Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Why Are We Hiding Our Mission As A Co-op?

You may have noticed that just recently I’ve become all kinds of energetic about my Weaver Street Market Co-operative advocacy.

At first I thought it might be the advent of spring or male menopause. But then I double-checked. Nope. All of a sudden, the senior management at WSM have themselves become all kinds of frisky about making a sh**load of decisions. All of them having the cumulative and rolling effect of subverting the mission of WSM as a co-op.

Now, I know I don’t really need to remind you that the mission of any co-op is to meet the needs of its owners, and that it does this through democratic control of the co-op by its owners.

In the case of WSM, which is a hybrid consumer-worker co-op, what that means is that, in an ideal situation, our consumers decide what we do, our workers determine how to do it, and the paid staff (acting as staff, not owners, and including managers) then implement the wishes of their owners.

However, over a period of time, but more noticeably lately, senior management within WSM seems to have got caught up in the notion that they and they alone make all the decisions. And those decisions, again just lately, seem to be designed specifically to exclude consumers and workers entirely from any decision-making role at all.

Hence my over-activity.  Nothing to do with any exceptionally large Moon, or Mercury Retrograde.

If you’ve been paying attention, you will also have noticed the progress with my Formal Complaint about lack of employee inclusion in decision-making, and my e-mail to the Merchandising Manager about leapfrogging consumers in his decision-making.

My next concern is that senior management seem to be removing from all of the shopfloors any reference to the fact that WSM is a co-op, what that stands for, and how folks may become owners and democratically control decision-making.

So. Time for another e-mail. This time to the WSM General Manager:

“Dear Ruffin,

You will notice I’m writing a lot of e-mails at the moment. This is because senior WSM management are making a lot of important decisions at the moment. Without properly including owners and employees. Which decisions are having a dramatic effect on our mission as a co-op democratically controlled by its owners.

My latest concern is that WSM senior management seem to have engaged in a series of decisions the net effect of which appears to be the considered and incremental removal from the shopfloor of every one of our units of all reference to our mission as a co-op, democratic control by owners, and why they should and how they can become involved as co-op owners.

It’s kind of difficult to know how exactly and formally to raise this. It involves a number of different decisions. None of which on their own is of moment. And it concerns different managers.

I have decided therefore just to address the concern generally, flag a possible future Formal Complaint about one decision where employees were not included, and copy this e-mail to other managers and the Board, so that all are aware of my concerns.

The matters which have resulted in my immediate concern are these: 

1)      The incremental conversion of the printed store newsletter to coupon leaflet, and now its total abandonment. That printed newspaper was the primary source of hand-held reading material explaining to all shoppers why we are a co-op, and what that means. Every issue set out the Principles of Co-operation, and included articles about the impact of our mission as a co-op. The various decisions which have now apparently led to its discontinuance were all taken without the involvement of consumers or employees, in contravention of co-op policy. 

2)      What we now have is a two-sided sales leaflet. Until last week it was called 'Co-op Deals.' But someone in the admin office decided that was confusing to co-op owners, and so now it is to be called 'Store Specials.' There are reasons we are a co-op. If you want us to stop being one, then call a General Meeting, and ask the ownership to change the Articles of Incorporation. Otherwise, could we please call things what they are? These are deals negotiated on our behalf by the National Co-operative Grocers’ Association. To call them something different makes us no different to Food Lion. I like being different to Food Lion. So do our 18,000 owners.

Mention has been made of consumer confusion. You know, Ruffin, aside from the fact that it is consumers who should be making this decision, not senior managers, since our mission as a co-op is to meet the common needs of our owners, not the overriding desires of senior management, leaving all that on one side, what is the worst that can happen with confusion? A consumer goes to one of our very able worker-owners and says, which is which? We say, co-op deals are for everyone, and owner deals are for co-op owners – would you like to become one? Ergo. We’ve engaged. We’ve mentioned we’re a co-op. And we’ve started a conversation about it. The only reason for not wanting this confusion is you don’t want conversations with consumers about our being a co-op. Why? 

3)      I know this one may seem small. But, taken with the other points, it becomes more than decorative. We have just replaced those of our trays which spelt out our impact on the community, through being a co-op, with trays with only our name (omitting the word ‘co-operative’), and including only a tree.

Let me suggest remedies. If they are found to be agreeable, I may not have to make this a Formal Complaint. Which if it were to become one, would likely be that employees were not involved in the decisions to remove from their stores the printed co-op newspaper.

Can’t undo the tray decision. But please note my ongoing concern that senior management are taking way too many decisions without involving consumers or workers. As far as the latter are concerned, you will know that it is WSM Employee Policy that we be involved in decision-making.

I have mentioned elsewhere that the problem may be that a lot of decisions need to be made at the moment, and what may be required is a more formal, rolling structure and process to ensure that employees are involved.

This current situation underlines that suggestion. How do we address a situation which is the product of a number of different and disparate decisions? Maybe by having a more formal process which involves workers, and into which those decisions can be fed seamlessly?

Can’t really undo the newspaper to leaflet decision. But we can, immediately, undo the ghastly decision to pretend we are not a co-op, and revert to calling the specials exactly what they are: 'Co-op Specials.'

As to the removal of our co-op mission from the stores generally, may I suggest the following? Let’s attach below the two holders for the specials a further holder for printed copies of the Owner’s e-Newsletter? And ensure that the Newsletter includes, from time to time, the Principles of Co-operation?

Could we also create a sign for each store (could go on the Salad Bar, or with the door display, not unlike the signs we produce for Elections and the Annual Meeting), setting out the Principles of Co-operation?

I know this may not be the most important matter on your desk at the moment, Ruffin, but as an interested worker-owner, I just want to be sure that with all the activity going on, we are not inadvertently moving away from that which should be central to our purpose, namely our mission as a co-op, democratically controlled by its ownership.

All the best,

[Oh. Usual caveat about these being my views only. Plus, I would like to apologize for the fact that Larry Page appears to be on holiday (Google now own Blogger), and he has let the formatting of posts go all to crap.]