Thursday, January 23, 2014

Only Republicans Can Restore MLK's Dream ...

Once again. Got your attention. Now. Here me out. Oh. I should point out that I did actually write and post this (elsewhere) on MLK Day. Just posting it late here.

The last year has been a pretty bad one for Barack Obama. But I don’t find too many folks any more disillusioned than they were when he achieved a landslide victory against Mitt Romney in 2012. They’re unhappy now. They were unhappy then. Maybe for different reasons. But he got his second term.

What he did not get was much of a supporting cast. The Senate became a bit more friendly. The House, still unfriendly. But the most telling trend, a continuation of the pattern set in 2010, was Republican success in State governance. We now have a situation where almost half of the States have Republicans in total control of both the Governorship and the Legislature.

In almost every instance, this Republican surge, federal and state wise, has been fueled by copious amounts of greenback from rich folks and their front organizations. In North Carolina, dollar store owner Art Pope was the fairy godfather. He also supplied the new Republican NC Governor (Pat McCrory) with his new budget chief. Er. Himself.

The result across the country, since 2010, has been a swathe of legislation undermining programs that empower working and middle-class Americans. Why would this be?

Well. And this is only my opinion. The middle-class is dead. And the rich no longer need working folk, poor or otherwise. Never did. Even less now. But why?

Because rich America no longer makes its money investing in American manufacturing and its support structures. Which used to require the American middle-class to manage it, and American workers to provide labor and market. Rich America now makes its money speculating in the rapid growth of emerging nations.

So, rich America no longer has any interest in safety nets or aspiration programs for its own working and middle classes. Period. Hence the Koch Brothers and Art Pope. North Carolina – a state which has so become the poster boy for rich-boy Republican throwback that it gets written up in newspapers from the land of my birth (er … the UK). Pat McCrory. Paul Ryan. And Ted Cruz.

That, however, is not the worst. The most chilling feature of this whole shambles is the support given to this slideback in history by working Republicans. Car lot owners. Farmers. Tea Partiers. But why is that support so avidly given?

Because they truly believe the dishonest mish-mash put forth by the likes of Art Pope that said mish-mash actually has something to do with freedom, patriotism and the original intention of the Founding Fathers.

Working Republicans have no clue (yet) that the entire philosophic edifice put forth by the Pope-Koch mob is about nothing more than lining the pockets of folks who would foreclose, bankrupt, gouge and merrily destroy each and every one of those working Republican suckers, if it meant allowing rich fat cat Republicans the opportunity to buy one more yacht, purchase one more vacation home.

And in that one word – yet – lies the only likely salvation of Martin Luther King’s and the American Dream.

There aren’t any more Democrat votes to milk. 2012 proved that. And it wasn’t enough. We now need the votes of those working Republicans. And they will only be made available when those working Republicans begin to suffer the consequences of what they have been told to vote for.

When it is their friends and neighbors making claim against corporations for polluting the local water source. When it is their friends and neighbors unable to claim unemployment benefit. When it is their friends and neighbors sending their kids into schools which do not have enough teachers.

Then and only then will working Republicans switch their votes.

What can be done to speed the process? Not much, in my opinion. It may take as much as a decade for the penny finally to drop. In the meantime, however, I predict more horrors may be in store for us. I believe for example that in 2016 Republicans will end up controlling all three branches of the government in Washington.

That said, there is always something we can do to be a beacon of truth to those we need to win over. What will most definitely not work in that regard is our talking to ourselves. Or engaging in self-serving photo ops like Moral Monday.

Said it before. Say it again. It’s working Republicans we need to target. And you don’t find them hanging around the state capitol of NC on your average Monday morning. They are, by definition, er, working. And they don’t, by nature, have a great deal of time for those of us who, for whatever reason, don’t have to get up on said Monday morning, and go to work.

No. You will find those working Republicans in conservative Christian congregations. Down the VFW on a Friday evening. And hanging around convenience stores in rural counties; the sort of stores where the patrons think Merlot is a make of French car.

If Democrats are serious about turning the poisonous Republican tide, about restoring Martin Luther King’s Dream, then that is where their political machines need to be, each and every day for the next decade. Then, and only then, may we be able properly to celebrate Martin Luther King Day in, say, 2023 …

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WSM, Karaoke and Democracy

Not the most important issue facing my very favorite co-op at the moment, but one it is worth mentioning nevertheless. Not least because, on this occasion, I actually side with WSM management.

[Cue fibrillator in WSM corporate office ...]

There was some muttering before the WSM Annual Employee Party this past Monday evening that the hugely popular karaoke had been cancelled without notice or discussion with employees. I was one of those doing the muttering.

I have had a brief discussion with a manager since the Party. The line presented about karaoke was that, each year, an increasingly small number of folks dominated its use, which, in turn, dominated the whole Party.

Er. As one participating in the dominating, I can agree with that.

But I had already formed much the same opinion within about ten minutes of being at the Party itself. And I can say this. Because I have little time for political correctness.

About half of the people at the quite well-attended Party were Hispanics. Most likely first generation Hispanics. Who, for all sorts of cultural reasons, which I know from talking with them, are a little nervous about making their presence felt.

And they (along with many of my Caucasian mates) were having a ball dancing to the DJ.

I suddenly realized that, in previous years, we Caucasians, without really thinking about it, and not intending to be insensitive, we had made our karaoke a bit of a white preserve.

I got it. And it was ok. I'm now totally on board with the idea of keeping the same format for future years.

I spoke with another manager today and said, ok, got it. But you could have let us know why.

The response was that a decision had to be taken quickly But that next year, a vote would be held.

I pointed out that I love democracy, especially in its most direct from. But on this occasion, it could be wrong.

[Cue fibrillator for all worker-owners.]

I know, I know. Send for the doctor. Take his pulse. The cold has got to him. He's possessed by the ghost of Genghis Khan.

Hear me out. I told the manager this. If you hold a vote, the same noisy folk (including me) will vote for karaoke. And the same Hispanics, who had such a good time this past Monday, will stay silent, for said cultural reasons.

We had 'a vote.' This past week and on Monday. I spoke to managers. Other people spoke to managers. I heard them. And the Hispanics voted, with their feet (literally!), on Monday. That's good enough.

Democracy is a fragile and fluid entity. I will rarely argue with its form. I do, however, argue when it is absent.

So. Next year, stick with this same format for the Party. It worked. I had fun. I can find karaoke any other day of the week. We all can.

But. Engage a bit more with employees beforehand. A note could have been posted in each unit of WSM. Telling us that soundings had been taken. A decision made. And that for reasons of sensitivity (I get that you can't post stuff all over the workplace saying we're doing something as an affirmative action for Hispanics; I can on my FB and on my blog), if you want more info, talk to your manager.


[As always, WSM Employee Policy demands that I state that these are my views and not those of the WSM corpora ... hang on, fan me, fan me. They might just be the views of the WSM corporate office management team. I may have to go lie down ... ]

Friday, January 17, 2014

Whining Works - But Not The Proposed New WSM Paycheck Scheme

This week, I submitted a formal complaint to the Weaver Street Market Co-operative management team, claiming that they are in breach of WSM Employee Co-op Policy with respect to certain specific decisions they have made, since management did not allow employees to participate in the making of those decisions, as WSM Employee Co-op Policy demands.

One of the decisions was the one made invalidly last year to do away with paper paychecks, and replace those checks with either direct deposit or some sort of paycheck debit card.

In advance of my formal complaint this week, I wrote a letter to Deborah Konneker, WSM's HR Manager, a week ago letting her know my formal complaint was on the way.

In response, she told me that she would immediately invite feedback from employees about the proposed new payment scheme. And she has done. In this week's WSM Employee Market Messenger.

I wrote to her to thank her for so doing. I also wrote telling her why I think the new payment scheme is not in the best interests of me and other WSM workers. I quote:

"Hey Deborah,

As I understand it, the proposed new WSM payment-of-my-wages scheme offers one of two options:

1) Direct Deposit. I do not want this. I tried it once. If and when my bank screws up, I am unable to stop my money going into that bank account in time. I want to be able to put my paycheck into whatever bank account I choose, when I choose. It is my money.

2) Pay Card. So, basically what you are saying is that my pay sits in someone else's bank account, and I get access to that bank account through a card. What bank? Whose bank account? Why are they earning interest on my money? Why are they earning loyalty with their bank but with my money? Are they FDIC guaranteed? If I take this card down to my bank on payday and say take it all out, will I have to pay a fee? And if so, why should I have to pay a fee to get access to the money I have already earned?

Here's my compromise: if this card is guaranteed by FDIC, if there is no trouble transferring all of my wages on it to my bank account on payday, and if I have to pay no charge, then I'll accept the card.

All the best,

My specific concerns about the payment scheme aside, the important point here is that, rather than doing nothing, or whining with others at the water cooler, I took advantage of the redress offered in the WSM Employee Policy Handbook, calmly made complaint that we workers had not been consulted as we should have been, and, lo and behold, we are now being consulted on one of the matters about which I complained.

It remains to be seen whether or not WSM management will do the same with respect to all of the decisions where management should be allowing workers to participate in determining the strategic direction of the co-op which we workers half-own.

[These are my own opinions.]

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Formal Complaint About Decision-Making

As promised, I have now written to the management chain within Weaver Street Market Co-operative, presenting the following formal complaint, in my attempt to begin a process where management and the Board of WSM allow employees to participate in strategic decision-making within our co-op, as WSM Employee Co-op Policy demands:

"I present this formal complaint that the WSM management chain above me, up to and including General Manager, are in breach of Employee Co-op Policy, in that they have caused a decision-making standard that is not transparent, and has not and does not allow for meaningful opportunity to participate in decisions and shape the guidelines for decisions.

A year ago, the WSM Board of Directors arranged for an informal series of meetings to discuss the proposed WSM draft 2020 Goals. During the discussion on Goal 3, it was quite clear that the WSM employees present were deeply unhappy with the notion of new stores, not least because the point was made that production might not be able to handle new stores.

More than one of the Directors present stated that they had no idea that there was any opposition to new stores, least of all from employees. I made the point that this might be because employees had not been properly consulted about the 2020 Goals. Certainly not under the provisions of WSM Employee Co-op Policy which demand that employees be included in decision-making on major WSM developments which affect their workplace.

The suggestion was made by at least one Director that there would be more consultation with employees about 2020 Goals. There has been none.

WSM Employee Policy requires that there be meaningful inclusion of employees in any decision-making process that affects the workplace in a substantial fashion. Informal meetings staged by the WSM Board do not preclude this requirement.

There was no time allotted at the 2013 Annual Southern Village Store Meeting to allow employees any meaningful input or discussion about the 2020 goals. There was only a 10 minute general period at the very end of the Meeting. Pitifully inadequate for any meaningful discussion. Of anything.

Management made presentation of the Goals at the 2012 Store Meeting. But there was little opportunity for discussion. We were promised there would be full and appropriate discussion allowed of all of the Goals by employees, and that our input would be taken into account. Not happened.

Discussion, presentation, feedback is not enough. The Policy demands that employees be included in the decision-making process. And that the process be transparent.

We are regularly promised Department Meetings. None have been held in over a year. When the Board Chair was asked why there were no opportunities for employee inclusion in decision-making, he responded that Department Meetings were held regularly. Not true. And that the Human Resources Department had set up a series of meetings for employees to have input on Policy. Not happened.

As a consequence, in addition to the 2020 Goals, management are in breach of WSM Employee Co-op Policy by not including employees in the following decisions:

1) The decision to close Panzanella.

2) The decision to stop issuing paychecks.

3) The decision to increase department margins.

Employee Co-op Policy specifically states that employees must be allowed to participate in decision-making where it relates to Workplace Environment, Pay and Benefits, and Department Strategy. The above numbered matters all fall within those categories.

As remedy, I require that the no further decisions be made in respect of 2020 Goal 3, until the workforce have been fully and properly engaged in creating guidelines which allow employees to be fully and properly included in all major decisions relating to Goal 3, including but not limited to any and all decisions in respect of opening new stores. That includes any and all decisions which may relate to consolidation of operational processes prior to the building of more stores. I mention this because it has been suggested to me that (3) above may have occurred in respect of the latter.

Either the decision to close Panzanella be suspended, pending proper consultation with all employees of WSM, or the WSM Board conduct a thorough and open review of the decision-making process in question, and its timeline, and determine why management were in breach of the Employee Co-op Policy demanding inclusion of employees in the decision-making process, and suitable disciplinary action be taken against appropriate management, including senior management, such disciplinary action to be announced to all employees.

The decision to stop issuing paychecks be suspended, pending proper consultation with all employees of WSM.

The WSM Board and management issue an apology to all employees for being in breach of WSM Employee Co-op Policy, along with proposals for ensuring such breaches do not re-occur.

Finally, in the event that this complaint is forwarded in due course to the WSM Board, I request my right under the US Constitution to address the body of Appeal before a final decision is made. The last time I complained, the body of Appeal (the WSM Board) made its decision without allowing me my constitutional and legal right to make written original presentation, followed by verbal address. Appeal is not to be confused with review.

In the meantime, I give management and the Board notice that I will be commencing similar complaints each and every time I become aware of decisions where employees should have been allowed to participate and were not so allowed."

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

This Is What A Worker Co-op Should NOT Look Like ...

I was wrong. There. That got your attention. Originally I wrote a really long post. But I deleted it. It was just getting too technical. So. I'll keep it simple. No longwinded rants. No links. Just pointers. If you want background, go have a gander at the earlier posts on this blog.

We just had posted on our department noticeboard the department margins for the last quarter. At some point in the past few months, the goal margin for prepped foods (my area) went up from 22% to 33%. Um. That's huge.

I thought it was another indication of cash problems in our co-op (Weaver Street Market Co-operative). But I was told it might also be due to a consolidation of processes before we add three new stores.

Ok. Enough.

There are two primary themes in my political life: creating as much democracy as possible, to allow folks to design their own destinies (which should be a given in a co-op); and using the system to effect change, rather than blowing up the system, or doing nothing.

Folks. Consumers of WSM. Workers of WSM. A small group of self-appointed managers in the WSM corporate office are not entitled to be making all of these decisions on their own. I can't force anyone else to hold these people to account. But I can use the system that exists to do just that myself.

The WSM Employee Policy Handbook contains policy which demands that the WSM management team allow employees to participate in ALL decisions which affect their Workplace Environment, their Pay and Benefits, and Department Strategy.

The same Policy Handbook allows any employee to begin a complaint procedure against management if they are in breach of co-op policy.

At this juncture, I say that the WSM corporate office management team are in breach of co-op policy with regards to their decisions to build more stores, to close Panzanella, to attempt to move payment of wages to direct deposit, and to raise margins.

I say this, because in each of these cases (along with many others), the decision was made without allowing employees to participate in the making of the decision.

If I breach co-op policy, I am written up. The system exists which allows employees to write up management when they breach co-op policy. I intend to start using it. In the case of these specific decisions to begin with. And then in respect of each and every major decision (in the categories listed above) that management make where they have not allowed employees to participate in the making of the decision.

It is time to hold managers to account. It is time we behaved like the worker co-op our own policy allows. And it is time to allow all workers, not just a few self-appointed managers in Hillsborough, all workers (and consumers) to participate meaningfully in the making of the major decisions which guide our co-op.

I'll keep you posted ...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

This Is What A Worker Co-op Should Look Like ...

Weaver Street Market Co-op, the US food co-op I love, and where I have worked for nine years now, is a worker co-op. It may describe itself formally as a worker-consumer hybrid. But it is still a worker co-op.

Read this article about UK food co-op, Suma, to discover how WSM ought to be behaving. Both co-ops have much the same financial profile: WSM last year had a turnover of about $38 million and a profit of $750,000. But that is where the similarities end.

Suma is not some communist pipedream. They make it clear one of the primary reasons they are successful is that they do not ignore the need to make a profit and pay their staff well.

But they also make it abundantly clear that they still believe in the triple bottom line, or as they put it: people, planet and profit. WSM abandoned its triple bottom line at some point in the unholy mess following the unsuccessful vanity expansion of 2008 and the aftermath of the Great Recession in 2009.

But perhaps the most unusual thing with Suma is the fact that there is an entirely flat management structure. Everyone is paid the same. And, as I argue should be the case with WSM, management is seen as a role, not a status. Let them put it in their own words:

'Richard Hizzard, 46, who works in sales and is also a qualified HGV driver, says that outsiders often find this hard to fathom. "People, when they start, come looking for a boss. They say, where is the director? But we are all self-managed and we inspire each other. We have had people who have been barristers, doctors," he says. "It is a strange concept, but clearly it works and the growth is phenomenal." '

The role of managers is that of fellow workers, tasked with putting into effect decisions made by workers in consensus. Managers are not viewed as masters, tucked away in the countryside somewhere, hidden behind a combination lock.

Again, quoting from the article itself: 'Put simply, Suma is an organisation that is run on ethical lines, which values its customers (mainly small independent retailers) and its members first, rather than faceless shareholders or a small number of rich owners.'

WSM is an organisation that has forgotten its co-operative ethic, and values a small self-appointed group of managers in the corporate office, rather than its workers, its consumers and its owners.

Actually, I'm wrong. I said WSM is a workers' co-op. What I should have said is it is supposed to be one. It is, in fact, the largest manager co-op in the South-Eastern United States.

Folks occasionally wonder why I bother continuing to bear witness at WSM. Um. They sometimes even query whether I have the right. Hmm. My answer is Suma. And what we at WSM could be if more were prepared to advocate for it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

WSM Annual Employee Christmas Party

No, no, no, no, no. I'm not going to say anything remotely like 'I told you so.' But did I mention that we might be seeing some belt-tightening around Weaver Street Market Co-operative? Why yes, I did.

So, our latest employee WSM Market Messenger tells us that the Annual WSM Employee Christmas Party (held in January, so as not to interfere with Advent sales) will not be featuring the ever popular Karaoke this year. Instead, we will have 'music.'

Hmm. Look. I'm not going to say 'cost-cutting' or refer to the absence of mention of food and alcohol. I'm just going to wonder. Ever so gently. Not least after the success of Weavestock. For which I and others pushed and organized so hard. I'm really going to hope that we are not paying some non-WSM musicians to provide us with music, when we have a gazillion musicians within WSM, who would be tickled pink to perform for their mates at the Christmas Party.

And I didn't say POP VOX once. Ok. Just the once ...