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.