Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why The Need For A Weaver Street "Workers Task Force" ...

**PROUD TO BE A WEAVER STREET HACK...HACK...HACK...** Notwithstanding the continuing lurgy/tick disease/end of the world internals, and as promised, I wrote to the Board of WSM this morning about it forming a WSM "Workers Task Force." The e-mail is a little wonkish, I know. But WSM governance is a bit wonkish at the moment. I'm hoping to make it less so - for those that follow:

"Dear Board,

You will shortly be reviewing compliance by the General Manager (not in his personal capacity, but as the iconic representation of the entire corporate office and operations of Weaver Street, and therefore, every individual performer within the same) with Board Policy 2.3 - Treatment of Staff.

I have written to you on several occasions during the year setting out in some detail how, on more than one occasion, the General Manager and the corporate office and operations have been in non-compliance with 2.3. I would find it extraordinary, therefore, if you were simply to decide to the contrary.

I have two further matters to raise in this e-mail in that regard, but also a suggestion so that, going forward, the Board, and the owners it represents, may be able to give guidance to the General Manager to allow him to begin to rectify the non-compliance:

1) In the course of the past month, employees have been informed that they will be expected to achieve a co-op wide increase in sales of 15% in 2011.

There was no consultation with the general workforce before this announcement. This places the General Manager in non-compliance with Clause (4) - the General Manager may not permit a decision-making standard that does not allow for [employees to have the] opportunity to participate in decisions and shape the guidelines for decisions.

At the Southern Village Unit Meeting, I asked for an explanation as to why Weaver Street needed to raise an extra $3.75 million. The answer I was given covered only the extra $300,000 that would be needed to pay out a dividend in 2011. In other words, as an employee and as a worker-owner, I am left to conclude that there is no need for this extra money. That renders the decision in breach of the general provision that the General Manager will not allow workplace conditions that are unnecessarily intrusive.

Clearly, demanding without consultation that every employee work 15% harder is an intrusion (especially when no sort of incentive is being offered). And without proffered rationale, it is unnecessary.

The General Manager is, therefore, in non-compliance with 2.3, arising out of the decision to increase sales by 15%, and arising out of the manner in which the decision was made.

2) I just went through an episode which calls into question the effectiveness of Clauses (1) [protection against wrongful conditions], (3) [discrimination against staff member for expressing an ethical dissent], and (5)(b)(ii) [Board Policy not adequately protecting human rights].

I could wax lyrical about my loss of rights under the First Amendment, or launch appeals, or make further direct approach to the Board on the specific matter. But frankly, I was blessed with sufficient of a brain and 'political' stamina that I have never needed the support of other people or pieces of paper to fight my advocacy battles.

What bothers me though is that, through no fault of their own, there are many who do. And there are many workers in our co-op who now need you to step up for them and protect them. Not least because the episode which I have just experienced, along with the many other humiliations and embarrassments that my co-workers have witnessed being heaped on me because of my co-op advocacy work, make them even less likely to speak up and speak out for themselves.

Moreover, I am not looking with this e-mail to prolong the episode in question. What happened is over. We all move on. I do what I always try to do. Draw positive lessons from negative situations.

The primary lesson I draw from the episode in question is that, one way or another, in the past few years, we seem to have lost sight of what is the role of worker-ownership. What is its purpose.

Isn't it supposed to include an opportunity to have direct input into Board policy-making, as I was promised in writing by Ruffin Slater, when I became a worker-owner? Doesn't it include a responsibility to monitor the Board, which, in turn, monitors the General Manager/corporate office/operations? Doesn't that include monitoring the effect of the activities of the General Manager/corporate office/operations on co-op policy/Mission Statement/Board Policy, etc? How is that supposed to look? More to the point, where is any of this defined in writing?

Which brings me to my suggestion. That, at the conclusion of its discussion on 2.3, the Board recommend the formation of a Board Committee, to be called something like "The Workers Task Force," with the following remit:

A) Define the role, rights and responsibilities of worker-owners. Determine what pathways should be set up to allow them the input to Board policy-making, which has consistently been promised to them by Weaver Street. Review the worker-owner Board Director Election Process, to ensure (as the Weaver Street Elections Task Force demanded) that the Process be fully free, fair and independent of inappropriate interference by the corporate office, senior management and the Board of Directors itself.

B) Review worker conditions throughout Weaver Street Market and Panzanella to determine if they are in compliance with the Mission Statement, which requires that the work experience be fulfilling, and with Board Policy 2.3 ("Treatment of Staff"), which requires that the work experience be not unnecessarily intrusive, unduly undignified or disrespectful, and that all workers be allowed to participate in decision-making that affects their workplace. Such review to include watertight mechanisms to allow workers to give evidence anonymously, and with no fear of retaliation.

C) Thoroughly review the decision by the corporate office to increase sales in 2011 by 15%, including taking the fullest representations from the corporate office, so as to determine if the decision is necessary; why; and if it represents an unnecessary intrusion on the workforce.

I thank you for your time.

All the best,
Geoff Gilson
Worker-Owner 9997"