Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Co-op Mission Statement is not Co-op Policy

Yes, you read that right. After some 6 months of my pursuing an exchange with the Weaver Street Market Co-operative corporate office management team and the WSM Board of Directors, the BoD have confirmed to me in writing their support for the line of our General Manager that our Mission Statement is not co-op policy, and it matters not a fig if management are in compliance with it, or not.

Ok. Where did all this come from? Well, back in December 2011, I began a Dispute under WSM’s Employee Policy, claiming that management was in breach of co-op policy, because my work experience was not fulfilling (as the Mission Statement demands that it should be), since I was being asked to work harder and harder, without explanation, or the opportunity to discuss the situation with my fellow workers, and to be involved in the decision-making process that was asking me to work harder and harder (which Employee Policy and Board Policy both require).

Look. I know that’s a mouthful. But the path to co-operative and humanly-decent nirvana in our workplace sometimes needs a little injection of verbal diarrhea.

You can read the full exchange with the higher-ups in WSM in this booklet that I have prepared. Or, you can read on for the shorter version. And let me just say that there could be no better day for my writing this exposition, seeing as it is May 1, International Workers’ Day, and the WSM bigwigs are today providing hospitality (at who knows whose expense) to the even bigger-wigs from the visiting Board of the National Co-operative Grocers’ Association (of which our General Manager is a Board Member), at the swanky Aloft Hotel, here in Chapel Hill.

So. I submit my Dispute. WSM’s Human Resources Manager has first bite. She comes back and says that my work experience is what the WSM corporate office deem to be normal for someone at my work level (remember the LSWSW … ??). I replied to her that’s not what the Mission Statement demands. It doesn’t say my work experience should be what the corporate office finds ok. It should be fulfilling for me.

Next step up, the General Manager. He’s the one who said, well, the Mission Statement isn’t co-op policy. When I managed to pick myself up off the floor, and wipe away the tears of mirth, I wrote back to him and said, don’t be such a clot, of course it is. The Mission Statement is our very most basic co-op policy.

Next step up. Appeal to the WSM Board of Directors. They fiffed and they faffed for some four months. I eventually wrote to them and said, when on earth are you going to let me appear before you to address my appeal, as is the norm? They wrote back to me yesterday and said, we’ve made our decision without reference to you. Your Dispute is rejected. No explanation. No reasons. Goodnight. Goodbye. See ya.

I don’t care so much for me. I can look after myself in my workplace. But I care for all those of my fellow workers who don’t want to make waves, because they love the co-op, they just want to fit in, they want that pay raise, and they don’t want to risk losing promotion. There is nothing wrong with anyone feeling like that. It’s called self-preservation, self-respect and personal integrity.

What is wrong is when a co-op behaves like the very worst sort of 1% corporation, and takes advantage of the fears of its workers to impose upon them conditions which are close to exploitation. When that same co-op ignores all of its policy, and refuses to allow its workers (whom the GM keeps reminding us half-own the co-op) any meaningful opportunity to design their work experience, or to have some sort of control over their destiny.

We, at Weaver Street Market Co-operative, are supposed to be a part of the answer to the grasping, remote, uncaring, corporate capitalism that caused The Great Recession. Instead, we have become a part of that same corporate capitalism.

The most stinging act of all is the Board simply refused to address the two remedies I suggested to begin the process of ensuring our co-op and its corporate office management team were once more in compliance with co-op policy.

By way of remedy, I didn’t ask for a new car, or more money for me, or a nicer locker. No. I asked only that WSM hold a Full Meeting of all the Employees, where we would be able to quiz the corporate office management team, in the solidarity of numbers, as to why we need to go on working harder and harder, when we are already making a profit.

The second remedy was for the Board to set up a Task Force of worker- and consumer-owners to investigate the full financial situation of our co-op, determine if the financial goals were necessary, and to see if those goals impacted too deleteriously upon the workforce (not least by trying to find a way to allow workers to express their views in complete confidence).

By rejecting my Dispute, the WSM Board of Directors did not so much let me down; they let down all 220 of the employees of Weaver Street Market and Panzanella. That’s just plain sad. But. I’m not done. There are further avenues of redress. I will keep you updated.

In the meantime, whether you are a worker, a consumer or an owner with WSM, there is much that you can do. Go to the WSM web-site. Read the co-op ownership section. Attend meetings. Ask questions. Your co-op gets away with being less than the co-op it could be only because you do not pay more attention …