Thursday, July 31, 2014

Weavestock 2 -- TODAY !!

I know. Who knew time could pass so quickly? The weather report says, clouds but no rain. Ideal. See you there ... ...

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Byron Wall for WSM Worker-Owner Director 2014

I'll say it, because Byron [see his YouTube interview] is far too much the gentleman to say it himself. And I'm just blunt. The current incumbent Worker-Owner Directors on the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative have, in their time on the Board, done absolutely nothing to reach out to the workers they are supposed to represent, to engage with them, discover what they want, then represent their interests in Board meetings, and fight every day to ensure that all staff are included in the decision-making within WSM, which is our right according to WSM Employee Policy.

Byron has specific proposals for maintaining regular contact with all WSM workers, and then for raising their issues in Board meetings. And he is dedicated to working for more democratic inclusion of all employees within the decision-making processes in the co-op we all love. That is why I will be voting for him in the WSM Worker-Owner Director Election in a couple of weeks.

Now, I can't stop fellow workers from treating this Election like a beauty contest, and voting for someone just because they know him or her. But I can and will say this. I think it is time we all started exercising our votes with a little more maturity. A vote isn't about getting someone to buy you a drink. It's about our democratic rights. Not just yours. Not just mine. But also the many workers in our co-op, who, through no fault of their own, can still not afford to buy Worker-Ownership, and with it, the right to vote. Vote for them.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dauphin Geoff

I was very moved by the story of the Virginian father who traveled to Africa, and laid claim to a small, uninhabited, remote part of the borderland between Egypt and Sudan, so that his seven year-old daughter could fulfill her wish of being a Princess.

And it gave me an idea. So ...

As a worker-owner with the Weaver Street Market Co-operative, I hereby formally exercise my right to lay claim to that part of the co-op I wish to own. I therefore now own the Steamer Oven in the Kitchen of the Southern Village Store. And henceforth am to be addressed as Dauphin Geoff of Oven and Steamer. I am the proud ruler of all that I pan-fry and char-grill.

Crest of arms and flag to follow. Offers of dowry to my plenipotentiary and Lady High Chamberlain, Poo-Bah and Mistress of all Muckety-Muck, the Lady Aleesa of SanFilippo.

Derogatory comments and treason of any kind will be met with summary flogging with the Royal Wet Lettuce Leaf. To be applied by Sir Ken of the Third Shift.

[For my UK Friends, I am sad to announce that, in order to lay my claim, I had to turn down the kind offer by the British Prime Minister to be his new Foreign Secretary, in his much-heralded reshuffle. You're probably still lumbered with the Boy Hague.]

Friday, July 11, 2014

A WSM Employee's Right To Choose

I really, really, really, REALLY wanted to post a note supporting a decision taken this week by the Weaver Street Market Co-operative General Manager. But, once again, he has shown himself opposed to an employee's right to choose. Read on:

"Dear Ruffin,

I read the copy of the e-mail to a customer you posted in the Southern Village store breakroom in reference to the decision you took no longer to stock Eden Foods in our WSM stores.

From the wording of the e-mail, I assumed that the decision was related to some long-standing agreed co-op policy about food content, fair trade farming, sustainable production, whatever. And I was ready to post a blog applauding and offering support. Not least for your language about our co-op responding to owners' needs.

And then I asked my store manager why the decision was made. And I was told it was because Eden Foods are pursuing a lawsuit on grounds similar to the Hobby Lobby appeal to the Supreme Court.

For the record, I am totally opposed to any form of discrimination, and fully support the right to choose. Including the right of an employee to choose. Especially in WSM. And that is my point, with this e-mail, and the point I've been making these past eight months or so.

WSM has no agreed policy on Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court, Eden Foods' lawsuit, or any of the issues raised in that litigation.

I could talk about the desirability of consulting owners and consumers about consensually agreeing such a policy on such contentious matters. But that is for another place and time.

What I will object to strenuously is your continued refusal to comply with mandated co-op policy that demands that you involve employees in all major decision-making. What one might describe, ironically, as our right as employees to choose.

The policy, as I have made clear, time and time again, is very straightforward. On this occasion, seeing as it relates directly to products we sell, it could not possibly be more relevant to store employees.

It matters not whether I agree with the outcome of this decision. We are not merely a socially-conscious corporation with a socially-conscious General Manager. We are a democratic co-operative, with very strict policies not just on what decisions are made, but how they are made. And this decision was made in breach of co-op policy on including employees. It would be inconsistent of me not to object, regardless of my political views.

I simply do not understand why you, senior management and the Board seem singularly unable or unwilling to grasp what is the co-op policy on involving employees in decision-making. I trust that you will do so when it comes to the next likely big decision to be made, namely the setting of the size of the profit for 2014, and the setting of the size of the worker-owner dividend.

All the best,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Worker-Owner Dividend 2014 [Part 4] - How

So. It's all very well bleating about the philosophy of complying with Weaver Street Market Co-operative policy, and including all staff in the decisions that set the size of the profit and the dividends for 2014, but how will it/should it work in practice? Ah ha. A letter to our General Manager:

"Hey Ruffin,

Now that the dust has settled a little from the end of WSM's financial year, I thought I'd share a few suggestions about how to comply with the co-op policy that requires that all staff be involved in the decision to set the size of the annual worker-owner dividend.

I think you will understand when I say that a decision that clearly goes hand-in-hand with the dividend decision, necessarily precedes it, and is also subject to the broader co-op policy including staff in decision-making, as enunciated in WSM Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff,' is the decision setting the size of WSM's profit for 2014.

It is already Board Policy that the 'profit' will be evenly divided for distribution between consumer-owners and worker-owners. But the size of the profit, and therefore the size of the worker-owner dividend, is open to all sorts of interpretation. And that interpretation, in order to comply with both the spirit as well as the letter of the co-op policy requiring the inclusion of all staff in the setting of the size of the worker-owner dividend, must include all staff.

Without getting too technical about financial terms, I think it fair to say that the basic income and expenditure of WSM in the financial year 2013-2014 is pretty much set, and not open to any kind of interpretation. But after that, most of the matters fleshing out what will become the remainder of the Annual Financial Report are optional. And it is all of the staff who should be engaged in choosing the options.

So it is that it is choices that set the amounts WSM sets aside for things like paying off the long-term debt, capital projects for the next financial year and salary raises to be discussed in the Fall of this year.

I'm sure you would agree that a simple survey on the back of the 'Market Messenger' saying, hey, what do you guys think, is not going to suffice on this occasion. How can anyone think anything if they do not possess the necessary financial information?

Might I suggest that we get together the basic financials, what we know was earned and spent, and produce a first draft income and expenditure account? You're going to have to do this in any event. Then, the WSM Board/senior management produce their list of the options for what they think could be done with the remaining funds from FY 2013-2014, with their recommendations? And then publish this in a 'Market Messenger'?

This really shouldn't take too much time. The figures are a part of the process in any event. It's just the narrative which will take a little extra time. That said, of course, time is of the essence, what with store meetings and the Annual Meeting not far off. So, I look forward to something along these lines in the fairly near future. Many thanks.

All the best,

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

US Corporations Do Have Rights

I’m not turning into Karl Rove. Honest. But I do not understand why progressive writers I otherwise deeply respect, like #BobGeary of #TheIndependent (‘Supreme Court rulings reinforce workplace discrimination'), have such an obsession against corporate America.

To be honest, I sense it has nothing to do with constitution, law or rights, and an awful lot to do with the fact that these folks do not like Republicans. And most large corporations are run by Republicans.

Look. I don’t much care for Republicans, either. But that does not mean that they do not have rights. And it does not mean that corporations do not have rights, too.

And I’m not talking about corporate personhood. Frankly, I have never understood the arguments trying to pretend that a corporation is a person. Of course, it isn’t. But a corporation still has rights. Because the primary Constitutional Amendment in question guarantees rights generically, not just to people.

Take a moment actually to read the text of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Leaving aside the point about ‘Congress’ (various rulings have determined that the Amendment now applies to state legislation also), the prohibition on laws interfering with the free exercise of religion and speech does not restrict itself to individuals.

Indeed, we could have a whole separate discussion about the language later on which defines the right of people peaceably to assemble. Clearly, assemblies of people are recognized as having rights, especially when they exist to redress grievances.

Now. Progressive writers says corporations do not have the right to free speech. I say that they do. Regardless of how you define them. Because the First Amendment says so.

You might argue that a corporation cannot speak. Of course it can. It is merely a peaceable assembly of people. It makes decisions. It reports them. It issues press statements. I don’t ‘speak’ in a newspaper. Someone writes down my words.

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a political view. Of course it can. What do you think the #DemocraticParty is? Or the #NAACP? Or my very favorite grocery co-op, #WeaverStreetMarket?

Bob says that a corporation cannot have a religious view. Of course it can. What do you think the #CatholicChurch is?

Progressive writers say that political donations should be regulated. I agree. I think political spending in the US is an obscenity. But it can’t be regulated by statute. Because the First Amendment prohibits legislation interfering with political donations.

Why? Because I take the view that, in this day and age, a political donation is an expression of free speech.

Let’s deal with the low-hanging fruit first. If you have a physical disability, if you have an uncontrollable fear of public expression, can it be said that you truly have the right to speak freely?

What if the only means of expressing a political opinion is for you to donate to a cause which speaks on your behalf? Is legislation interfering with or regulating that donation not an interference with your right to free speech?

If it is, then you can’t distinguish between disabled and able-bodied. That would be discrimination. And that means any political donation is an expression of free speech.

The next point is a tad more obtuse, but I think still good. It’s the acorn in the forest argument. Back in the days which Antonin Scalia likes to inhabit, you made your speech from the back of a haywain. It didn’t require, and very often did not receive, broadcast.

In this day and age, you only truly ‘speak’ with any effect if your message is disseminated in some fashion. Which requires platform and money. If folks choose to use that platform to get their speech across, isn’t regulation of the money required for that platform an interference prohibited under the First Amendment?

If you don’t like the corporations which hold political views, religious views and make political donations you don’t like, then don’t work for them, don’t buy their products.

If they are publicly-owned corporations, with Boards of Directors and Annual Meetings, then turn up to the Meetings, vote for the Board, or even stand yourself. I do this the whole time with Weaver Street Market. As. Er. Some of you may have noticed.

But please, can we stop with this fallacious, time-consuming and sterile obsession that corporations do not have rights.? They do. If you don’t like it, step around them.

And Bob. #ThomasJefferson would not be writing dissents on the current #SupremeCourt, in my opinion. Jefferson was a rich landowner, who did not like paying taxes and who drafted a #DeclarationOfIndependence which did not ban slavery. Thomas Jefferson, at best, would today be Anthony M. Kennedy.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Worker-Owner Dividend 2014 [Part 3] - The Background

So. If our very favorite grocery co-op is supposed to be so very democratic in its decision-making processes, how come all the major decisions (policy and implementation) are made by its founder and now General Manager, Ruffin Slater?

Hey Geoff, what brought on this question? Ah. The fact that it is the end of the 2014 fiscal year, time to set the size of the 2014 worker-owner dividend, and my discovery that WSM workers are supposed to be involved in setting the size of that worker-owner dividend. You can catch up here.

Right. Back to my opening question. To which the answer is really quite simple: the structures and systems exist to allow Weaver Street Market Co-operative to be democratic; but, over the years, they have been shunted to one side. Here’s how it works:

Policy is supposed to be set by the co-op's owners, both consumer (18,000 in number) and worker (220). The (for the most part) elected WSM Board of Directors is supposed to spend its time connecting with WSM owners, gathering information as to their common needs and then fashioning those needs into coherent policy.

Does this happen? No. Why? In a nutshell? Because the GM has plonked himself on the Board as well.

Policy Governance within WSM is supposed to be modeled after a system called ... well ... 'Policy Governance.' As are most other grocery co-op's in the US.

The model was devised to stop a bunch of democratic-minded owners marching into the grocery store every day and telling the staff what to do - mayhem! And to streamline policy-making, so that said owners and workers were not merrily holding meetings in the toilet every five minutes, making incoherent policy on the hoof.

The model is actually a joy of simplicity. The owners do not interfere directly with the operations of the grocery store. They do their policy-making in their own meetings. And then impart that policy to the GM. Who, in turn, imparts it to operations (i.e. the workforce - managers and workers).

But. And this is the first important point. But. Under the ‘Policy Governance’ model, the GM is not supposed to sit on the co-op Board. He is present merely to accept the owners'/Board's instructions, and report them to operations. But not so in WSM.

Ruffin put himself on the Board in the very first instance. And, over the years, the Board has been reduced to no more than a talking shop, which gathers squat from its owners, and sits there quietly, as it is told what is policy by the GM.

So. The GM sets co-op policy, gets his tame Board to rubber stamp it, and then returns to operations to tell them how to implement it. Which, again, is not how it is supposed to work. The workforce is supposed to decide collectively how to implement Board policy.

There is a WSM Board Policy, called 'Treatment of Staff.' Employees can find it iterated on the very first page of their Employee Policy Handbook. Others can find it on page three of Board Policy to be found on the WSM web-site.

It states that all staff will be allowed the opportunity to participate in decisions and set the guidelines for decisions. In 2007, a consultation exercise was held with all employees to set guidelines for what decisions the workforce should be involved in making. One of these was the setting of the size of the annual worker-owner dividend - hence this current campaign of mine.

Employees can find the document in question by going online on a computer in their breakroom. When '' will immediately show up. Go to 'HR & Training.' In about the middle, you will find a document entitled, 'Decisions that require staff input.' Read it. No. 3 includes setting of the size of the annual WSM worker-owner dividend. Which, as I explain elsewhere, we workers can’t do unless we first set the size of the WSM profit. The two go hand-in-hand.

Blimey. So, why aren't we involved in all of these decisions, if the bloody exercise was actually held in 2007? Short answer: the Great Recession. The longer answer is that the GM doesn't want workers being involved in these decisions. Never did. But the exercise has kept us quiet.

And the GM has developed a wonderful subterfuge to get round the policy in any event. The ‘Policy Governance’ model requires one point of contact between the Board and operations. A point to act merely as a conduit between the two entities.

But our GM has taken that conduit function, and turned it into a fulcrum of power. Not least because he sits on the Board. Which he shouldn't.

So. First, he makes sure that the only information the Board gets about operations is that which he wants them to have. Then, he controls the Board discussion. And finally, he is the sole flow of information back to operations, who believe that the decisions he is imparting to them are those of the Board, when, in fact, they are merely his own.

And this is where it gets really cute. If and when a process is ever engaged in where workers are involved in the making of a decision to implement policy, and the feedback goes against the GM, he overrides it, stating that the ‘Policy Governance’ model demands that he, and he alone, be responsible to the Board for the financial health of the co-op.

Er, not quite, Ruffin.

What the ‘Policy Governance’ model, what Board policy states, is that the GM, in his corporate definition as the collective voice of the workforce, in other words the collegial personification of the GM, not him personally, the collegial personification of the GM, is responsible for ensuring that Board policy is implemented in a way that does not put the co-op in financial jeopardy.

It does not mean that the GM, and the GM alone, is the one who makes the decisions about the co-op's financial health. Those decisions are to be made by operations, namely the workforce, collectively, collegially. And the GM then reports those collegial decisions to the Board, who understand that it is operations collectively which is responsible to the Board for the financially-effective implementation of their policy.

But Ruffin, wielding his influence as a Board member also, has managed over these years past to create the false impression, among Board and workforce alike, that, at the end of the day, he and he alone should be the one making the financial decisions. An incorrect assumption.

So it was that, a few years back, when staff were asked if they agreed to extending opening hours, and said staff replied overwhelmingly 'no,' Ruffin actually wrote a two-page diktat to all employees, baldly stating that he was going to override co-op policy and the expressed democratic wishes of the workforce, and implement an extension of the working hours, in any event. And his stated rationale was that, notwithstanding the consultation exercise, he and he alone was responsible for making financial decisions.

And he will likely use this fallacy again when presented with the demand that he comply with co-op policy, and involve all staff in setting the size of the WSM profit in 2014, and then in setting the size of the worker-owner dividend for 2014.

What can we do?

Well, the immediate response should be for all WSM employees to demand of their unit management that we be involved in these two decisions anyway. And in all decisions covered by the 2007 consultation exercise, going forward. Consumers can pitch in by tackling store managers, when they see them. All of this is happening right now. So, no time like the present.

The longer-term solution is to remove the GM from the WSM Board, and to re-iterate that his role is not that of primary decision-maker within WSM, whether of policy or its implementation. But merely that of conduit between the policy-making body of owners, namely the WSM Board, and the body which makes the decisions as to how policy should be implemented, namely the WSM workforce.

[As always, I state that these are my personal views, and in no way represent the collective opinions of the WSM Board, the WSM General Manager, Eric Cantor or the little old lady who feeds the pigeons in 'Mary Poppins.']

Friday, July 4, 2014

Worker-Owner Dividend 2014 [Part 2]

So. The WSM employee Market Messenger comes out today, talking about the worker-owner dividend, but mentioning nothing about my letter to the WSM General Manager requesting compliance by him with the co-op policy which requires that all workers be involved in the decisions that set the profit for The Weave for 2014, and then set the worker-owner dividend itself.

You guessed it. Chasing letter to our GM. With the red version to follow, if I do not get a response. I'm serious about managers complying with co-op policy. Especially on a day when I and my fellow WSM employees are working July 4, with no time and a half:

"Hey Ruffin,

It may well be that you are working out the details of how to comply with co-op policy and design the process for giving all staff the information they need to be able then to be properly involved in making the decisions that set the profit for 2014 and then the worker-owner dividend for 2014.

But I note that the employee Market Messenger today states that the dividend will be announced in the Annual Report. That may well be the case, but the statement says nothing about the process of staff involvement beforehand.

I want to make this very clear. If the worker-owner dividend is announced without compliance with the co-op policy which requires that all staff be involved in the setting of the worker-owner dividend, which setting naturally includes our being involved in the setting of the profit, then I will immediately institute process claiming that every single manager in WSM is in breach of co-op policy, and requiring disciplinary action, and I will raise the matter at the annual meeting.

For your information, I set out a post I recently uploaded, which goes into more detail, and is pretty much self-explanatory:

All the best,