Thursday, August 26, 2010

Giving Voice To Workers (I)

Oh bloody hell. Another newspaper article [], inspired by the corporate office of Weaver Street Market, which fails to thank us workers for the sacrifices we are making to turnaround our worker/consumer co-op, and which mangles the financial figures. Sigh. Yet another Letter to the Editor...

"Dear Editor,

There is no-one who wants to hear good news about Weaver Street Market Co-operative more than me. Provided it is genuine good news.

What was not clear from your recent article was whether or not the reported $300,000 profit for 2010 takes into account the $1 million in bank interest that needs to be paid (each year) on our continuing $8 million long-term debt.

What was not clear was that the corporate office of Weaver Street has no announced plan for tackling that long-term debt other than continuing to ask the co-op’s workers to work harder for less – just as they have done these past three years.

And what was missing from your article was any appreciation of the fact that it is the sacrifice of those same workers that has been the primary cause of any financial turnaround in The Weave.

Two years ago, the Annual Meeting of WSM's owners supported my call for a Financial Review Committee to devise options for dramatically reducing the debt, other than simply demanding year after year that the co-op's workers work harder for less. The Board ignored the expressed wishes of their owners and refused to form the Committee.

If we were to erase our long-term debt (and the annual interest payment of $1 million), we would be able instead to invest that $1 million in improved product and customer service, and we would no longer have to go on making impossible demands of our already overstressed workers.

Yours faithfully,
Geoff Gilson
Weaver Street Worker-Owner"

[I am always ready to discuss any and all ideas co-operators might have about sustainably improving the finances and co-operative values of Weaver Street Market Co-operative, so that we are an organization that truly succeeds and genuinely 'co-operates.' You can find some more of my thoughts in this regard scattered around this blog]

The Chapel Hill News very kindly published the longer version of my letter -- Followed by a generous response from longtime consumer and owner, Chris Franks --

The Carrboro Citizen also printed my letter -- Which actually drew a veiled response from Ruffin Slater -- Yay for the power of the workers' voices!


The Chapel Hill News interviewed Ruffin Slater, compared what he had to say with information to be found on this blog, and then produced a follow-up report.

I had the following to say on Facebook:

**PROUD TO BE A WEAVER STREET HALF-OWNER** Ruffin Slater, GM: " ... the only business in the area half-owned by its workers."

Which is why the WSM corporate office should stop acting like it's a privilege for WSM workers to be more involved in decision-making. It is our right. We half-own the co-op.

By the by, I'm not opposed to the 15% sales increase per se. But we workers have a right to know why we need to raise $2.75 million more than the $1 million needed to pay a dividend in 2011 (15% = $3.75 million).

Equally, I'm not necessarily critical of the decisions being taken to rescue the co-op we all love. But we workers have a right to participate in making those decisions. And we workers deserve much more tangible credit for the consequent financial turnaround.


The folks at the Orange County blog,, then got in on the act with a mind-blowing analysis of WSM's finances, based on figures contained in WSM's Annual Reports. And I had this comment, also on Facebook:

I had absolutely NOTHING to do with this analysis of the Chapel Hill News article about Weaver Street's loans this past Wednesday. But it makes for fascinating reading.

I especially love the table at the end, showing how WSM corporate office costs have risen 500% -- yes, 500% -- in the past five years. When worker salar...ies were frozen, and the worker-owner dividend disappeared.

Anyone still believe we don't need a Board Director prepared to ask tough questions of the corporate office and the other Board members ... ??