Friday, April 9, 2010

Where Is Our Vote On Extending Opening Hours?

The books at The Weave are still out of balance, due to the $1 million we are having to pay each and every year in interest on our $10 million dollar debt (occasioned by our ambitious expansion projects). []

Yet, instead of taking serious steps to reduce the debt, the General Manager (in picture) and his corporate office are still trying to fix the hole in the bucket by squeezing we workers ever harder.

The latest wheeze is to extend opening hours, in the hope that extra sales may fill the gap in the accounts. []

While I have no particular view about extending the opening hours per se (I can see both sides of the argument), I am very unhappy that the General Manager and his corporate office are placing yet more burden on over-stressed store employees, while leaving the debt untouched.

And to add insult to injury, we workers are not even being given the opportunity to vote on the proposal. The decision will be taken by the General Manager, on his own - after gathering 'feedback.'

You guessed it. Time for a letter to Ruffin...

"Dear Ruffin,

Thank you for your blue note in my mailbox explaining why you want to extend the opening hours of The Weave.

You seem to think that, simply because your blue note misses the two most essential points, we workers will have missed them too:


What you say about an extension of hours increasing sales may well be true. That's NOT the point. The point is whether such an extension, which will be a huge intrusion upon your already over-stressed store workers, is really NECESSARY.

We are all ready to do whatever is truly necessary to get rid of the imbalance in our accounts. We have already accepted reduced hours, non-payment of dividend; and forfeiture of our pay raises, to do what we can to help out.

We bust ass morning, noon and night, to increase productivity and reduce labor margins - to the point of risking our health.

BUT Ruffin, thanks to the article in this month's issue of "Co-operative Grocer," [] we now know that the imbalance in our accounts is not due to the recession, nor competition, nor an insufficiency of sales nor a lack of productivity on our part.

The imbalance in our accounts - the reason you keep demanding we work harder for less; the reason you are now asking us to accept yet further burden in the name of the co-op we all love - is because you need we workers to find an extra $1 million a year to pay the annual interest on our debt of $10 million.

And the real point is that your blue note does not say that. Nor does it make any reference to what you should actually be doing to correct the imbalance in our accounts. Which is to reduce that $1 million a year debt interest charge.

Having already demanded that your workers make all of the sacrifices that they have, don't you think the co-operative thing now would be for you to reduce that debt BEFORE demanding yet more sacrifices from us?

I tell you what. Why don't we meet you half way? What say we increase sales by 1% for every 1% you decrease the impact on our sales of the 5% Silent Debt Tax represented by that $1 million a year debt interest charge?

Yes, 5% Silent Debt Tax, We have turnover of about $25 million. An annual debt interest charge of $1 million puts a 4-5% Silent Debt Tax on every single sale that we make. Rather than making us artificially increase sales, why don't you decrease the 5% Silent Debt Tax on sales? Then, we'll talk about extending opening hours. What do you say?

Frankly, Ruffin, if you thought it important enough to get rid of the 5% consumer discounts on our sales, in order to improve our financial situation, why is it not just as important to take steps to get rid of that 5% Silent Debt Tax? Rather than making more and more impossible demands of your workers. I mean, how much wider can we smile?


With a decision that is going to disrupt the lives and workplace of so many store employees (not corporate office folks, I hasten to add), it is not enough that you merely invite our feedback.

It is WE who should be making this decision, not just YOU on your own. I'm all for One Man, One Vote. But that means we all get a vote, not just one man...

This is why I wrote to the Board last evening and asked that they request that you hold a full meeting of the co-op's employees to discuss the proposed extension of hours, and then allow us to vote on the proposal at the end of that meeting - where we can all see the result.

You're right when you say that it is the policy of our co-op to allow employees to be INVOLVED in decisions that affect their workplace.

But involvement is only REAL if the very fullest information has been provided. It has not. Why will you not share with us the raw data, showing what are the real costs to we employees each year of the debt interest charge, and what, if anything, is being done to reduce it?

There can only be REAL involvement if that involvement is inter-active. Where we get to explain to you what we think. Where we get to ask questions. Where we all get to hear the same answers. Where we can correct you when you are wrong.

There can only be REAL involvement if there is visible consequence to the involvement. Where we can all see what others have said. Where we can all gauge the level of support or dissent for the proposal. And where the most visible form of 'consequence' is a show-of-hands vote at the conclusion of a full meeting of the co-op's employees.

We used to have full meetings of the co-op's employees every year. We have not had one for 3 years. Why not? Why will you not go face-to-face with us on this issue? If you have the level of support for this proposal to which you allude in your blue form, then that support will be plainly obvious to all at an open meeting.

Do you not respect your own employees enough to believe they will understand the issues? Do you not trust us enough to put the interests of our co-op first when raising our hands to vote?

This is a huge decision that is about to be made. You say you want our involvement in that decision. Fine. Call a meeting. Let us be fully involved. Let us vote on the proposal. And then abide by that vote. I will, if you will.

Quite aside from the democratic value of such a meeting and vote (a good thing in a co-op), it makes good business sense. Business leaders all over the world are learning that it makes much more sense fully and democratically to involve employees in strategic decisions, because they are then fully invested in implementing the decisions successfully.

Thank you for the blue form, Ruffin. Now, prove your co-operative credentials. Prove that authentic co-operation is still alive and well in The Weave, and still a verb - to co-operate. Truly co-operate in allowing your employees openly and in sight of each other to make this decision co-operatively with you. []

All the best,

[I mention in the above letter a further letter that I sent last evening to the Board (interesting timing, eh?). You can find that letter on my blog @]