity to quiz candidates; and a corporate bloc vote determining the outcome.

Now I know that every single Board member and every single member of the EC is dedicated to ensuring the fairest elections process possible. And that's why I remain confident that you will all consider these suggestions in that same spirit, and that you will want to ensure that, next year, workers do not perceive their election in that light.

I wish you all the best,

Monday, November 2, 2009

Why Your Vote Didn't Make A Difference

There are 98 Worker-Owners in Weaver Street Market Co-operative. Here are the approximate numbers for each unit, with the number of people who voted in the first bracket, and the percentage turnout by unit in the second bracket:

Southern Village Store - 10 (7) (70%)

Hillsborough Store - 12 (7) (58.33%)

Food House/Corporate Office - 45 (29) (64.40%)

Carrboro Store/Panzanella - 31 (13) (41.93%)

Curt Brinkmeyer won the Election, and my congratulations go to him. He will have a difficult year ahead of him, and he deserves all our support. The votes were:

Curt - 34

Geoff - 17

Last year, a total of 62 worker-Owners voted. This year, a total of 56 voted.

I will always be grateful for those who voted for me. Seventeen votes is still a substantial statement in a corporate-dominated elections system. We should all be proud of the expression we gave to those without their own voice.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why Your Vote Will Make A Difference

There is a clear choice this year in the Election for a Worker Director to the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative.

You have a Candidate from the Corporate Office (Finance) who says we are on the right path; we just need to improve communication from the top down, so that we're selling the message better.

And you have another Candidate from the Shopfloor who says we can and should make changes to the path, so that we can reduce the debt, reduce the demands being made of workers, and so we can improve communication from the bottom up, to ensure we're consulting better with our workers and owners.

Ok, you say. But isn't it the case that the Election is already decided? That the block vote of the Corporate Office and Senior Managers (some 30-40 votes) will swamp the Shopfloor Candidate?

No. There are 98 Worker-Owners. More than enough to make a difference. But you gotta vote to make that difference! If not for yourself, then for the person working next to you, who may not be able to pay the $500 to become a Worker-Owner and get a vote.

Ok. That's the short version. Is it all wishful thinking? No. And now I'll give you the longer version, to tell you why.

Your Vote Will Make A Difference To The Co-op

All workers, whether in the stores, in Panzanella, in the Food House, or in the Corporate Office itself, have bust ass this past year to get us back into an operating profit. We have all made huge personal financial sacrifices.

But that operating profit has been wiped out by an interest payment on our long-term debt ($10 million) of some $640,000. Many of us wonder how long we can survive going on paying that sort of interest.

There is an answer. There are many creative ways of restructuring our co-op and/or refinancing the debt, which will not cost jobs, but which will massively reduce the annual interest payments.

Last year, the Annual Meeting of Weaver Owners agreed to my suggestion that we set up a Task Force of UNPAID financial experts from among our owners to map out such a restructuring/refinancing plan. The Board then decided not to set up that Task Force, but to hire expensive outside consultants, and then to remove the Consumer-Owner Discount instead.

Changing from Discounts to Dividends will not of itself make any appreciable difference to our long-term debt of $10 million. We still need to restructure and/or refinance. And if I am elected to the Board, I will insist that we set up that Task Force.

Once we start reducing the debt and the interest payments, we can stop making all of the crippling demands on our workforce that have done so much to bring disharmony to our daily lives.

I know we're all grateful just to have a job. But it's been real tough on some of us. There are folks even in the Corporate Office on only 20 hours a week. Some of us are having problems paying our rent. And it's heart-rending to watch fellow workers tear at each other, just to compete for the few extra hours available, or to find someone to cover their break.

We will not fill the hole in our overall finances by making more demands of our workers and managers. There is no more to give. We will only fill that hole by removing the major cause - the interest on our debt.

When that is removed, we will also create space to allow us to improve the quality of the food that we produce. Let's not kid ourselves. Workers, consumers, producers of the food itself - we all know that the quality of our food is not what it was 18 months ago.

And that is not the fault of those making and distributing the food, or those of us selling it in the stores and in Panzanella. The fault is that we are so short of money that we can not pay enough, hire enough or give ourselves the proper tools we need to improve food quality.

Just imagine what we could have done with food quality in this past year if we had spent that $640,000 on food, and not on debt interest.

So, why aren't the folks who are running the whole show, the people on the Board, the people in the Corporate Office and the Senior Managers, addressing all of this?

Because they are one small group of people, who have only so many ideas and solutions.

Look. They're doing their best. We all are. But don't you think they could be doing so much better if they had systems and processes to add to those ideas, to increase the number of options available to them, to give them direct input from all of their 'inhouse' experts, who work in their stores, in their restaurant, in their Food House, and who are their customers?

I want to serve on the Board not to be a 'yes' man, nor to be a 'no' man. I want to be the guy who asks the needed questions. Who tests the thinking. Who offers a different way of looking at things. Who adds to what is already going on.

I have put forward all sorts of ideas on this blog and on the WSM Elections Task Force in 2008 as to how we can improve input from our workers and owners and consumers. An online forum. Discussion groups. More department meetings - which get to vote as well as to discuss. These are just some of those ideas.

Some of you took the time to attend the Candidate Tables in each of the units, when both Candidates had a chance to communicate with workers. The same sort of Tables were held for consumers.

I want to see these sorts of Tables being held year round, so that workers and consumers have a regular opportunity to quiz their Directors and tell them what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong.

I want a co-op where we all know what is going on. Where we once again have Full Meetings of the workers in the co-op, so that we can all compare notes. Where we are able to spend an hour directly quizzing the General Manager and the Corporate Office.

I want us all to have a vote in the Worker Director Elections, and I want each and every one of us to feel that we have a voice that is heard and is taken into account - in our departments, in our stores and in our co-op.

That's how we ensure that we are truly all of us in this together. That's how we ensure that we are all genuinely moving in the same direction. That's how we ensure that we are all making the same sacrifices, equally, and that we are all indeed equal in this worker co-op of ours.

Alright, you say. So, we can still make a difference to the direction of our co-op. We can make it better and stronger. But. That requires a particular outcome in this current Director Election. Can we make that outcome occur? Yes.

Your Vote Will Make A Difference In This Election

There's not a whole bunch more I can say on this one. In the last Election, 42 of you voted for Jacob (mainly Corporate and Senior Managers), and 20 of you voted for me (mostly Shopfloor Workers).

30 of you didn't vote.

Look. I irritate some people. There. I've said it! I know that. But, here's the deal. What irritates you more? Me, or the path we're on?

There are two questions that face you this year:-

1) Do you feel we need someone on the Board who asks tough questions, and who offers alternative ideas?

2) Do you think that person is more likely to be someone who works in the heart of the Corporate Office, or me - even if I do irritate you?

You may not like those questions. You may not like me posing them. You may say it is the very thing that irritates you. All of that may be true. But, so too are the questions. I didn't create the circumstances that made those questions the ones that need to be answered.

And when you've answered them, I think you will agree that there is a clear choice between the two Candidates this year, and that not voting is not really an option. Too much is at stake.

If you're thinking of not voting at all because you don't like either Candidate, you will automatically let in the Corporate Office Candidate by default. You can't change the numbers on that.

So, please vote. And I'll work harder at not being irritating!

If you're still not sure who to vote for, why not talk with those of your co-workers who can not afford the $500 to become a Worker-Owner voter, and see what they have to say?

But whatever you do, please vote! It's too important this year not to.

If you're reading this post, and you're a worker who is not a Worker-Owner, but you know of a Worker-Owner who has not yet voted, then please have a word with them. Be supportive, and explain how important this Election is to all in our co-op.

I am an incurable optimist. I believe passionately that we can turn this situation around. That we can become a better business and a stronger co-op. One where we are once again financially sustainable, progressive and supportive of our workers.

Please join me in that belief. Please take the opportunity to cast your vote (before November 1, this coming Sunday, at 9.00pm). And please vote for a path that makes us all once again genuinely co-operative with each other.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

[Weaver Street Board Elections 2009] "Donde Esta Mi Voto?"

What follows is the Spanish version of my election message to all workers in the Weaver Street Market Co-operative regarding my candidacy in the Worker Director Election 2009:

"Todos y cada uno de nosotros en Weaver Street Market y Panzanella hemos hecho diferentes sacrificios este año pasado por nuestra cooperativa. Esto significa que todos y cada uno de nosotros hemos ganado el derecho a ser escuchados en nuestra cooperativa por las personas que toman las grandes decisiones – esas personas que nos pidieron hacer estos sacrificios.

Por qué? Bueno, en parte porque se supone que las cooperativas deben ser democráticas. Pero también porque tiene un buen sentido de negocios.

Todos queremos mejorar la calidad y las ventas para que podamos volver a tener las ganancias. Y quién conoce mejor a nuestros clientes y los procesos internos que nosotros? - los trabajadores quienes estamos al frente del control de calidad y del servicio al cliente.

Desafortunadamente, una y otra vez, este año pasado, las personas tomando las grandes decisiones han decidido no preguntarnos, a los trabajadores – los expertos de la casa. En cambio, ellos decidieron gastar miles y miles de nuestros dólares preguntándole a consultores externos y costosos.

Miles y miles de nuestros dólares, los cuales no pudieron ser disponibles para pagar nuestros dividendos, nuestros sueldos regulares, y nuestros incrementos de sueldo. De hecho, sí nosotros hubiéramos utilizado un consultor menos, hubiéramos podido ahorrar dinero suficiente para dar a todos y cada uno de nosotros, los trabajadores, un incremento de sueldo de 50 centavos por hora.

La única oportunidad que nos han dejado, a nosotros los trabajadores, de afectar el resultado de las grandes decisiones de nuestra cooperativa de trabajadores es en la Elección Anual para Director de los Trabajadores en la Junta de Directores de la Cooperativa de Weaver Street Market. Esta Elección es ahora mismo.

Desafortunadamente solo nosotros los trabajadores que podemos pagar $500 dólares para llegar a ser un dueño-trabajador tiene el derecho a votar. Tiene el derecho a ser escuchado en nuestra cooperativa democrática de trabajadores. Es esto justo?

Especialmente en un año donde ha sido difícil para muchos de nosotros encontrar $500 dólares. En un año donde muchos de nosotros hemos tenido que sacrificar tanto como el 10% de nuestro sueldo, y más aún, cualquier incremento de sueldo.

Yo quiero que todos nosotros, los trabajadores, tengamos el derecho cada año de votar por nuestro Director de Trabajadores. No solamente los Dueños-Trabajadores. Yo quiero que todos nosotros, los trabajadores, tengamos el derecho a ser escuchados en nuestra cooperativa de trabajadores. Y quiero que todos nosotros, los trabajadores, tengamos el derecho a estar involucrados en la toma de las grandes decisiones que afectan nuestro futuro.

Yo he pasado toda mi vida ayudando a darle poder a otras personas como un líder social y un organizador comunitario. Fui presentador de una programa de radio progresivo en nuestra radio local, WCOM 103.5 FM, y ayudé en el Comité de Desarrollo de ésta misma.

Así mismo, ayudé con la campaña de la última Elección Presidencial de los Estados Unidos, y en el período de transición despué de la Elección, representando a un programa nacional de alivio de hambre (FOCUS on Poverty) que fue desarrollado en asociación con mi programa de radio.

El año pasado, Fuí miembro del Comité de Elecciones de nuestra cooperativa, cuando saqué adelante un número de propuestas designadas a dar a todos los trabajadores y dueños más control democrático sobre las grandes decisiones que están siendo determinadas en nuestra cooperativa.

Yo creo apasionadamente en que sí los trabajadores y dueños-trabajadores tuvieran un representante en la Junta de Directores que fuera dedicado a asegurar que todos nosotros (no solo ellos) tuviéramos el voto decisivo en todos los asuntos importantes con los que nos estamos enfrentando, entoncés nosotros sobreviviremos todos estos tiempos difíciles y llegaremos a ser un mejor negocio y una mejor cooperativa como consecuencia.

Ustedes pueden encontrar mas información de como llegar a tener un mejor negocio y cooperativa en la página o en mis páginas de Facebook y MySpace. Así, ustedes también pueden conocer un poquito más acerca de mí – más allá de saber que soy el tipo Americano-Inglés que trabaja en la barra de Comidas Calientes en Southern Village.

Tengan en cuenta, que esta Elección es no realmente acerca de los candidatos. Es acerca de ustedes. Conociendo y aprendiendo un poco más lo que ustedes piensan y lo que quieren. Sí no tengo una oportunidad de verlos antes, por favor no duden en compartir conmigo sus ideas o comentarios a mi email:"

[Weaver Street Board Elections 2009] "Where Is My Vote?"

What follows is the English version of my election message to all workers in the Weaver Street Market Co-operative regarding my candidacy in the Worker Director Election 2009:

"Each and every one of us workers in Weaver Street Market and Panzanella has made sacrifices this past year for our co-op. This means that each and every one of us workers has earned the right to be heard in our co-op by those making the big decisions – those who have asked us to make the sacrifices.

Why? Well, partly because co-operatives are supposed to be democratic. But also because it makes good business sense.

We all want to improve quality and sales so that we can get back into profit. And who knows our customers and our processes better than we workers who are on the front lines of quality control and customer service?

However, time and again this past year, those making the big decisions have decided not to ask us workers – the in-house experts. Instead they have chosen to spend thousands and thousands of our dollars asking over-priced outside consultants.

Thousands and thousands of our dollars, which were then not available to pay our dividends, our regular pay, or our pay raises. In fact, if we had used one less consultant, we would have saved enough money to give each and every one of us workers a 50-cent per hour pay raise.

The one opportunity left to us workers truly to affect the outcome of the big decisions in our worker co-op is in the Annual Election of a Worker Director to the Board of Directors of Weaver Street Market Co-operative. This Election now.

Yet only those of us workers who can afford to pay $500 to become a worker-owner get the right to vote. Get the right to be heard in our democratic worker co-op. Is that right?

Especially in a year when it’s been difficult for some of us workers to find $500. In a year when most of us have had to sacrifice as much as 10% of our pay, along with any pay raise.

I want all of us workers to have the right each year to vote for our Worker Director. Not just worker-owners. I want all of us workers to have the right to be heard in our worker co-op. And I want all of us workers to have the right to be involved in making the big decisions that are affecting our future.

I have spent a lifetime helping to empower people as a social advocate and community builder. I hosted a progressive talk show on our local community radio, WCOM 103.5 FM, and helped out on its Development Committee.

I campaigned during the last US Presidential Election, and in the transition period afterwards, on behalf of a national poverty relief program (FOCUS on Poverty) that was developed in association with my radio show.

I was a member of our co-op’s Elections Task Force last year, when I put forward a number of proposals designed to give all workers and owners more democratic control over the big decisions that are being made in our co-op.

I believe passionately that if workers and owners have on the Board of Directors an advocate who is dedicated to ensuring that we (and not they) have the deciding vote on all the important issues facing us, then we will survive these troubled times and we will become a better business and a better co-operative as a consequence.

You can find out more about our becoming a better business and co-operative on or on my Facebook and MySpace pages. You can also learn a bit more about me – beyond knowing I’m the English-American bloke that works on the Hot Bar in Southern Village.

Mind you, this Election is not really about the candidates. It’s about you. Finding out what you think, what you want. If I don’t get a chance to see you first, please feel free to share with me by dropping me a line at:"

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ownership Culture

This is the second part of my commentary on a thread of discussion on OrangePolitics about the decision by the Board of WSM to replace consumer-owner point-of-sale discounts with an end-of-year dividend (in years of profit):

First, welcome back WeaverGuy! Now that I know who you are...

David [Beck], thank you for your comments. Of course, you can shop where you like [makes mental note: come the revolution, David's on dishwashing detail...]

Mind you, David, "If WSM had not listened to members..." Ouch! Where's the primacy of owner authority in that statement...?

But your point about the size of the Board underlines what this whole maneuver should really be about - namely, changing the nature of the relationship between the co-op and its owners, so as to encourage loyalty (on both sides).

This is a concept that's been doing the rounds of the national co-op movement for a few years now. It's known either as "Economic Linkage" or "Ownership Culture."

The idea is that, since the rest of the world is beginning to catch up with what used to be a co-op preserve (locally-grown, organic food), co-ops need to find a way to develop owner loyalty.

The premise is simple. Take all those co-ops that introduced discounts in the Seventies and the Eighties (so that they could compete with the likes of Costco and Sam's Club), and replace the discounts with a dividend system, that makes reward dependent on the co-op's performance.

But there is a second important element to this concept - which, bless our eternal hearts, was notably missing from all our pronouncements this week.

Namely that, in return for telling our owners their return will now be dependent on our performance, owners will be given more say in judging and monitoring our performance.

But how? Well, the funny thing is that we don't have to look too far for the answers. Just a year ago, another Task Force met. It was called the Elections Task Force, and it was charged with finding ways to improve turn-out in WSM Board Elections.

I was one of its members. And we quickly took the view that the best way of getting more owners to vote was to give them good reason to believe that voting would make a difference.

So, we widened our remit to include looking at ways of making the governance of WSM more accessible to and more meaningful for its owners.

I have a personal interest in WSM governance, being a worker-owner. My pet governance change, arising out of the Task Force, would be to allow all workers (not just worker-owners) to vote for their two representatives on the Board.

Workers have sacrificed much this past year to keep WSM afloat. We have taken cuts in our wages. We have worked harder for less. We are the folks on the cutting edge of keeping you folks (the customers) happy.

For all these reasons, I think that all workers should have meaningful input into the big decisions that are changing the face of our co-op.

Frankly, I think that some of those decisions would have been quite different (and better) if our in-house experts had been fully involved in their making.

I also believe that no worker should have to pay ($500 for a worker-owner share) to vote for their representatives in a worker-consumer co-operative.

We came up with a number of other ideas to introduce more democracy into decision-making in WSM.

From term limits for Board members, and more of them, to the not-so-radical notion that the Board would be more representative of the views of its owners if all of its voting members were elected - at present, three out of seven are appointed.

In addition, some of us felt that accessibility would be enhanced if there were active consumer-owner and worker-owner discussion groups, and an online forum, not dissimilar to OrangePolitics.

In fact, one of your consumer-owners has already created the forum. It exists, just waiting for the Board to adopt it, and attach it to the WSM web-site.

The bottom line is this: what's done is done. The discounts are gone. Now, let's focus on letting the other shoe drop, and agitate as best we can to encourage our co-op's Board to introduce the other half of the concept of "Ownership Culture": mechanisms, systems and procedures that allow for more meaningful owner involvement.

I have already asked the Board (more than once) to set up a new Task Force, to make recommendations for changes to WSM Governance.

Fill in those little slips of paper in the stores asking for the same thing, why not? Or write to the Board. Or turn up at the next Annual Meeting.

Better still, make it a condition of voting for a candidate in this year's Board Elections. Don't leave it to the person standing next to you in line. Why don't you be the one to take the initiative on this?

Oh, a P.S. To Mark [Chilton]. I agree with you about the Hillsborough store. And forecasting the economy.

The thing is, the world has now changed. That is why, at the last Annual Meeting, I proposed a motion that an Owners' Committee be established to review the entire financial picture at WSM, and to make recommendations on the sustainability of our now some $11m in debt.

The motion was passed. The Board then, in its infinite wisdom, took the view that it knew best, and decided not to create the Committee.

Funny thing. Do you know how many votes were cast for the winning consumer-owner candidate in the 2008 Board Elections? About 70.

People. It really doesn't take much to change the way WSM functions - if you really want it...

Anyway, back to Mark's two points. I wonder if the time has not come now to take the view that we will best save that which we have created (a Hillsborough store and a central food processing facility in Orange County) by inviting the residents of Hillsborough to take over the financing of their own store, and to set the Food House free, to become a stand alone unit, able also to attract investment from sources other than just WSM owners in Chapel Hill and Carrboro?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Discounts to Dividends

What follows is my comment in response to a thread of discussion on OrangePolitics about the decision by the Board of WSM to replace consumer-owner point-of-sale discounts with an end-of-year dividend (in years of profit):

Hands up anyone who thinks Obama's got everything right so far? Right. Hands up those who think we should impeach him?

Same with Weaver Street. I've stood for the Board twice now, and I'll be doing so again this year. Why? Because I don't think we get everything right.

Everyone who has written on this thread so far says that, like me, they don't want WSM to go under. Good. Then the first thing to do is support the stores. Stop shopping at Fresh Market and Trader Joes and Whole Foods.

You can't have it both ways. You can't say it would ruin this area to lose the co-op, and then do the one thing that will lead to its ruin - stop its cash flow.

But we need more than your money. We need your involvement.

All of you who complain about the decisons that were taken, and the way they were taken, how many of you turn up to the Annual Meeting? Or to Board Meetings. Or to vote?

A co-op is like a love affair. It has its ups, it has its downs, but most of all it needs work. All the time.

Those of you who know me will know that I can be the strongest critic of the Board and senior management of WSM. But I turn up. I care. I get my hands dirty. And I do what I can to make things better. Do you?

I will be blunt. I do not think the Board should have made this decision without first consulting the consumer-owners. Co-operative values state: "the primary source of all authority in the co-op is its owners."

I do not think the hole in our finances is caused by the consumer-owner discount, but by the over-arching cost of the Food House and the new Hillsborough store.

But I do not throw my hands up and run away. I make my point. And I then knuckle down. I work hard to make the money we need. I work hard to make the decisions work. And I will work hard to get elected, so that I can then work hard to make better decisions.

Don't sit on the sidelines and carp. Join me in working hard to make our co-op work - for everyone's sake. Please.


On a lighter, a customer comes up to me and says, 'what does it all mean about discounts, then...?'

I grab a dollar bill in my left hand, and an owner card in my right, and I say: 'well, dis counts, and dat doesn't...'

Oh come on. I'm joking! You've gotta laugh at life...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Board Elections 2009 - My Candidacy

I will be standing for the position of Worker Director in the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Board Elections of 2009.

We are one of the very few (if not the only) worker-consumer food co-operatives in the United States. Co-operators around the nation look to us to see how the model works.

It is no secret that many wonder if we can truly reflect the full spirit of co-operation in our business if the authority for making decisions in our co-op is split between consumers and workers.

The thinking goes that, in this situation, it may well be management that ends up calling the tune. And there may be some in this co-op who feel that is exactly what has happened. And that it has not been in the best interests of the co-op.

Workers have been called on, by management, to make many sacrifices in this past year. Without being offered very much in return. Or being offered any meaningful opportunity to have a real voice in the affairs of this worker's co-operative.

I believe that, in return for our many sacrifices, that should now change.

I am standing in the Board Election 2009 too allow workers to have a real voice on their Board. To assist the Board in returning our co-operative to being the best co-operative and business it can be.

In that regard, and believing that we workers should be a more vocal element in co-op decision-making, because we are the ones at the sharp end of producing the profit, I will be making the primary plank of my candidacy the proposal that, in all Worker Director elections, every single worker (not just Worker-Owners) should be allowed to vote for their Worker Directors on the Board.

I do not believe that the right to vote for a representative should be dependent on our having $500 to pay for that right. Not in this economic climate. Not when so many of us have seen our paychecks reduced by management in this past year.

No worker in a co-operative should have to pay for the right to be heard. The reward for paying for a Worker-Owner share should be financial, not electoral.

It is important to me that the voice that is heard on the Board reflects the very real concerns of the workforce. I want to know what you are thinking. Please do not hesitate to contact me at: About anything.