Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Illusion of Great Expectation ??

I wrote recently of the truly enervating discussion Weaver Street Market Co-operative owners had with respect to Goal 2 ("Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods") of WSM's proposed 2020 Vision.

I meant what I said. The conversation was useful, inspiring and energizing. Until the backsliding began, engineered by the General Manager (Ruffin Slater) and his WSM corporate office management team, and those of the WSM Board whoe sole purpose seems to be to rubber stamp.

The first sign of this backtracking became apparent after most of we owners had left the discussion, and the Board continued the conversation in their regular Board Meeting.

I don't insist that my ideas are always the best. Far from it. But one of the suggestions which I had put forward seemed to resonate with most of the owners present. Placing the owners of WSM in the driving seat of the whole 2020 Vision process by establishing a Board Committe of owners, with special responsibility to oversee the design of, development of, implementation of and monitoring progress with the finally agreed 2020 Vision.

Even the Board Chair, worker-owner Curt Brinkmeyer, with whom I do not always agree, seemed excited by the idea. Those present saw this as a new opportunity meaningfully to re-engage with owners on a general level, and give them democratic control of our future on a specific level.

No sooner had we owners left than some on the Board began to minimize the suggestion, wondering aloud about scope, task and jurisdiction of any such Board Committee. Er. All of which seem to me to be very simply answered by the requirement that owners of a co-op are supposed democratically to decide what common needs the co-op serves, and how. A concept the simplicity of which and the necessity for which always seems to elude the WSM corporate office management team and the WSM Board, who regularly forget that they are servants, not masters.

Anyway, I was told of this backsliding by one owner who stuck around. I tried not to think about it. Hoped it would all pan out differently. Until I saw the write-up of the Goal 2 Discussion on the WSM web-site.

Look, the write-up appears to be very thorough and inclusive of owners, until you pay greater attention to the details. Let's follow the trail on just the idea about a Board Committee.

First, when we eventually find mention of this idea (after reams of write-up about Ruffin and his 45 minute presentation), we see that the Board Committee is now being reduced to no more than a clearing house for owners to volunteer their services. Much like volunteering to bag groceries at the moment in Carrboro. Completely gone is any suggestion that owners will be driving the 2020 Vision process from here on in. No. Now we are reduced merely to bagging the corporate office's plans.

Curt had mentioned to me that one of the prime areas in which he saw eminent need for such a Board Committee was to design and then implement ways of monitoring progress with 2020 Vision.

Well, right at the beginning of the write-up of the Goal 2 Discussion, where Ruffin is waxing lyrical about all of his ideas, we see that he/his corporate office management team/Chac (the Mayan God of Rain and Lightning, who seemed curiously absent on December 21 ... but I digress)/whoever have already decided for we owners what metrics will be used to determine progress with Goal 2, and they all relate primarily to sales.

So? Well, you don't need a Board Committee of owners to monitor sales. And Ruffin knows that. But. Reminding ourselves of another of my ideas (or just peruse some of the other suggestions that other owners made), you do need the more lateral, anecdotal monitoring of owners to determine, for example, if WSM is meeting expectations with the stated suggestion of using all of WSM's stores to be living educational laboratories for local product. And Ruffin knows that, too.

The 'so' element is that any Goal 2 suggestions that might lend themselves to anecdotal monitoring by owners are being sidetracked. And the means of that monitoring, a Board Committee, putting owners in charge of an important aspect of THEIR co-op, namely what WSM will look like in ten years' time, is being downgraded, and replaced by metrics that require only Ruffin and his financial team to undertake the monitoring.

Bloody sigh.

What can we do? Well. Turn up at the next owners discussion meeting (Goal 3 - Build three new stores), to be held before the WSM Board Meeting, at 6.15 pm, on February 13, 2013, and ask what is going to happen to the proposed 2020 Board Committee of owners.

In the meantime, a shining beacon of self-empowerment in our co-op is this week reported in the employee Market Messenger. Some workers in the WSM Food House have formed a Sustainability Committee. They are planting fruit bushes, and have implemented their own recycling program.

We haven't even got to the Goal 4 Discussion on zero waste/zero net energy use by WSM, and workers in our Food House are taking the initiative on their own. Demonstrating what we stakeholders in our co-op can achieve when we are given the opportunity to empower ourselves to achieve our own objectives in our own co-op. Without interference from nanny corporate office. Well done. And thank you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Larry Page, Google And Me ...

Three days out from the end of the world, and I'm finally beginning to achieve my four and a half minutes of fame.

If you Google 'Weaver Street,' Google now lists me. Well, it lists my co-op blog, 'Weaver Str
eet Geoff.'

Granted, sometimes you have to nudge it with 'Weaver Street G ...' But, I'm still ahead of 'Weaver Street' in Glasgow, and most importantly, 'Weaver Street Grocery.'

I'm just so all chest puffed out, I can barely see my feet. No. Hang on. That would be the seven chocolate eclairs ...

Thursday, December 13, 2012

2020 Vision Goal 2 Owners' Discussion

Last evening, a group of Weaver Street Market Co-operative owners, together with WSM Board members, had a truly enlightening discussion about the proposed Goal 2 of the WSM 2020 Vision - "Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods."

I'm not going to write at length about what other folks suggested. That's their thunder. And it will be appearing on notes of the conversation in due course on WSM's web-site.

I addressed two matters.

After listening to a genuinely exciting presentation from Ruffin Slater, backed up by Dr. John O'Sullivan, from the North Carolina Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, and some wonderful contributions from fellow owners, I did what sometimes I do, usefully or irritatingly, depending on your point of view!

I cut to the chase.

What we had heard from Ruffin was that no other retailer really does local. Organic, yes. That argument has been won. It was the niche of co-operatives for about 20 years. But not so much now. But local? No-one else seems to care. Ok. So. Let's make it our niche, I said.

I suggested that, if we were truly serious about spending the time and the money making local our niche. If we really wanted, in ten years' time, for folks to say, 'When I want local, I go to WSM.' Then we should turn each of our outlets into full-service, living educational laboratories for local.

No namby-pamby flirting around the edges,. The odd promo. Pretty labels for something lost on Aisle 4. No. Make the primary purpose of each of our outlets, backed up by the rest of our operation, to highlight all produce, meat, deli, hot bar, you name it, which is local.

Speaking as a card-carrying, if it ain't in a bag I don't eat it, bachelor, I pointed out that we should stop assuming that our customers and our workers instantly know why they should be buying local, how to do so, and/or when to do so.

Our outlets use vast amounts of room putting up pictures and end-gaps (or whatever those aisle-end boards are called) and displays, which look really cute. Let's substitute all of those with material promoting local. Explaining why. Directing people to what is seasonal. Ensure our new labels highlight everything local. And that accompanying displays are fully informative.

The issue was raised that folks have no problem buying local beer. I pointed out that each beer has oodles of info about where it is made, how and why it is a good buy. Why? Because folks take getting drunk seriously.

The reason there aren't labels the size of my fist all over local pears is because a lot of folks do not know why it is healthy to eat a pear, and why it is important to buy local pears. So, they don't take it seriously. Ok then. It should be up to WSM's educational and marketing machine to tell them.

Special offers and promo's should be geared to local. On a seasonal basis. All of which is regularly explained on our web-site, in The Beet, and in the newsletter, which we have, quite wrongly, reduced to no more than a coupon book.

This is what we should do - if we are serious.

Next up. Board Members spoke once more about being able sensibly to monitor the achievement of the Four Goals, proposed under WSM's 2020 Vision.

I made the point that we had just spent one and a half hours having an in-depth discussion about ideas for just one of the Goals. Every minute of that time had been usefully spent.

Again, if the Board are serious about monitoring progress with the Goals of 2020 Vision, I said that they should set up a standing Board Committee (or Committees), with the specific task of overseeing compliance by WSM with the Four Goals, reporting to the Board, and encouraging participation from owners and the community in the implementation of the Goals.

You will be delighted to know that no-one threw anything at me!

I also suggested that, as part of the educational program with local, but also to make money, WSM might want to consider adding a catering service to its repertoire.

In fact, as I stated at the end of the evening, my suggestion about getting fully invested in local wasn't just about altruism; it was also about grabbing for WSM a commercial niche, that it could then make its own. I still want my dividend at the end of the year!

Oh. And the pic about Fort Bragg? Well, John O'Sullivan had mentioned that even Fort Bragg, NC was interested in local. They produce 100,000 meals a day, and need to be concerned about food safety and security. So, I wondered out loud if we ought not to be building a WSM slap bang in the middle of Seal Team Six, Fort Bragg ... ??

Next discussion. Goal 3. "Invigorate downtowns." February 13, 2013.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Affordability, Viability and Purpose of WSM's Local Food Operation

This coming Wednesday, December 12, 2012, in the Carrboro Century Center, beginning at 6.15pm, there will be an open WSM owners' discussion on Goal 2 of WSM's preferred 2020 Vision.

WSM have also set up a Facebook Page, where owners and workers can make comment on the four Goals. I have already made comment on Goal 3 (at about #15), and posted some general commentary about this whole process on my WSM co-op blog.

Today, I posted a comment on the 2020 Vision Facebook Page on Goal 2, the one to be discussed this Wednesday. Again (funny thing life, innit?), it can be found at about #15. It is along the theme of the Subject Head above:

"The ambition of Goal 2 of WSM’s 2020 Vision is, in essence, to increase the sales of local and sustainable food, primarily through our own WSM outlets, and generally local food which has been processed in our own Food House in Hillsborough.

My comments below are set in the context of two themes which the WSM Board have stressed in their presentation of these Goals and in their commentary at the Goal 1 open session of owners:

I) Clear goals must be established, with clear processes also set in place to monitor the achievement of those goals.

II) The 2020 Vision process should be owner-driven, with the talents of our some 18,000 owners being tapped through the concept of CoOp-Sourcing.

My comments (some of these may overlap with Goal 1; but I was unable to attend the owners’ meeting on Goal 1 at such short notice):


The product of our local food operation is not cheap. I would invite WSM constantly to keep in mind the need for our co-op to be aware that one of our missions should be to ensure that local and sustainable food is within the reach of all in our communities, including those who work at WSM.


WSM can only “produce more local food ourselves” if our Food House can handle it.

I know from my own personal experience that we have the hardest-working, most dedicated and most inspired workers in all of the departments of our Food House. But they are not the ones who set the policy that governs the structure and processes of our Food House.

Before we can set new goals for WSM’s local food operation, it is necessary first to determine if those goals set for, during and after the last expansion, in 2007/2008, which resulted in the creation of the Food House, have been met.

At that time, we, in the outlets, were told that the Food House would result in better conditions for our production work-mates; more local food; better quality food; a greater range of food; better and more consistent packaging and presentation; and less need for food preparation in our outlet kitchens.

I would suggest that any working group established to oversee Goal 2, which working groups have been suggested by both WSM management and our Board, should CoOp-Source our owners to find folks with the skills to undertake, with the co-operation of the operations staff and management, a full financial and narrative audit of the Food House, to ascertain if the goals of the last expansion, as they relate to WSM’s local food operation, have been met.

Are there lessons to be learned from the manner in which the Food House operation was put together? Is the Food House operation more efficient and cost-effective than the food production effort that existed before? Is the Food House operation fully commercial and competitive with other food production efforts? We are regularly told that WSM currently produces 25% of the food which it sells. But that means nothing unless we also know what % of food sold before the Food House was built was produced by WSM.

We, in the outlets, were promised that our relationship with the Food House would be commercial, with the outlets treating the Food House as they would any other vendor. Is that the case?

We were told that the food provided to us would be competitively priced. Is that the case?

Are there areas which could be improved? If so, how?

Once we have an historical context, and are fully satisfied that the Food House is operating now in the most effective, commercial and competitive manner possible, in terms of the needs of its end users, then we should address what specific goals we need to be setting our Food House folks, and whether they feel and we feel those goals can be met, and how. And, in the process, establish systems by which owners can monitor the achievement of those goals.


This may seem a rather curious item. And may seem even more so as I progress.

For some, there is something of a veil of secrecy surrounding some of the machinations of our co-op. If the Goals of WSM’s 2020 Vision are to be successful, it is necessary for all of us to be open and transparent with each other. It is for that reason I welcome the 2020 Vision Facebook Page, allowing all of us to communicate freely.

In considering Goal 2, I think it important for owners to be clear in their minds whether WSM and its local food operation primarily serves the convenience of its consumers and workers or the needs, not least the seasonal fluctuations, of its producers.

I’m going to stick my neck out (and what I say is almost in direct contravention of point (2) above) and say that it took me about six years to work out that WSM’s local food operation does not exist to meet the demands of WSM’s end-users: its outlets, its workers and its consumers.

We are an operation, funded by consumers and workers, that was established to ensure the long-term viability of local farmers and food producers, by offering sustainable, successful and professional outlets, with a supporting food commissary.

I may not appreciate the rather undemocratic manner in which this operation was created over some 20 years. But, I do avidly support the concept.

However, Goal 2 is not going to work if we are not all in the same boat, all of us pulling in the same direction.

If there are those in our outlets who demand that the product of the Food House should meet their requirements, not the harvesting schedule of our local farmers (for example), then they need to be heard.

If there are consumers who want to say, um, I want the food I want, not the food that farmers can provide, then they need to be listened to.

Only when we have clear and established purpose, can we then proceed with setting targets under Goal 2.


Frankly, I have no idea what is meant by the phrase ‘We will mobilize community resources to achieve ambitious goals for local and sustainable food sales.’

If this means investing more of the money that WSM generates, then I trust that owners will only proceed if and when they have the active backing of the workers of WSM, since it is the workers who generate that extra money with the sweat of their brow.

I remain ambivalent about setting new ‘ambitious’ goals until we have achieved all of the ambitious goals we set for our local food production effort when we established the Food House.

If ‘community resources’ means more loans, then I will adamantly protest, until we have paid off all of the loans which were entertained when building the Food House - still some $6 million outstanding.

Of course, a natural extension of reviewing the goals we set for the Food House, along with considering targets under Goal 2, may be the creation of a formal business plan for the Food House.

Such a process, leading, as it should, to the entrenchment of the Food House as a sustainable, commercial and competitive enterprise within WSM, would lend itself to a situation where the Food House, of itself, could become an attractive vehicle for investment from sources other than WSM and its banks, and for sales from outlets other than WSM, both of which would, in turn, support the efforts of the committed folks within the Food House to improve and expand their operations and achieve the ambitions of Goal 2, specifically as they relate to WSM.

In the meantime, in this post on my WSM co-op blog, I have a tiny snip at some of the ... er .. non-local food we supply in WSM and the consequences.

You can find other less snippy, generally more helpful suggestions about how we can be a better co-op and a stronger business in other posts on the remainder of this blog ... "

Saturday, December 1, 2012

2022 Vision - More Open Owners' Sessions

Well. It turns out that my information about an open session for owners to discuss WSM's 2022 Vision, and its four goals, was correct.

And, to their credit, the Board of WSM are now going to extend those sessions, over the next few Board Meetings, so as to have one session before each Board Meeting, to cover each of the four goals, which goals can
be found on Page 4 of WSM's last Annual Report.

I would still prefer that the business of setting strategy in a co-op, which, by definition, is supposed to be democratically controlled by its owners, was being driven by its owners, rather than its corporate office management team.

But, some democracy is better than none. And it's only 'some' democracy if we take part.

Board Meetings are held generally held on the third Wednesday of each month (except January) in the conference room above Panzanella restaurant in Carrboro. The open sessions will begin at 6.00pm.

I'm not entirely sure what the precise schedule is going to be for the remaining sessions. But, you can confirm by writing to:

I wasn't able to attend the first session. I learned of the session one day before it was being held. And had other plans. But I will be attending the remaining three.

It is no secret that I have a pretty dim view of the efforts of our Board to promote democracy in our co-op. Er ... one day's notice? I know I'm not the only owner who thinks this. The only way to change it is to turn up.

And don't feel restricted by what you want to discuss. The Board and the corporate office management team are the servants of the co-op, not its masters.

Nothing is set in stone, until we say it is. If you want different goals, say so. If you want different matters to be addressed by the suggested goals, say so. If you missed a session, and still want to talk about another goal, well, this is your co-op, say so.

At the next session, I, for one, will be wondering why we have to be holding these discussions in a manner that is guided by the Board and the corporate office management team, and why, for example, we can not have our own discussion groups, where we owners are the ones setting the agenda for the next ten years of our co-op.

I will be wondering why we need to be planning to make WSM ever larger and more complex, when, perhaps, we should be focusing our time, energy and money on getting the last expansion right.

I will be wondering if, perhaps, we might not become a more intimate co-op once again, if, over the next ten years, we thought about becoming a loose association of stand-alone co-op's, interacting democratically with other organizations of similar intent, rather than perpetuating an increasingly remote 'empire.'

But. Those are my thoughts. They aren't the only ones floating around the co-op. And they are by no means the best. This co-op belongs to all of us. Let's turn up to these open sessions, and remind ourselves of that fact.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

2022 Vision - Open Owners' Session At Board Meeting

So. I heard from Snüff Shöck/Neil (one of my immediate work-mates, and one of the good co-operators), who heard it from Amy Lorang (WSM Elections Committee Chair, and another of the good co-operators), that at around 6.00pm this evening, Wednesday, November 28, the WSM Board, before its regular monthly meeting, will be holding an open session to allow all owners to offer input on WSM's 2022 Vision.

Blimey. Where to start?

First, I cannot attend. On such short notice, I already have plans. And with the infrequency of those, I don't intend to cancel. In any event, I've not made any secret of my views on what would be my preferred 2022 Vision for our co-op, as opposed to building more stores, and getting ever bigger.

However, I would urge as many owners reading this Note as possible to attend. Again, I take the view that defining the common needs of our co-op should actually look like owners telling the Board what to do. Not the other way round. But, in the regrettable absence of that approach, when the Board seeks our input, we need to give it.

For anyone attending, I would ask that someone re-raise my suggestion that we hold workshops on a Monday evening at Panzanella, to give we owners a more realistic and comprehensive opportunity to be setting the goals for our co-op. Did that idea just die?

Now. To the wider questions. Um. Why are we learning about this, in an 'ad hoc' fashion, one day before it is taking place? It doesn't exactly scream of a Board that desires participatory democracy.

And let's get this clear. This is not the fault of our excellent Owner Services Co-ordinator, Brenda Camp, who does a superb job. It is the task of the Board to promote democracy in our co-op.

And I believe they are failing in this task. The most striking demonstration of the apathy the Board has engendered in our co-op is the fact that the last two Elections for Board Director have been uncontested.

This is not because we owners feel that the Board and the WSM corporate office are doing a great job. It is because their negative attitude towards inclusion has frankly sapped the energy of too many owners.

There are a multitude of ways that the Board can enhance participatory democracy in our co-op. I know. I contributed in the WSM Task Force that discussed these matters, back in 2008, and which led to the formation of the Elections Committee.

Hmm. Maybe it's time I dusted off my newly re-minted worker-ownership, and considered standing for the Board again ... ??

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Supporting Local And Sustainable Food - Really ??

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Here we go again. 'Tis the season for some folly -- at The Weave.

Just when we thought it was safe to dive back into the local, sustainable, non-pesticide-
infested produce, once again we're stocking fruit, that appears to be sprayed with more chemical than I ingest before a night of hey-ho-whoopsie.

Some combination of Thiabendazole, Imazalil, Pyrimethanil, Fludioxonil and Azoxystrobin on our Cuties fruit.

Now, I get that these 'harmless' chemicals may be required to keep the fruit mold-free, all the way from California.

But, um, how exactly is any part of this compatible with Goal 2 ("Drive the growth of local and sustainable foods") of the Four Goals we posted in our Annual Report (Page 4) barely, er, one month ago?

Wow. Talk about staying power. I saw Mitt Romney hang onto a policy position longer than that. I can't wait to see how the rest of the Four Goals pan out.

On which subject, where exactly are the discussion groups on the Four Goals which we were promised, to ensure that the process of designing, fleshing out and then implementing these Goals is democratic ... ??


I made the same point about Cuties fruit last year, in a post on Facebook which never made it to my blog:


WSM is currently waxing lyrical about its range of Cuties Californian Fruit, especially the Clementines. Well, I want to wax lyrical too. So, I check 'em out.

Leaving aside the fact that the fruit leaves another heart-breaking carbon trail, all the way from California, I read the bottom of the box - only to discover that the Clementines have been sprayed with more chemicals than BP used to spray its oil spill.

Thiabendazole, Imazalil, Pyrimethanil, Fludioxonil and Azoxystrobin seem to be a few. I'm working off memory here - plus a little Googling!

That same Googling tells me these are anti-fungicides, that they are 'only' sprayed on the exterior of the fruits, and that it's ok, 'cos these chemicals are less toxic than the alternative.

C'mon, Weaver Street, co-op that I love, can we really not do better than this ... ??

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Weave: Who Says It's A Grave State Of Affairs ??

I think I must be on new meds. For the second time in a row, I have only pleasant things to say!

Much of the latest feedback from consumers and workers on the purported Four Goals of
the 2020 Vision of Weaver Street Market Co-operative dealt with a desire to see the co-op help customers to be more discerning about buying local and organic by providing more info at the point of sale.

Lo and behold, we will be producing new tags in the immediate future which will give just that information. Thank you everyone in Merchandising and Marketing!

Next up, the Mayor of Carrboro just recently addressed a gathering somewhere in the Midwest (ok, I pay as much attention as I can!) on the subject of healthy living helping economic performance.

Well, I was thinking to myself, is that the job of government to impose or employers and the like to encourage? Lo and behold, the WSM Human Resources Department announce they will shortly be starting new Health and Wellness Programs to support we employees in understanding and implementing a more healthy lifestyle.

Leave aside that the fact that this may all be wasted on so-what's-wrong-with-a-tub-of-chocolate-ice-cream-at-midnight? Geoff. The point is the thought is right. Thank you Human Resources.

As to the picture accompanying all this good news. Since I wasn't complaining, I thought I'd just have some fun. So, it's basically Dr. Who at Halloween - with a few extras thrown in ...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

WSM Social Media Policy - Corporate Next Steps

Look, there are some who say that all I ever do with Weaver Street Market Co-operative is whine about its corporate office management team. Not today!

I think that their response to employee feedback on the proposed new Social Media Policy is actually quite thoughtful. Not all that I would have hoped for. But definitely they took the time to accommodate some of our concerns.

I met with both the General Manager (Ruffin) and the Human Resources Manager (Deborah), and my primary concern was that the proposed Policy as it stood pretty much forbade any criticism of WSM on social media at all. With immediate imposition of discipline if it happened.

A lot of folks - not just me - said in the employee feedback, you just can't do that. First Amendment. Freedom of Speech. I'm off the clock. I want my Mummy.

I suggested that they ease up a little on the Straight To Discipline, Don't Pass Go approach. And instead, adopt a somewhat more friendly, pat on the shoulder, be respectful, guideline approach.

They have done that. With some caveats.

There is still mention of discipline. Not sure one can avoid that, for reasons I come to in a minute. And they still talk about 'adverse effect' and 'disparaging' the co-op, without saying who decides what constitutes both.

Ok. I get from my conversations, especially with the General Manager, that they are not trying (per se) to stop critical posting about the co-op and its policy.

As Ruffin charmingly put it to me, "Geoff, if the intention of this policy was to stop you blogging, we'd have introduced it four years ago."

What I gather is that there have been incidents where one-on-one interaction between employees has bled out onto social media.

This is difficult. Ruffin and I spent an hour talking about harassment within the workplace. And what constitutes workplace.

Ruffin is actually much more generous (to employees) than I would be on this point. I came up with the idea of The Bathroom Door Rule.

The law and employee policy do not allow one person to make another person uncomfortable within the workplace. If a fella is talking to another fella in the bathroom, with the door closed, and a third fella, the subject of what the blokes are discussing, in what they believe to be the privacy of the bathroom, overhears that conversation, through the thin bathroom door, then that third person has been made to feel uncomfortable within his workplace, even though the conversation was supposedly private, and away from the immediate workplace.

I take the view that the immediacy and public nature of social media has created a virtual 'bathroom door,' and that, if there is posting on social media that makes an individual uncomfortable within their workplace, then it is fair for the workplace to bring that to the attention of the person doing the posting - at the very least.

The problem is this. As clever as I think I have allowed life to make me with the manipulation of words, even I can not find a form of words that distinguishes between a posting that potentially harasses an individual, and a posting that represents what I believe to be legitimate and democratic criticism of policy within my co-op.

This is compounded by the lack of independent definition and oversight of what constitutes 'adversely affect' and 'disparaging.'

The new Social Media Policy talks of the internal Dispute Resolution Process. And the ability of we employees to use it to resolve complaints that we might have. But, to be fair, it is a Process that is more suited to resolving disputes about interpretation of existing policy, not disputes about the policy itself.

As employee policy currently exists, along with the new Social Media Policy, if I blog criticism of co-op policy, and the corporate office management team find it disparaging and of adverse effect, I can be disciplined by them.

Well, if I am criticizing co-op policy, it is of its nature going to be disparaging. And not just of the policy, but of those who made it. Because one without the other is hollow.

What's more is there is going to be adverse effect. Of course there is. That's the whole point of the criticism. To change the policy. Which amounts to adverse effect!

If disciplinary charges are brought, as the Social Media Policy is worded, I would have no defense to the charge. Criticism of Policy = Disparagement + Adverse Effect = Discipline. And, because of the nature of the Dispute Resolution Process, I could not raise objection to the Policy itself, using that Process.

So. What to do? I think the answer is, suck it and see.

The WSM corporate office management team have an obligation to avoid activity by employees that could lead to discomfort in the workplace.

They have shown themselves open to the criticism that the new Social Media Policy could be abused to suppress legitimate discussion within the co-op. Bearing in mind that the Worker-Owner Mission Statement specifically admonishes all Worker-Owners to demonstrate co-operative principles, both within the workplace and in the community - which, as I pointed out to Ruffin and Deborah, is a command to discuss WSM matters openly in the workplace and in the community.

Ruffin (at least) has made it clear that he is not opposing such open discussion of WSM and its policies. He has said he is primarily concerned about individual harassment. He is not trying to stop folks having harmless fun or even engaging in legitimate protest online.

So. I will be writing to Ruffin and Deborah, to thank them for their changes, to raise my continued concerns, and to suggest that, at least for the moment, we move forward with the Social Media Policy as it stands, but with the caveat that it be interpreted with generosity, and that we all review its implementation in, say, a year's time.

As to the other changes to employee policy, I'm still not all that happy with the Confidentiality of Information section. But. One is never going to stop a corporate office wanting to keep all its paperwork private. Even in a co-op supposedly dedicated to transparency. So. I'll take my chances on that one ... !!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Weave: Cherry-Picking 2022 Vision Feedback

A week ago, the workers of Weaver Street Market Co-operative received a write-up of the input we gave at our recent Annual Store Meetings on WSM’s 2022 Vision.

As with so much that trickles down to us from our all-powerful WSM corporate office management team, on the face of it, the write-up looked quite promising. Until you noticed what was missing.

For sure, I was overjoyed to be receiving any kind of document which publicly confirmed what we workers had ostensibly offered by way of input to a decision-making process in which we are supposed always to be fully and meaningfully involved.

But almost from the opening paragraph, the gaps and the condescending assumptions were obvious:

1) We were told that someone (er, actually me) had requested that everyone be involved in the decision-making, that we help move the vision to action, and that we have ongoing meetings.

Hmm. Almost. What I actually asked for was that we not simply be permitted to help implement the vision, but that we be allowed to help design it, too.

What we had so far was the vision of the corporate office management team. If we wanted it to be the vision of WSM, then a process had to be found whereby owners, stakeholders and workers could review the four goals advanced by the corporate office management team, and determine if these were the goals we wanted going forward, or if we would prefer different goals.

Otherwise, we would have a situation where the common needs of the co-op over the next ten years were being decided by a small group at the corporate office, and not by the body of stakeholders.

I specifically suggested that we use Panzanella on Monday evenings, when the restaurant is closed, to undertake this goal review.

There is no mention of any of this in the alleged comprehensive documentation of worker input at our Annual Store Meetings.

Of course, there isn’t. It would mean the corporate office democratically handing decision-making power to the stakeholders.

2) Neither is there any word of my second suggestion. Namely, that, when it came time to implement the vision, rather than merely seeking input from workers as to how they would like to implement the vision, WSM actually devolve to stores and departments the power to make those decisions for themselves.

Again, I’m not surprised this does not show up in our feedback document. Because, again, heaven forbid, it would mean taking power away from the self-selected few in the WSM corporate office.

Even though it makes perfect sense that those charged with implementing the vision are much more likely to be invested in that implementation if they truly helped to design the vision, and are the ones making the decisions as to how to implement it.

3) The other major omission is any negative reference to the new expansion project (three new stores), of which there has been plenty.

Workers are genuinely concerned that there are many important matters to be resolved from the last expansion project (not least the matter of the $7 million in debt still owing), all of which should be addressed before we start gallivanting around, creating more stress for the existing systems and processes.

Besides those specifics, there were two other issues which leant a certain stale flavor to the presentation in the document.

First, the opening paragraph kept talking about how ‘we’ were going to move this whole process forward. Without actually defining ‘we.’ In the past, this has usually meant the WSM corporate office management team. And there was little in the document to suggest otherwise this time.

Secondly, it was (at least for me) interesting to note that the corporate office are prepared to give us easy access to feedback (pretty little documents, in each of our mailboxes), when it suits their convenience. “Here you go chaps. What we in the corpo … I mean, what all of us have agreed ‘we’ are going to do about the corpor … I mean ‘our’ vision.”

But, when it is feedback that is not to their liking (“your new Social Media Policy is fascist crap”), you have to wade through the minutiae of our private Wikipedia site to find the document in question.

Sigh. And so it is that our blessed corporate office management team once again redefine democracy, transparency and inclusion in our very own brand of co-operation.

What can you do? Turn up at the WSM Annual Meeting. Speak up at your department meetings. Stand up to your store and department managers. And demand that all workers, owners and stakeholders be given a proper opportunity to decide for themselves what they want the goals of Vision 2022 to be, and how they want them to be implemented.

And maybe request that we have someone less partial handle feedback in future? Rather than having the corporate office take our … I mean, pick our cherries …

Uncontested Weaver Street Board Elections 2012

For the second year in a row, both of the Elections for Board Director of Weaver Street Market Co-operative (Consumer-Owner and Worker-Owner) are uncontested.

I'm not going to get into a discussion about the single candidate in each Election.

They may be root-and-branch co-operators, whose sole interest is the reintroduction of democracy and transparency into our co-op (though their Election Addresses suggest none of this).

But for each and every one of the seven years in which I have been involved with WSM, I have heard, from both worker and consumer, their repeated wish that we behave more like a co-operative.

Whether it is treating our workers better. Being more inclusive when it comes to planning the future. Behaving with social and environmental conscience when bad economic times hit. Rather than retreating into normal conventional capitalist knee-jerk fear.

And yet. When push comes to shove. When it is time to roll up our sleeves, and tackle the corporatist demon that has possessed our senior management team, where are you?

We have a Board of Directors of seven folks. Four of them are elected. Two each year. We can take back our co-op in no less than two years.

But not if we allow the establishment candidate to get a free ride each year.


Now, you may think that all I do is criticize. In my defence, I would say that I criticize only where I see what could be better. I never criticize without offering an alternative. And I am even-handed. I don't just criticize the WSM corporate office management team.

Plus, you will never hear me say anything bad about:

1) Those of my co-workers who have yet to discover the delights of going on a date with me.

2) All of you who believe that, with the possible exception of Shangri-La, there is no greater pleasure than an evening spent enjoying my performance as Pop Vox ... !!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Weaver Street Market Annual Report 2012

The WSM Annual Report has been published. And as usual, one needs a co-op sextant, three bottles of wine and half-a-dozen showers sensibly to negotiate the terribly pretty disinformation.

Sigh. Look. We are a co-op that is the largest food co-op in the South-Eastern United States. We employ 260 workers. We have some 15,000 consumer-owners. We have impact. We practically invented the farm-to-fork local food system.

I completely, absolutely, 100% acknowledge that. Applaud it. Congratulate every single one of us who makes it possible. But. That does not mean that we are perfect.

There are always ways we can be a stronger business and a better co-op (which I suggest extensively on the remainder of this blog).

That would be true of any co-op enterprise. But, in the case of WSM, it is especially true. Why? For three reasons:

1) Our corporate office management team decided, quite undemocratically, in 2007/2008, to engage in an expansion scheme to build a new store and Food House, which turned out to be a disaster of in-house management planning and implementation.

They then determined, unbeknown to the rest of us (with the exception of our rubber-stamp Board of Directors), to put us all $10 million in debt, in order to pay for the disaster.

Who cares? Well, we are all still paying for that disaster and its borrowing requirement.

Workers have been made each year to work harder for less, to come up with the some $2 million required each year to cover the repayment of principal and interest.

Consumer-owners are still receiving derisory dividends, while their corporate office management team cover up their past mistakes - and plan to make even more, by proposing to build three more stores (have a look at Goal 3, in the middle of the Annual Report).

Check the financial figures in this year's Annual Report. We still owe some $6.5 million. It will be years before this debt is completely wiped out.

In the meantime, our 'impact on the community' goes on taking an annual hit of $1.3 million, which is the interest/depreciation we have to set aside each year, just to service the continuing debt (before repaying any principal - between $500,000 and $700,000 each year).

And this is $1.3 million (interest/depreciation) plus $500,000/$700,000 (principal) we export out of our communities each year. Remember that when we praise ourselves for paying back $7.2 million into our various downtowns.

2) Our corporate office management team reacted to The Great Recession in a typically conventional capitalist fashion, quite abandoning all pretense of adherence to co-operative principles. And our Board of Directors let them.

All was cut costs, poke workers and pay attention only to sales. While muzzling any sign of dissent. It’s all I’ve been able to do even to get the WSM corporate office management team to utter the words ‘Social Bottom Line.’

3) The WSM corporate office management team have very cleverly distracted attention from (1) and (2) with extraordinarily professional PR these past four years – including the magnificent Annual Report this year.

How so? Let’s take a quick wander through that Annual Report, page by page:

A) First two pages. No mention of the deleterious effect of exporting some $2 million each year to out-of-town banks, to pay back the planning nightmare of the 2007/2008 expansion.

B) Page 3. This is a doozy. I love it when corporate offices ‘quote’ comparative figures, without giving their sources (for which I have asked, and have received no response to date).

So, you are given information about your co-op workers, which is intended to make you all warm and fuzzy about how we are being treated. Not true.

WSM compare the average annual wage increase of 5% (true) to ‘2-3% for other businesses.’ What other businesses? And who cares? We are comparing ourselves to what conventional capitalist exploitative grocery stores (think Wal-Mart) pay their workers? Really? That is our measure?

Plus, what they do not tell you is that, for example, sales over the past two years in my department alone increased by 25%. And you allow your corporate office to conclude that proper recompense for that effort is a pay raise of 5%? Really?

And bear this in mind. Every single financial figure and impact for which your corporate office management team congratulate themselves was and is made possible by your co-op workers. And yet. We see no 2022 goal suggesting that first and foremost we must now better reward our workers. Really?

C) Page 4. The figures. Profits. Right. We are still paying back some $6.5 million in long-term debt, and yet you allow your corporate office management team to set aside some $600,000 of YOUR $767,000 co-op profits, so that they can begin planning another expansion project (three new stores), a project about which you have been told next to zip.

D) Page 5 and 6. Your invited feedback on the corporate office management team's goals for 2022. Please note the delightful exercise in distraction. You are not told that you can turn around and say, um, we don’t like these goals. We’d like different ones. Why? Because this is the way democracy works in WSM.

In any other co-op, the management team take seriously the view that the co-op is a voluntary association of folk who democratically provide for their common needs, where the body of stakeholders are the ones deciding what are the common needs.

In WSM, the corporate office management team have decided that they, and they alone, determine what are your common needs. They then ask for your input, within the parameters they set. And there is then no vote. They, and they alone, decide what feedback they will include.

Can you change this? Why yes. Turn up at the Annual Meeting and say, no thank you. We’re grown-ups. We know how to tie our own shoelaces now. We’ll decide this for ourselves. And then let you, the hired help, know what it is we want you to do. Like other co-ops.

You might, for example, want to say, no, we don't want three more stores. We don't want to be bigger. We'd prefer just to be better

Are you getting the picture?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Employee Policy Feedback Available

My fellow Weaver Street Market Co-operative co-workers will remember that a few weeks ago we were invited to offer feedback on some proposed changes to WSM Employee Policy.

The most intrusive proposed change was that relating to Social Media Policy, where (in short) the WSM corporate office management team wanted to introduce a new policy which basically said any and all output by employees online would be judged as part of their work performance.

In a twist of irony, I'm not going to share the details of our rather pithy response. Not because it reflects the proposed new policy. Ptooey! But because my fellow workers offered their views in private. And I respect that.

So. Fellow employees, you can find the feedback on your break room computers. When the page opens up at the beginning, go to the "HR & Training" tab at the top, click on it, look up at the top left, and voila, feedback on Employee Policy changes.

I can share this much. The overwhelming feedback from workers on the proposed new Social Media Policy was essentially, um: "Go f**k yourselves! When I'm off-the-clock, out of the store, and on my own time, I can do what I like. Aren't we supposed to be a co-op ... ??"

Of course, feedback which overwhelming rejects a proposed change in policy of our co-op does not necessarily mean that the proposed change will be rejected, notwithstanding our co-op's stated commitment to democracy and transparency.

Our General Manager's view of 'One Man (or Woman), One Vote' is that he has the only vote ...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Friedrich von Hayek, Salma Hayek and my Economic Naughty Bits ...

As a former political love child of Margaret Thatcher in the Eighties (now, somewhat more center-left), it is perhaps not surprising that I still score a potential 2 out of 3 in agreement with Friedrich von Hayek, current economic pin-up icon of US Republican Tea Partiers [NY Times article, “Prime Time for Paul Ryan’s Guru”]:

1)  Like Fred, I believe that government has no business interfering with what I regard as the natural flow of economic forces [“Job Creation: Socialism or Social Justice?”].

Government can no more predict what people as a whole are going to do with their money than I’ve been able to determine what my last three girlfriends were going to do with my naughty bits.

It follows, therefore, that action by government to bend the economy to its will, whether by lowering taxes or increasing spending, is more about appealing to political base than actually changing the economy for the good, in any permanent way.

Any interference by government almost always produces some consequence of equal and opposite effect, which then requires corrective action, which then requires … and so on. Just leave the economy well alone.

Occasionally – and only very occasionally – it can be argued that temporary interference in the economy is necessary, not least because the immediate perceived benefit to society out weighs the longer term negative consequences.

I’m bound to say though that 9 times out of 10 the perceived short-term benefit is generally political rather than strictly economic.

2) I take the view that government should restrict itself to providing services that ameliorate the consequences of economic forces upon those least able to compete in the form of economy which most finds favor amongst human beings at the moment, namely the capitalist system.

In which regard, I prefer government programs that take a long-term interest in allowing folks to empower themselves to survive the ravages of the capitalist system.

But, in the meantime, I find myself agreeing with Fred that the best way to alleviate the short-term consequences of disadvantage at the hands of the capitalist system is simply to provide those at risk with the immediate wherewithal to cope. And I have proposed just as much to my very favorite President [“FOCUS On Poverty”].

3) I do not agree with Fred’s proposition of a ‘generality norm,’ where he says that any government program that helps one group must be available to all. I get the economic and philosophical logic. That we don’t want to produce stigma with means testing.

But for all my talk of not confusing politics with economics, the fact still remains that politics is the art of the possible, and it is politicians who implement economic policy, not purist economists – unless you live in a dictatorship.

The only way fully to adhere to Fred’s ‘generality norm’ is either to throw gobloads of the public’s money at folks who simply don’t need it. Which is what you have in the UK. And against which I spoke at the British Conservative Party National Conference in 1986, to a rapturous ovation from farmers and blue rinses, who had no idea that I was telling ’em that you shouldn’t be getting free education and free health care if you drive a Jaguar.

Or, you reduce government programs to an absolute minimum, so as to ensure that sticking to Fred’s admonition (of the same government programs for everyone) actually fits the size of the public purse. Which is why Tea Partiers claim to be such strong Hayekians. This is the cherry pick onto which they latch.

In the NY Times article linked to at the beginning of this Note, Adam Davidson opines that every mainstream economic theory of the past hundred years or so began life as a crackpot sideshow.

So it is that I perceive that the coming economic norm may already be finding favor in some fairly esoteric outposts (the Occupy movement) – along with one or two surprising mainstream ones (the British Conservative Party). It’s called ‘localism.’

It is the notion that people are not ciphers. They are … well … people. And that neither politicians nor economists, acting at the national or even the regional level, can predict what people will do. We are not rationale. We don’t follow patterns. We are bloody-minded. And we do the craziest things in any given situation.

The best way, therefore, to ‘harness’ economic forces so that they best serve the people is to let the people decide for themselves how they would like to design their economic destiny. And to devolve to those people the power so to design as close to them as possible.

One of the natural consequences of such devolution of democracy is the rise of mutualism. Whether in the governance of corporate entities, the distribution of welfare or the administration of public services, such as education and policing.

It is why I continue to have such hope for my own food co-op, even when it seems hell bent on emulating every nasty conventional corporatist antic that Enron, Wal-Mart or Fox News ever dreamt up.

And it is why also, among all the ‘omnishambles,’ I continue to have a wee bit of faith in the British Coalition Government. At least on the face of it, that Government appears to preach a belief in co-operation. A belief which will find considerable underpinning if said Coalition promotes to its ranks in the coming Government reshuffle one of the most ardent Conservative Party proponents of localism and co-operation, Jesse Norman, MP.

In the meantime, with the North Carolina sun pounding down, I think I will allow my mind to dwell more happily on the prospect of an economic policy where the person predicting what happens to my naughty bits is Friedrich von Hayek’s distant relative, Salma…

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Weave, 2022 Vision, Employee Empowerment - The Letter

I have made it a point never to criticize Weaver Street Market Co-operative management, policy, strategy or tactics, without offering an alternative.

In respect of the manner in which WSM management told us at our Annual Store Meeting they were going to plan and implement 2022 Vision, I'm doing it the other way round.

I offered the alternative already. Now I set out my criticism, in the letter I wrote to the chain of management, beginning with my Department Manager and ending with the General Manager:

"If you ever wanted to know why I engage in what I know distresses some in management, namely taking the discussion in our co-operative to a wider audience, even to the extent of disseminating what some of you consider internal documents, last night was a prime example.

The whole of the Annual Store Meeting came down to this: you will all be expected to raise it a notch, because we in management have a vision.

It doesn’t matter if it is a noble vision. It doesn’t matter if it is well considered. Passionate. Exciting. Far reaching. It is a vision that has been put together by a few, with little opportunity for those upon whom it depends for success having any meaningful input.

Does this matter? Yes. Logic dictates that your workforce will be more invested in any vision if it is a vision they helped to design. But more than this, you simply have no right to be abrogating to yourselves the right to design the vision alone.

It’s no good saying, but we employees can have input, when you stand before us and declare what it is you will be expecting from us to implement the vision. Enough of the major decision-making has been undertaken, so as to make our input superfluous.

It’s not so much the horse has bolted. It’s gone. The stable door’s been shut. The stable repainted. And the farm sold. And you’re asking me what name I’d like to give the horse.

Again, why does this matter? Because some of the primary principles of co-operation are equality, democracy and openness. There was little about last evening that suggested an equality of democracy in the fashioning and implementation of this vision.

I hope you prove me wrong. I hope that last evening proves to be only the beginning of the conversation about the 10-year vision. That there will be wider discussion in the co-op – discussion that is meaningful, not mere window-dressing. I hope there will be some attempt to devolve implementation of the vision down to the units and the departments. But the language of last evening makes it more hope than expectation.

To all intents and purposes what I saw last evening was not bare bones. It was driving force. Armed and ready to go. Leading food business in the Triangle. Three new stores. Increase sales to fund. All the result of many months of planning. And all without us.

I would have preferred that the planning, the discussion had commenced in the working groups now being touted. I take my view of co-operation in Weaver Street from the definition and principles defined by the ICA, from WSM’s Mission Statement, and from the Worker-Owner Mission Statement. I’m not sure where you take yours.

As such, I believe that strategy should commence with the body of stakeholders, not management. The latter can provide some talking points. But last night and the past few months have been about a lot more than mere subject heads.

If those working groups had been convened properly, I would have spoken out against further expansion. I would have asked that we pay off our existing debt, before outlining new capital expenditure.

I would have insisted that any new expansion place no burden on employees without their concurrence. And you’re placing burden without concurrence when you tell employees to raise it a notch, and you don’t give them an opportunity (in a co-op, where the principles of co-operation say we are equal) to say, no thanks.

I would have suggested that we have quite enough still to do absorbing the last expansion. Much remaining to get right. I would have wondered if ‘local’ does not actually mean providing for the needs of our immediate community (Southern Village). And whether it would not be better to find out what they, our immediate stakeholders want, not the rest of the Triangle.

Anyway. That would have been some of my specific input. The more important point is that it wasn’t sought when the major planning was under way. And there is little suggestion that, even if working groups are convened now, that input, even if it were to find favor with a body of stakeholders, would have any meaningful impact upon the direction management seem already to have chosen.

And that is why I widen the discussion. Because you won’t. And the principles of co-operation, the WSM Mission Statement and the Worker-Owner Mission Statement demand that you should.

On a couple of side notes. As a former management consultant, I was a little unhappy with some of the figures you presented in the opening section, comparing the performance of WSM with the alleged activities of other grocery stores. It is normal to give sources.

There has been a move in recent years, during these presentations, to make the dubious inference that certain practices are ‘standard’ or ‘normal,’ when no such justification is given for the assertion.

I would have questioned the statements at the time, but there was no Q and A section for that, and I did not want to swamp the General Discussion section. Again, it really is asking a bit much of us to try to cram last year and the coming year all into, what, 40 minutes of General Discussion, don’t you think?

I would be grateful if one of you could please go through each of the slides at the beginning, and provide me with the source for the comparative figures – sales increases (Micki said something about these being ‘normal’ for grocery stores; um, says who; and what is normal for a co-op is what that co-op decides for itself, with respect?), pay increases, et al.

There has been some discussion about the alleged separation of ‘governance’ and ‘operations.’ I think it is an illusion that serves those who wish to prevent wider discussion of strategy.

For me, the separation is between strategy and tactics. Stakeholders decide strategy, and the paid staff then implement the tactics. That is what is ‘normal’ in other co-operatives.

But it isn’t really separated. Ruffin might say that 2022 Vision is merely a tactical implementation of the strategy of the WSM Mission Statement. I would say that tactics is choosing the wallpaper for the new stores. Not deciding how many to build.

When you ask folks on the cash register to sell co-operative ownership, they are promoting governance. When management makes decisions that affect what owners may expect, that is operations straying into governance. When the Board sets the budget, it is defining operations.

When governance drafts a Mission Statement that says that the work experience should be fulfilling, and a manager says that the Mission Statement is not co-op policy, then that is a conflict between governance and operations.

When operations craft changes to Employee Policy, which, on the face of them, interfere with a work-owner’s duty to promote co-operative principles in the community, then that is another conflict between governance and operations.

There is another way of looking at the dichotomy, specifically as it relates to 2022 Vision. If one says that 2022 Vision is governance, then operations have no place promulgating its design. Instead, as a worker owner, there should be separate discussion available to me.

If, however, one is advancing the argument that 2022 Vision is within the purview of operations, then I am a part of operations too, and I should have equal impact upon its design.

Otherwise, we have created a tri-partite model of co-operation: governance, management and staff. A model that is not recognized by John Carver, or by any other aspect of co-operation that I have seen or read.

So. The distinction between governance and operations is not as clear as some would like. What the distinction does require, and it is pretty much all that it demands, is that Directors and worker-owners have no right, in that capacity, to tell a member of staff what to do. And operations may not bypass their accountability to stakeholders and the Board of Directors.

Finally, I will be returning my 360 Evaluation this year uncompleted. Frankly, after last evening, I do not feel it makes any difference. You will make the decisions you make in any event.

And to be honest, whether you think there should be equality, democracy, transparency and openness in a co-op, indeed and perhaps, because I think that you do not, when co-operative principles demand that there should be, I regard this letter and any responses as open material.

If you believe in what you say, then you should have enough conviction to stand by it publicly. I do.

All the best,

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Weave, 2022 Vision and Employee Empowerment

Workers of The Weave, it’s entirely up to you. If you want real input to 2022 Vision (which is being presented at each of our Annual Unit Meetings), then read on. If not, sit back, enjoy the raffle, and expect in this coming (and in future) years to continue to be told to work harder, for less.

Don’t get me wrong, the Vision 2022 which Ruffin and my store management team presented with passion was very compelling. But it was theirs. Not ours. They spent the last 6 months designing our destiny for us.

I didn’t waste too much time last evening on my preferred alternative Vision 2022. You can read it elsewhere. And besides, there wasn’t enough time.

I focused on one thing. Trying to get them to understand that sustainability of a 10-year vision in a co-op requires that those you want to implement the vision (your employees) be invested in it. And we employees will only be invested in it, if we had a hand in designing it, and if we then have a hand in deciding how to implement it.

Well, came the retort, this is only the beginning. Hmm. If it’s only the beginning, and nothing is yet set in stone, how come half the meeting was spent with our Store Manager telling us (not inviting, not asking, telling us) that the Vision (which has not yet been finalized) will be implemented by requiring each of us to “raise the bar.”

Er. Sounds like a done deal to me. Also sounds like working harder to me. Forget, for why. I’ve run that argument for so many years I’ve lost count. Today, I’m interested in, says who? In a co-op. Where we are all equal. And decision-making is supposed to be consensual.


Oh well. Never say die. I didn’t. And I proposed three ways of rendering the whole 2022 Vision process a tad more sustainable:

1) Since management insisted 2022 Vision was not yet a done deal, I challenged them on the assertion. Suggested that WSM use Panzanella on Monday evenings, to convene discussion groups of workers and consumers, to consider any and all aspects of planning for the next ten years.

2) Argued that sustainability of implementation required devolution of decision-making to the units and to departments. Once the Vision has been agreed, and overall annual budgets set, let units and departments make all the decisions of implementation themselves. This is not as wild as it sounds.

3) Open up an Online Forum for wider and continuing discussion. A template already exists. It was created back in 2008.

If any part of these suggestions makes any sense to any fellow workers of The Weave (and Panzanella), then go ahead and raise them at your own meetings. Or. Sit back. And wait for diktat …

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The NY Times 'Ethicist': Social Media and Harassment

As chance would have it, a letter on 'The Ethicist' page of 'The New York Times' this past Sunday deals with the ethics of an employer seeking to regulate employees' postings on social media sites.

The letter posits an extreme example. But the principles that I have been arguing remain the same:

1) Postings by employees must be shown significantly and unavoidably to be impacting the workplace and co-workers, before an employer gets involved.

2) If harassment is alleged, then it must be objectively demonstrable that the employee feels harassed in the workplace, before an employer get involved. It's not enough for an employee simply to say, I feel harassed. Not if the harassment is not taking place in the workplace.

3) The fullest opportunity should be given to the allegedly offending employee to cease and desist before any disciplinary action is taken.

And yes, this little gem is winging its way to the WSM corporate office management team as well ...

Call To Arms: Stop Weaver Street Market Censorship - Research and Advice

The opening line of the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Worker-Owner Mission Statement demands that all "worker-owners demonstrate co-operative principles ... in the workplace and the community." How can we do that when the WSM corporate office seek to muzzle our advocacy of co-operative principles in the workplace and the community?

That is the essence of my opposition to the changes that the WSM corporate office management team are proposing to the clauses in WSM Employee Policy dealing with 'Confidentiality of Information' and 'Social Media Policy.' And it is why I have now renewed my own worker-ownership.

It is also one of the many items of interest upon which I came while engaging in further research upon these subjects, and seeking some advice from one or two institutions. All of which I forwarded to the WSM corporate office management team:

"Dear Ruffin, Deborah, Board and Community Stakeholders of Weaver Street Market Co-operative,

I write further to my first e-mail concerning the proposed changes to Employee Policy, put forward this past week by the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Corporate Office Management Team. This after further research and taking advice from certain legal bodies with respect to civil rights.

My concern in essence is this: we are not merely a conventional business, able therefore only to employ conventional business language. We are also a co-operative enterprise, and should therefore qualify the conventional business language with caveats that incorporate the sensitivities of co-operative principles, to which we claim to subscribe.

Just as an example, but an important one (certainly it is what has inspired and guided all of my public advocacy about WSM these past seven years), the opening line of the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Worker-Owner Mission Statement demands that all "worker-owners demonstrate co-operative principles ... in the workplace and the community." How can we do that when the WSM corporate office seek to muzzle our advocacy of co-operative principles in the workplace and the community?

Let me begin, therefore, by enunciating the important co-operative provisions which WSM say they support, but which are glaringly absent from the proposed changes. So, the Values of Co-operation, as defined by the International Co-operative Alliance, and to which WSM say they subscribe, state the following:

Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

The Weaver Street Market Co-operative primary Mission Statement has the following provisions:

·  Fair - mutually beneficial and non-exploitative
·  Inclusive - accessible to the whole community
·  Interactive - creates opportunity for community interaction
·  Empowering - enables fulfilling work and customer experiences
·  Educational - develops an informed community

The Weaver Street Market Co-operative Worker-Owner Mission Statement (in full) demands the following:

As worker owners we demonstrate the co-operative principles through our actions in the workplace and the community. Our mission is to create opportunities for all workers to take responsibility for the business, participate in decision making, contribute to the community, and benefit from their involvement

These three excerpts represent co-op policy in WSM that is superior to Employee Policy, which can not therefore be in conflict with the superior co-op policy. You can not, therefore, introduce changes to Employee Policy which seek to curtail democracy, openness, accessibility by the community, community interaction, fulfilling work experiences, an informed community, or the ability of worker-owners freely to demonstrate co-operative principles in the workplace and the community.

Your proposed changes to 'Confidentiality of Information' and 'Social Media Policy' do just that.

There is no language in your proposed changes seeking balance between the imperatives of business and co-operation. No safeguards for those honestly pursuing the demand to demonstrate co-operative principles in the workplace and the community. No objective definition or examples offered of what is meant by 'legitimate business interest' or 'adverse effect.' Rather, we are left with the impression that such will be defined, at whim, by the WSM Corporate Office Management Team.

Finally, there is no mention of North Carolina's Retaliatory Employment Discrimination Act, specifically NC General Statute 95-241, which prohibits disciplinary action for acknowledged public whistle blowing.

Most very restrictive clauses dealing with 'Confidentiality of Information' are to be found in companies which create intellectual property as their primary enterprise. That is not the case with WSM.

Bearing that in mind, and what I say above, I would be happier to see a less restrictive clause on 'Confidentiality of Information,' much along the more specific lines of the one I suggested in my previous e-mail, together with caveats protecting employees who disseminate information in pursuit of the superior co-op policy iterated above, and where discipline is not to be considered if there has been no malice, no monetary gain, and no substantive damage to customers, employees or more precisely defined legitimate commercial concerns.

Please also bear in mind this point. All worker-owners are proprietors of WSM. So we are all, equally, proprietors of information to which WSM is privy. Subject to rules of disclosure relating to personnel and customer records, all proprietors have an equal right to disclose or not disclose information which is proprietary to WSM's proprietors.

In the same fashion, I would be much happier to see no 'Social Media Policy' at all. I think we should be treated as adults, who know how to protect the interest of the co-op we all love. A slight modification of that view would be to have 'Social Media Policy' included in 'Communications with Media,' by the simple remedy of including Social Media with other forms of Media to be contacted. So that the only restriction would be making clear that posts are personal, not corporate.

If it was truly felt necessary to enunciate more control over Social Media interaction than this, then I would suggest a more comprehensive 'Social Media Policy,' one offering exactly the same caveats as I propose above, for 'Confidentiality of Information,' and also setting control within the context of a generous understanding of the popularity of Social Media, and the desire of WSM not to interfere with employees' freedom of belief and expression away from the legitimate workplace.

Examples can be found on the following web-site (in addition, I set out in full at the end of this e-mail one of the better examples I've come across):

Plus, I link to a web-site which sets out some of the pitfalls for employers in trying to draft Social Media Policies that are too restrictive, especially those that seek to curtail commentary about work when off the clock:

On a final and personal note, I would like confirmation that my writings of the past seven years will not fall foul of the proposed changes, if I continue with them. And, if there is any suggestion that they might, I would like specific clarification as to why.

All the best,

Example of Social Media Policy

A. Policy Statement

Whether or not a employee chooses to create or participate in a blog, wiki, online social network or any other form of online publishing or discussion is his or her own decision. However, recognizes that emerging online collaboration platforms are fundamentally changing the way individuals and organizations communicate, and this policy is designed to offer practical guidance for responsible, constructive communications via social media channels for employees.

The same principles and guidelines that apply to the activities of employees in general, as found in the and ’s Professional Conduct Policy, apply to employee activities in social media channels and any other form of online publishing.

Our organization fully respects the legal rights of our employees in all countries in which we operate, including their rights under the National Labor Relations Board to engage in concerted and protected activities, and any part of this policy which interferes with or "chills" the legal rights of our employees will not be enforced. In general, what you do on your own time is your affair. However, activities in or outside of work that affect your job performance, the performance of others, or 's business interests are a proper focus for company policy.

B. Definitions

1. Social Media Channels - Blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, social networks, social bookmarking services, user rating services and any other online collaboration, sharing or publishing platform, whether accessed through the web, a mobile device, text messaging, email or any other existing or emerging communications platform.

2. Social Media Account – A personalized presence inside a social networking channel, initiated at will by an individual. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and other social networking channels allow users to sign-up for their own social media account, which they can use to collaborate, interact and share content and status updates. When a user communicates through a social media account, their disclosures are attributed to their User Profile.

3. Social Media Disclosures - Blog posts, blog comments, status updates, text messages, posts via email, images, audio recordings, video recordings or any other information made available through a social media channel. Social media disclosures are the actual communications a user distributes through a social media channel, usually by means of their social media account.

4. External vs. Internal Social Media Channels – External social media channels are social media services that do not reside at a domain. Internal social media channels are located at a company- owned domain, require a password to access and are only visible to employees and other approved individuals.

5. User Profile – Social Media Account holders customize their User Profile within a Social Media Channel with specific information about themselves which can be made available others users.

6. Copyrights – Copyrights protect the right of an author to control the reproduction and use of any creative expression that has been fixed in tangible form, such as literary works, graphical works, photographic works, audiovisual works, electronic works and musical works. It is illegal to reproduce and use copyrighted material through social media channels without the permission of the copyright owner.

7. Hosted Content – Text, pictures, audio, video or other information in digital form that is uploaded and resides in the social media account of the author of a social media disclosure. If you download content off of the Internet, and then upload it to your social media account, you are hosting that content. This distinction is important because it is generally illegal to host copyrighted content publicly on the Internet without first obtaining the permission of the copyright owner.

8. Embed Codes – Unique codes that are provided to entice others to share online content without requiring the sharer to host that content. By means of an embed code, it is possible to display a YouTube user’s video in someone else’s social media account without requiring that person to host the source video file. This distinction is important because embed codes are often used by copyright owners to encourage others to share their content via social media channels.

9. Controversial Issues – Issues that form the basis of heated debate, often identified in political campaigns as wedge issues, since they provoke a strong emotional response. Examples include political views, health care reform, gun control and abortion. Religious beliefs may also be controversial, particularly to those intolerant of beliefs different from their own.

10. Official Content – Publicly available online content created and made public by our company, verified by virtue of the fact that it is accessible through our corporate website .

11. Inbound Links – An inbound link is a hyperlink that transits from one domain to another. A hyperlink that transits from an external domain to your own domain is referred to as inbound link. Inbound links are important because they play a role in how search engines rank pages and domains in search results.

12. Link Bartering Exchanges – Trading or purchasing inbound links from other domains exclusively for the purposes of lifting your domain in search engine page results.

13. Tweets and Retweets – A tweet is a 140 character social media disclosure distributed on the Twitter micro-blogging service. Retweets are tweets from one Twitter user that are redistributed by another Twitter user. Retweets are how information propagates on Twitter.

C. Objectives

1. Establish practical, reasonable and enforceable guidelines by which our employees can conduct responsible, constructive social media engagement in both official and unofficial capacities.

2. Promote a safe environment for employees to share subject matter expertise that is not proprietary and earn management's recognition for the outstanding use of social media for business.

3. Prepare our company and employees to utilize social media channels to help each other and the communities serves, particularly in the event of a crisis, disaster or emergency.

4. Protect our company and employees from violating Municipal, State or Federal rules, regulations or laws through social media channels.

D. Guiding Principles

1. Our organizations trusts and expects employees to exercise personal responsibility whenever they use social media, which includes not violating the trust of those with whom they are engaging. Employees should never use social media for covert advocacy, marketing or public relations. If and when employees use social media to communicate on behalf of , they should clearly identify themselves as employees.

2. Only those officially designated can use social media to speak on behalf of our company in an official capacity, though employees may use social media to speak for themselves individually or to exercise their legal rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

3. When you see misrepresentations made about by media, analyst, bloggers or other social media users, you may certainly use your blog, social networking account, or someone else's to point that out. But you may only do so in an official capacity if you follow the terms of this policy.

4. Different social media channels have proper and improper business uses. For example, members of social networks are expected to read, and when appropriate respond, to questions asked of them from another member of their social network. It is important for employees to understand what is recommended, expected and required when they discuss or -related topics, whether at work or on their own time.

5. Employees are responsible for ensuring that all contractors, vendors and agencies that the company has a formal relationship with have received and agreed to abide by these guidelines in writing.

6. Employees are responsible for making sure that their online activities do not interfere with their ability to fulfill their job requirements or their commitments to their managers, co-workers or customers."