Thursday, August 2, 2012

Call To Arms: Stop Weaver Street Market Censorship

Imagine that. The Corporate Office Management Team of Weaver Street Market Co-operative do not like open discussion of their performance or of the plans they put together in secret.

So, they have proposed changes to Employee Policy that ban such transparency and democracy, under the guise of tightening up ‘Confidentiality of Proprietary Information’ and ‘Communications with Media’ (including ‘Social Media’).

Folks. Enough. We employees can’t fight this on our own. If you are a stakeholder with WSM (consumer, owner or worker), please immediately write to the WSM General Manager, Ruffin Slater (, ask for a copy of the proposed changes, and then demand that these proposed changes be withdrawn.

If you can’t get a hold of a copy of the proposed changes, contact me – I’ll give you a copy. Which, by the way, would render me liable to immediate discharge under the proposed changes.

In the meantime, I have (not surprisingly) got the ball rolling by writing my own letter:

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

The Proposed Changes to Employee Policy, put forward this past week by the Weaver Street Market Co-operative Corporate Office Management Team, a small minority of our co-op, within which, by definition, all stakeholders (workers, consumers and owners) are equal, represent an egregious breach of so many co-operative and democratic principles, it is hard to know where to start. What I can say immediately is that they are illegal.

I refer specifically to the Changes which seek to ban open disclosure and discussion of information that is essential to any democratic conversation about performance and plans within our co-op.

Let’s deal with philosophy and then move onto law. Somewhere along the line, the Corporate Office Management Team have lost sight of what defines a co-op and the way it is supposed to work, plan and monitor itself.

I would invite that Team to refresh its understanding of the same by re-reading the Definition, Principles and Values of Co-operation, as expounded by the International Co-operative Alliance, and to which WSM repeatedly states it adheres.

A co-operative exists to meet the common needs of its stakeholders. Those needs can only properly and democratically be determined by the stakeholders themselves. Yet, the WSM Corporate Office Management Team now believe that they and they alone should be the ones to decide what are the common needs.

And further, when and if someone seeks to challenge that latter and erroneous assumption publicly, the Corporate Office Management Team assume they have the right arbitrarily to punish that challenge under the guise of executive privilege.

I really think there is little more that I can add to underline the arrant nonsense of this stand of the Corporate Office Management Team, its bold arrogance and its almost complete removal from anything any reasonable person would recognize as underpinning co-operative principles of openness, transparency and democracy.

You can’t do it. And if you try to, legal challenge will be brought. On the following bases:

First, breach of the First Amendment.

Secondly, breach of Whistle Blowing Rights. Far from encouraging a relaxed and socially conscious policy of reasonable whistle blowing, the WSM Corporate Office Management Team seeks to introduce a policy that unequivocally punishes any and all whistle blowing.

Thirdly, Employee Policy specifically protects employees against disciplinary action for ethical dissent. How can dissent have any teeth if it cannot be public? And how can it be public if one is not allowed to refer to that which one is dissenting?

That will do for starters.

Getting to specifics:

1)    I agree with the change to ‘Communications with the Media,’ precisely because it does not ban contact with the media; it merely stipulates that one may not speak on behalf of ‘the company’ (which is a little broad, but it will do).

2)    I do not agree with the proposed change to ‘Confidentiality of Information.’ In a co-op, which is supposed to be dedicated to transparency, and has just spent an awful lot of time and money selling itself as an organization which ‘connects’ with its public, you can not (and legally may not) have a policy which severely limits the information that public may have at its disposal, as it seeks to engage actively with its ‘community-owned grocery.’

It is not enough that the Corporate Office Management Team feel embarrassed by information being made public, wherever that information may have originated. The test must be whether the legal rights of an individual have been trespassed. That, and that alone.

The further test is that the onus on justifying such censorship should be on those seeking to prevent transparency; not on the stakeholder, from revealing and openly discussing the information which that stakeholder deems essential to democratic conversation within a democratic and transparent co-op.

I believe that the ‘Confidentiality of Information’ clause should be restricted solely to the following:

Disclosure of legitimate confidential information, especially relating to customers and personnel, where such disclosure adversely affects a customer or member of personnel or the legitimate commercial interests of the company, is prohibited. Breaches of such confidentiality may be subject to corrective action up to and including immediate discharge.

Anything more than this is unnecessarily burdensome, and illegal.

3)    The proposed addition on ‘Social Media Policy’ should be abandoned. Not least because, in light of (2), it is redundant.

Besides which, any halfwit reading the lengthy whine posing as reasonable safeguard will perceive it as nothing more than brittle over-reaction to honest debate (tinged with the occasional excess of humor at the expense of authority).

Come on. If the Corporate Office Management Team cannot stand a little democratic scrutiny and a couple of belly laughs, then they need a vacation.

You may not, by law, curb legitimate gossip about work, when off-duty. It matters not whether that gossip is with a couple of lads at the bar. Or with 5,000 Friends on Facebook.

Employee Policy may only legislate behavior when at work. Provided nothing said, written or acted out by someone outside of work, off the clock, is presented as being offered on half of the company, then it is none of your business.

As far as such ‘gossip’ adversely affecting the rights of an employee or a customer, if the ‘gossip’ concerned was engaged in outside of work, then redress is available to the customer or employee through the normal legal channels of proceedings in the public courts. It is outside of the jurisdiction of WSM.

The only possible exception is if it could be proven that such ‘gossip’ was engaged in while using company property, on company premises, even off the clock, and the ‘gossip’ was always intended for public consumption. It’s a narrow exception, but just about legal.

But, I repeat, WSM can’t legislate what employees do on their own time.

On this ‘Social Media Policy’ more generally, if not downright hilariously, you cannot ban the dissemination of Company Financial Reports. If ever one needed an example of the fact that these Proposed Changes simply represent unjustified over-compensation by a self-important few for their bruised egos, it is this. How can you ban the dissemination by employees of the Annual Report?

I am happy to meet with the Human Resources Manager further. But if there is any serious attempt to introduce changes which breach First Amendment rights and the specific clause in Employee Policy allowing ethical dissent, then legal challenge will follow.

In any other context, these Proposed Changes to Employee Policy would be seen for what they are: the last desperate and draconian resort of an isolated and authoritarian few attempting illegitimately to hinder full discussion of and accountability for an unsustainable argument they are losing.

Oh. And I regard these Proposed Changes to be so egregious an attack on employee rights and democracy, openness and transparency within my co-op, that I intend fully to disseminate the contents of this letter to as many stakeholders of WSM as possible, as a matter of ethical dissent.

All the best,

[Oh. And if you want to know what it is that the WSM Corporate Office Management Team are pissed about, scan the next eight articles on my this blog. You'll get the idea ... ]