Friday, January 13, 2012

Happy Workers = Happy Customers, Stupid!!

We industrious little elves at Weaver Street Market Co-operative learned a fascinating new tidbit this week from our lord and master 1% managers in the corporate office – Zingermans provides excellent customer service because its workers are happy. We know this because we got to watch Zingermans' training video.

So. I sat there thinking: and your point is what? I mean, for the very first time, ooh, probably since I achieved puberty, I found myself agreeing with the higher-ups at WSM, who spend their time behind a combination lock in the corporate office, in Hillsborough, NC.

I raised this with our lovely Training Manager, who, bless her, has still retained her soul. So, if you guys get that we need to be happy to give good customer service, what are you doing to make us less unhappy? Frankly, I said to her, why don’t you take the video back to the corporate office managers, tell them to substitute ‘worker service’ for ‘customer service,’ and it might give them a clue as to what they could start doing right.

You folks out there, you who are customers or consumer-owners with WSM, take a good look around when you next shop, and you’re feeling all happy-clappy because you just bought organic, hemp underpants on Aisle 13, in your ‘real,’ local co-op. Take a good look at your workers. Do they strike you as overjoyed?

If you want to see happy, try Trader Joe's. I asked some of their workers why they were so annoyingly jocular the whole, bloody time. Two pay raises a year. A living wage. Light workload. Light management touch. Good holidays. Great bonuses … at this point, I couldn’t hear them any more for choking back the tears.

Try WSM. One pay raise a year. And a measly one at that. No bonus worth sneezing on. No incentives. A workload that we can barely handle. And one that gets larger every year – without discussion or explanation worth squat. It’s called exploitation, people. And our Mission Statement – your MS – specifically forbids it. The same MS that demands that the work experience be as fulfilling as the customer experience.

Why is this the case, and why do I go on working here? Second part is easy. Because I care. Because I don’t like seeing my friends get hurt. Because I still think we can make WSM a stronger business and a better co-op. And because I practice Occupy; I don’t just preach it. I believe I’m still capable of helping to build part of the paradigm alternative to corporatist, consumerist capitalism.

But why does the corporate office management team get away with exploitation? Well, I guess the first point to make is why does it want to?

The answer to that is because the same corporate office management team ran up $10 million in debt in 2007/2008, financing the new store in Hillsborough and a new Food House (which any sane person now realizes was a disaster), without telling anyone. And then agreed to pay it all back within about 6 years. Which results in we workers having to work hard enough to raise about $2 million a year in interest and principal repayments, on top of the normal turnover of about $28 million.

The more important question is, how come corporate office managers get away with dumping all of this on we the workers? Answer: because we let them. You customers and consumer-owners let them, because you don’t pay attention; you don’t attend meetings; and you don’t ask questions.

We workers let them get away with it, because we don’t speak up. We just had Department Meetings throughout the co-op – those would be the ones where we got to see the infamous happy-dappy Zingermans' video. Did anyone else speak up and say, well then, make us bloody happy! You can tell us what to do; but you can’t demand we be happy. It’s up to you to create conditions that allow us to be happy. Anyone? Speak up? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller … ??

I have – once again – undertaken a Dispute Process under the WSM Employee Policy, raising my concern that workers are not as happy as they could be, because there is too much work, not enough staff, not enough reward or incentive, all because there is too much debt, and we stakeholders (we workers, owners and customers) are not allowed to discuss alternative business plans.

I will eventually get to the Board of Directors, through the Appeals process, where I will ask the Directors, first, to demand that the corporate office management team hold a Full Co-op Employees’ Meeting, where we workers can, in the safety of numbers, raise our concerns, compare notes and get answers.

Next, I will ask the Directors to establish an Owners’ Task Force, to examine the finances of WSM, to devise possible alternative business pathways to repaying our huge debt, alternatives that do not exploit workers. And then, to investigate worker conditions, to determine if they are compatible with the MS requirement that the work experience be fulfilling.

I will do this. But, to be honest, guys, the corporate office managers will pay no attention if they think this is all just me. If you customers care about your workers, start paying attention. Ask questions. Go to meetings. Demand that this Task Force be set up, by writing to: Serve on it once it has been created.

And to my fellow workers. Speak up. Find the courage. It’s no good complaining to me. Telling me. Writing me. As you do. Your managers and the corporate office management team need to hear it from you.

Some of us spend some time at the moment decrying what is happening on Wall Street and in Washington, DC. Screw that! Start noticing what is happening in our own backyard. In our own local co-op.

1% is not just a financial status. It is a state of mind. It is a state of mind to be found among the corporate office management team of WSM, where they say that it is ok for them to dictate what happens in our co-op, because they run it.

Well, they don’t. It’s OUR co-op. And co-operative values state that a co-op should be democratically controlled by its stakeholders; not by a few, self-appointed managers in the corporate office.

But these are meaningless words unless we find the time and the guts to speak up, speak out and demand change. It’s up to you, folks. We can have what we want. But we have to be the ones to demand it. It’s no good waiting for someone else to do it for us.