Tuesday, August 14, 2012

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."