Friday, December 11, 2015

Employee Participation, Fulfillment, Board Retreat

 
Battling yucky health, I attended the WSM Board Meeting this past Wednesday evening. Notwithstanding how I felt, I was not going to let them remove any worker rights, without having to look me in the eye as they did so.

You will shortly be hearing that things went quite well. Our appeals to have the precise wording on employee participation in decision-making retained in 'Treatment of Staff' didn't succeed.

But. After vigorous interventions by Worker-Owner Director Jon McDonald and by Ruffin. The Board made quite clear that they would be reconsidering the Ends statement at their January Retreat. With a view to including wording in that Ends about employee participation in decision-making and fulfilling worker and consumer experiences.

Continuing to beat my drum about policy wording meaning nothing if it is not implemented, I have written further to the Board, in advance of their January Retreat:

"Dear Board,

I would be grateful if this e-mail could be forwarded to all Board Members before the January Retreat.

I enjoyed my visit this past Wednesday to the Board Meeting. I look forward to hearing what decisions are made following consideration by you at your January Retreat of inclusion within Ends of employee participation in decision-making within WSM, and a statement about fulfilling worker and consumer experience.

At the same time as you consider the wording, I would be grateful if you would spend time working out how compliance would look. For example, and you know I have been raising this a lot, it's all very well stating that we want employee participation in decision-making. I would repeat that we already have that Board Policy, even if it was badly worded. But it matters nothing if it isn't happening.

And when employees can turn around and say, gee, we just made a decision to double the size of the hot bars, but we weren't included; gee, we just decided to spend half a million dollars on refurbishing the SV store, but we weren't included in that decision; we're not included in decisions setting the sales per labor hour figures, or how much of the profit to set aside for pay rises and dividends, if employees can say this - and they do - then the policy of participation (wherever it may be found) is not happening.

Employee participation in decision-making on a regular and meaningful basis, and one which does not upend normal operations, is only going to occur if there are systems and processes in place to allow for efficient employee consultation. Those systems and processes do not currently exist. It's all ad hoc.

In my opinion, whatever you decide during your January Retreat will only mean anything if it is accompanied by plans to hold a full consultation exercise on how to implement it, or perhaps, by the formation of a Board Task Force to consider the same.

Good luck.

All the best,
Geoff"


[You may well wonder why I attach a photo of the Monty Python crew. A little known fact about them is that, during the Seventies, in addition to their comedy program, they (well, specifically John Cleese) produced an endless stream of hilarious business training videos.]

Monday, December 7, 2015

Treatment of Staff, 2nd Draft, New Worker-Owner Director


This is interesting. The newly-elected WSM Worker-Owner Director (Charles Traitor) and I disagree over the proposed new wording to the clause in Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff' which deals with employee participation in decision-making. Nicely disagree. But reasonably significantly disagree.

Here is our exchange on the internal WSM social media platform (Slack - General Section - Saturday, December 5 and Sunday, December 6). I had to use my department manager's computer. Which will cause some giggles among the WSM corporate office management team. Even though I followed protocol by announcing that it was me doing the posting.

If any of this moves you, you still have today (but only today) to submit comments to the WSM HR Manager. Contact details will be on the document which was put in your WSM mailbox a week ago. Now, the opinions of Charles and me ...

[Charles] "Greetings, friends,

As ever, I hope these few words find you in good spirits.

As representative-elect I want to offer my perspective on the second draft of proposed changes to the Employee Policy Handbook and the Board Policy.

The new draft is a good response to our concerns. Thank you to everybody who spoke -- whether it is a conversation with a coworker or a call to HR, each sharing helps to build consensus. Thank you, Deborah, for the work of compiling and presenting both the employee’s perspective and the Board’s action.

Regarding “Section 1: Policy Handbook”: I consider the articles non-controversial. These changes amount to good faith efforts at compliance and consistency.

Regarding “Section 2: Board Policy”: Most of our objections to the proposed changes were addressed.

A. The Board restored its role as the court of last resort in the grievance process.

B. The Board removed the language regarding at-will employment. The removal of the language does not alter the fact that we are an at-will employer, but it does open up the space for a stronger appeal to the policies which safeguard our rights.

C. The Board restored transparency to the process of decision-making.

D. The Board restored the language regarding an employee’s right to ethical dissent. I approve of all of these revisions.

Also, I am not concerned about the removal of “participation” from the section governing treatment of staff. The new language makes more specific and measurable demands on the general manager, and I believe that it gives us a clearer standard on which to base grievances.

That said, it is imperative that we set in stone the concept of employee participation. I believe that the place for that language is in the Ends chart.

Under “Shared Economics,” along with pay/benefits, worker dividend and advancement, we must add ‘participation.’ If you agree, please contact Deborah and urge the addition of this term. I will push for it, but my voice is much stronger together with yours.

Under “Shared Knowledge” the only suggestion of employee participation concerns the “Co- op Plan” event. This is not sufficient. I understand “shared knowledge” to mean the full range of talents and abilities that each one of us brings to our workplace. We need language that affirms our participation in the workplace and the free exercise of our unique perspectives and abilities. Again, if you agree, please contact Deborah and let her know your good thoughts.

Please let me know if you have any other concerns!

*Once again, I apologize for the lack of a translation into Spanish and Karen. Hopefully we will start to set up a system for translation in January/February 2016."

[Geoff] "Thank you Charles, for your comments on the 2nd Draft of the Proposed Changes to ‘Treatment of Staff, and for your efforts.

I agree with all you say, save for your suggestion that exclusion of ‘participation’ from ‘Treatment of Staff’ might be harmless.

When the review of this section was begun, we were clearly told the purpose of the rewording of this section was clarification alone.

I would suggest the test is whether proposed wording does, indeed, only clarify, or if, in fact, proposed wording dilutes the impact.

My contention is that the proposed wording, which you appear to support, does quite clearly reduce the impact of the section, not least because of the removal of ‘participation.’

The existing wording is convoluted. Too many negatives. But the impact is, in my opinion, still clear: all paid staff are to be allowed the opportunity to participate in decisions and also to shape the guidelines for decisions [with no distinction made between policy, governance or operational decisions].

With respect, that stands in stark contrast to the proposed wording, which offers only that we be consulted, at a time when it suits management, and in the manner of their choosing.

I would prefer that, at the Board Meeting this coming Wednesday, December 9, you might support language along the lines of the following:

"(The GM must not:)

Be unresponsive to employee needs or operate without a transparent system for communicating information to paid staff and for allowing paid staff the opportunity to participate in decisions and shape guidelines for decisions."

I believe this clarifies this section, without diluting its impact.

Now, if you wish to see the word ‘participate’ included elsewhere – as well – you have my full support, provided it also appears in the above section.

If others want to have a further discussion about perhaps diluting this section in the future, that is another discussion, for another time. But again, the stated purpose of this exercise was clarification, not dilution.

Furthermore, if folks think this wording is so sweeping as to be almost impossible to implement, with respect, I would disagree.

A consultation exercise was held in 2007, to more narrowly define the decisions to be covered. The resulting document can be found on Storecentral.net.

I have for three years now been advocating for the follow-up consultation exercise. Namely, the one where all paid staff further shape the guidelines for decisions by designing the systems and processes that would allow for fully inclusive decision-making at department, unit and co-op level.

Perhaps, you could now encourage the Board to persuade the General Manager to hold that further consultation exercise in 2016?

Many thanks once again. I will be attending the Board Meeting on Wednesday. For the sake of clarity, these are my personal opinions. And this document was created off-the-clock."

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Worker Rights -- The Checklist, So Far


I’m addressing this post to my fellow workers in Weaver Street Market Co-operative. I set out below my very dry and formal response to the 2nd Draft of the proposed changes to the WSM Board Policy ‘Treatment of Staff.’

But I want to say this. Even if we do not end up with the wording we might all want, in the past few months, workers within WSM have seriously raised the profile of a whole raft of rights that we have, and which we, management and the WSM Board might not even have known about, or worse, might have wanted to keep quiet about or remove.

I mean, think back two months. Just two months. How many of us knew that there was a 20-some year history of workers, consumers and owners, associated with our co-op, fighting to have enshrined in policy protections which guaranteed workers the right to a fulfilling work experience, to ethical dissent, to participate in decision-making, to fight back against our at-will status, and to take grievances about these rights to the Board itself?

Well. We do now. Now, if someone is complaining, for example, about conditions, about consistency of management, about not being included in decision-making, whatever, they know that managers cannot retaliate against them. And they know that they can go to the Board if managers do. Managers know it. And managers know we know it. The Board has been made aware. And they, the Board, now know they are supposed to guarantee us these rights, by keeping an eagle eye on our General Manager.

There was, to be blunt, a lot of rubbish in the six page document sent to each of us this past week about the 2nd Draft of the proposed changes to Board Policy ‘Treatment of Staff.’

Not least all the nonsense that someone made up about the rationale for the proposed changes. Folks, don’t fall for this waffle posing as pseudo-history/fact. I set out in my e-mail below the real history of ‘Treatment of Staff.’ What someone has spent five and a half pages constructing in that document is no more than their personal opinion. And whereas I have to add the caveat that what I say here is my personal opinion, they apparently do not.

And here’s the danger. It’s twofold. The first danger is that you believe what they say. The second danger is that you believe that much of the sweet-sounding candy being promised is being guaranteed to us as a right.

Someone once said, a right is only guaranteed if it is enforceable. The only rights in WSM that are enforceable are those that we may take grievance about to the Board. And that means, clearly enunciated Board Policy.

If it ain’t Board Policy, it ain’t a right. When that someone tells us, oh yes, we’ve taken away your right to a fulfilling work experience, but it is still guaranteed by the words ‘shared wi-fi’ (or whatever), it isn’t. Repeat. It isn’t.

Somebody saying pretty, sparkly things about ‘shared cupcakes’ is not something you or I can enforce in an appeal to the Board. Go through this document very carefully. If a line is not a Board Policy, cross it out. It’s mere wishful thinking. You end up with about one paragraph. Pay attention only to that.

That’s the garbage. But, back to the good.

As a result of all that we have done together these past two months, we have now had restored our rights to ethical dissent, and to take grievance to the Board. Yay. We are now having a discussion about the dichotomy between claiming we have rights that protect the employment of our workers, and management’s declaration that we remain a right-to-fire corporation. I am pursuing restitution of the clause that guarantees us all a fulfilling work experience – an issue brought to my attention indirectly by another much-unsung heroine of the longstanding battle for worker rights (someone I will not mention so as not to get her into trouble). And we have, at the very least, brought to the attention of workers, management and the Board the fact that we workers are supposed to be consulted before important decisions are taken.

With respect to the latter, I prefer the wording I set out in my e-mail. But, it matters not. Everyone now knows decisions may no longer be made in secret. Decisions which spend hundreds of thousands of dollars of the money we earn on capital projects we are told about only after the event. Decisions like the one to double the size of the Hot Bar.

More than this, in order to ‘buy us off,’ management have had to set out (on Page 6 of the most recent document) all sorts of goodies to ensure that we are kept happy, informed and consulted over (at least) the next year.

None of this means that we celebrate and walk away. We must all remain vigilant.

We must all hold each other, our management, our Board, and especially our new Worker-Owner Director, Charles Traitor, to account. We must ensure that all that has been promised is now produced. And, as I say in my e-mail, now that we have established that we have a right to be consulted about decision-making, we must demand a consultation exercise, where we have a hand in designing the processes and structures that allow for our being consulted on decision-making on a regular and consistent basis. So that management are not permitted (by our non-vigilance) only to consult us when it suits them.

The beat goes on …

My e-mail to the WSM HR Manager:

"Dear Deborah,

As I have expressed elsewhere, my insides may be hurting this week, but the brain is still working! I have read the entirety of the 2nd Draft of the proposed changes to the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff,' and I have the following to say:

1) Board Role In The Grievance Process

Somehow, the wording has become a little convoluted. Might I suggest: "c) Permit staff to take grievance to the Board ... "

2) Language On Participation

This is the big one. I continue to disagree with the wording being proposed. The new wording specifically dilutes the old wording as it currently exists. We were told that the purpose of the new wording was only to clarify protection, not to reduce it.

In the existing wording, the GM is quite specifically prohibited from allowing a decision-making standard that does not allow for opportunity [for paid staff] to participate in decisions and shape the guidelines for decisions.

That could be better worded. Which is what I understand is the purpose of this exercise. But, better wording or no, the impact of the existing wording is still quite clear: paid staff will be allowed the opportunity to participate in decision-making, and to shape the guidelines for decisions.

I challenge anyone in our co-op to present to the workers of this co-op any different interpretation that can be placed on the existing wording.

In other words, what the Board is attempting to do with its new wording is to dilute the import of the existing wording. I give as clear notice as I can that I will advocate as strongly as I can to prevent this dilution. To the extent of going public again, if necessary.

I challenge the Board to present to the workers of this co-op absolutely any authority they feel they may have to dilute the existing wording.

I don't really need to say any more. But I will. Someone has gone to great lengths to prepare what appears, on the face of it, to be a document with supposed rationale for the proposed new wording. But it is rationale posing as fact, when, in fact, it is all mere opinion.

The 'rationale' proffered, including a table about values being met, with the exception of accounts of employee responses received, is all someone's personal opinion. And it is not correct.

It is my understanding that the true purpose of the original language, indeed 'Treatment of Staff' as a whole, is not what is proffered in the document I have read. Rather it goes back to a time before the Policy Governance structure existed. I understand this from my own research conducted over some nine years.

It is my understanding that, when WSM was no more than a fraction of the existing Carrboro store, 'governance' consisted of workers and consumers getting together on an ad hoc basis in the store, discussing how things were going, and then making decisions collectively.

In simple terms, when WSM got bigger, and it was decided that the co-op needed a Board of sorts, protections were put in place to ensure that ordinary workers still had meaningful participation in decision-making. All decision-making. Including operational decision-making. Not least to offer protection for the very considerable investment each worker-owner was making and still makes ($500). Protection both from decisions of non-worker interests on the Board, and from the decisions of management in operations. Hence, the very precise and very broad-ranging language.

The new language does not guarantee ordinary employees the right to be involved in the decision-making itself, and certainly not to shape the guidelines for the decision-making.

All the new wording does is offer employees the opportunity to provide opinion. Which opinion can then be ignored by people to one side actually making the decisions.

One more time, I challenge anyone in our co-op to present to workers a rationale which suggests that the difference I describe is not accurate.

I mean, I can spend time further explaining the difference between being someone who is allowed only to offer an opinion to someone else, and actually being on an equal basis with that someone else, making the decisions with them, and shaping the guidelines by which we are both making the decisions. But do I really need to explain that difference?

Now. If someone, somewhere in our co-op has suddenly decided that this very specific Board Policy is unwelcome, cumbersome, whatever, then come out and say so, and let's have a very public and honest discussion about it. But please stop pretending that the new wording (1st and 2nd Draft) is mere clarity. It is not.

And so, I suggest that the wording of #4 on Page 4 of should be:

"(The GM must not:)

Be unresponsive to employee needs or operate without a transparent system for communicating information to paid staff and for allowing paid staff the opportunity to participate in decisions and shape guidelines for decisions."


Now, someone might wonder if implementation of this policy (for which implementation, by the way, I have been actively advocating these past three years) might not bring WSM to a grinding halt. My answer is no.

In 2007, a full consultation exercise with workers was held. As a consequence of which a full document was produced setting out precisely what decisions would be covered by this policy. So we wouldn't have to bring WSM to a standstill every time someone wanted to change the flavor of jam in the condiments section.

That part is done. Whatever wording is finally agreed, it is now time to implement this policy and the findings of the document setting out the categories of decisions affected. And my suggestion to the Board is, as it has been for three years, please instruct the GM, no later than the end of 2016, to conduct a full consultation exercise on how to implement this policy, at department, unit and co-op level. It might even require a Board Task Force.

3) Fulfilling Work Experience

This expression is not currently a part of 'Treatment of Staff.' But I wrote separately to the Board earlier this week, about the exclusion of the clause from the Mission Statement/Ends, and I said I would be referring to it in this missive.

I set out below the e-mail in question. Bottom line. As a worker-owner, I was never told directly that the very important wording that has been in the WSM Mission Statement for years, namely the wording guaranteeing all workers a fulfilling work experience, was being removed from the Mission Statement/Ends.

How important? The document just provided to me states it clearly, and I quote: "Ends policy - the most important Board policy."

I am not going to re-run what I have set out below. This clause was removed from Ends without the permission of worker-owners. I regard it as important as the remainder of the protections afforded in 'Treatment of Staff.' And I will advocate just as hard to have it retained.

I suggest that an easy solution is merely to have it included now in the re-drafted 'Treatment of Staff.'

Again, no-one is suggesting that this protection not be afforded workers in WSM. Indeed, your document (Page 5, the table) very specifically refers to it. So. We are on the same page that it is a guarantee that should be afforded WSM employees.

However, your document spends a lot of time attempting to explain how interpretations here, and work under way there, and initiatives somewhere else, not to mention what someone declares are values underlying policy, how all of these vague entities are the same as specific wording in Board Policy.

They are not.

Someone much cleverer than me once said something to the effect that a right only exists if you can enforce it. In the context of WSM employees, a right only exists if we can go to the Board and make grievance about its breach.

The terms of 'Treatment of Staff' and dispute resolution elsewhere in WSM Employee Policy make very clear that we can only enforce that which is a Board Policy. Not interpretations, values, understandings, initiatives, plans or wishful thinking. Only Board Policies.

So. If we are agreed that a fulfilling work experience should be a right guaranteed to WSM employees, then it needs to be enunciated specifically somewhere in Board Policy. And I nominate 'Treatment of Staff.'

And so, I would suggest that we undo the damage done to worker protections by eliminating fulfilling work experience from the Missions Statement/Ends by including it as a new number 6 (?) in 'Treatment of Staff':

"(The GM must not:)

6) Permit work experience which is not fulfilling for the worker in question."


Thinking about it, this last point, about a right only existing if it is enforceable through Board Policy, it is also true about all of the other issues concerning 'Treatment of Staff.' It is no good detailing at length all the values and interpretations and courses of action being considered to allow employees participation and protection (on Pages 5 and 6 of the document) if not one of these is guaranteed by specific wording in Board Policy. If it is not enunciated in Board Policy, it amounts to no more than hot air. Even if it is well-intentioned hot air.

I have copied this e-mail directly to the Board, and I trust it will be forwarded to all members of the Board, including those recently elected. I look forward to hearing that the above wording has been agreed. And again, I feel strongly about these (now) very limited issues. The Board is seeking to take away guaranteed worker rights. I am not asking for anything new. I am requesting merely that what it is considered be taken away be put back or left in place. And I will advocate as much as is needed and where it is needed to achieve the latter result.

Many thanks,
Geoff"


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mission Statement: Fulfilling Work Experience


Well. The insides may hurt. But. The brain still works. The battles over worker rights at Weaver Street Market Co-operative continue:

1) I am at home recovering. But I am told the revision to the proposed changes to the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff' are sitting in all of our mailboxes. Replies due by this coming Monday (December 7). Please do not think that any comments you may already have made will carry forward. The process starts all over again with this revision. If you do not say something, the WSM Board will take the view you agree to the new revision. I will be making my own comments before December 7, and I will post them. But, if they hear from me alone, they will simply ignore me. When you write, please send your comments directly to the Board, as well as to HR, at: board@weaverstreetmarket.coop.

2) Sigh. It has been brought to my attention that, somewhat under the radar, the WSM Board have also attempted to remove from the WSM Mission Statement (also known as 'Ends') the clause which is supposed to guarantee that we all have a fulfilling work experience. You may think it amounts to squat. But better that we have the clause, and some of us spend our time fighting to have it implemented, than that we do not have it at all. And so. A very long e-mail to the WSM Board, complaining at their efforts to remove that clause (one of these days, I will work out how to pepper e-mails with pictures):

"To the WSM Board (and I would be grateful if this e-mail could immediately be forwarded to all members of the WSM Board, including the newly-elected members),

Short version: This is a formal request to the WSM Board for an authorized representative of the WSM Board to write to me formally and explain to me precisely what now represents the full Mission Statement of WSM. I want, in writing, the full WSM Mission Statement that existed as of December 31, 2014; the full WSM Mission Statement that exists as of October 31, 2015; and a full explanation as to the proper governance process that moved us from December 31, 2014 to October 31, 2015.

Longer version: Some years ago, I made a decision, as a WSM worker-owner, to stop attending WSM Board Meetings. It is not incumbent upon me to know what is happening to my co-op and my status as an owner by attending such Meetings. It is incumbent upon you to follow the By-Laws, the Board Policies, the Policy Governance model, and the universally accepted precepts of co-operation, and communicate with me about what is happening. I took the view that my not attending would be my own measure as to what Johnny Ordinary Co-op Owner would know about what is happening, and would represent my own, to be fair, rather anecdotal, reference as to whether or not you were properly communicating.

So it was I became aware of the four goals. I wasn't terribly happy about the manner in which they had been created. They shouldn't have been created by management. They should have been created by owners. But, a couple of us raised a stink. And some sort of consultation was held. Not perfect. But my anecdotal reference seemed to be working. I had found out. I had been able to intervene. Some of us got a response.

In much the same way, I heard second-hand that the Board were thinking of looking at 'Ends.' There has always been an element of double-speak confusion about 'Ends' and 'Mission Statement'. I formed the view over time that they were one and the same. I wrote to the Board at that time (got no response), and reminded the Board that the 'Ends' were the prerogative of owners, not the Board. That the Board needed fully to consult with owners before making any changes.

Generally speaking, I've not been entirely happy with the manner in which 'consultation with owners' has evolved in our co-op over the years. I will be generous and say that I believe that there are Board Directors who genuinely feel that they are improving the way in which the Board actively engages with owners. However. I am not always sure that those same Board Directors understand the difference between formal governance process and friendly chit-chat.

The rest of the world understands that owners, shareholders, whatever are offered protection by a formal governance process, that includes By-Laws, Election of Directors, Annual Meetings, Referendums, Motions, Votes and the like. I welcome informal get-togethers, surveys and so on, that make for more casual opportunities to meet and converse with owners. But these are not the same as the legal, quantifiable and formal demands required by the formal governance process. And I'm not always sure that WSM Board Directors understand that. And I stress, legal requirements.

So it was that I was unhappy that the Board abrogated to itself the right to change the By-Laws, without reference to owners. The By-Laws are the legal constitution of any corporation. They are to be changed only by meetings of owners. I know of no other corporation in the world that allows the Board of Directors alone to make changes to the By-Laws. I was and remain concerned that such a move is, in fact, illegal. I wrote to the Board at the time, expressing my concerns. I got no response.

Which brings me to the October 2015 Minutes of the WSM Board. For the reasons stated above, I have also stopped reading Board Minutes. Again, I should not have to read Minutes to find out if anything important is happening to the formal status of my co-op. You should be communicating with me, one-on-one, as an owner. The only reason I read the Minutes was because of my specific concerns about the Board Policy, Treatment of Staff.

I read that a worker-owner, in the opening comments, mentioned that the proposed changes to the 'Ends' had removed reference to workers in WSM having a fulfilling work experience. In my opinion, and I have advocated about it ad nauseam over the years, there are three aspects to the formal WSM governance process that protect the status of workers in our co-op, and give any meaning to our describing ourselves as a worker-consumer hybrid co-op: the clause in Ends which says our work experience should be fulfilling; the election of Worker-Owner Directors; and the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff'. Without each of these three protections, WSM is merely paying lip service to the notion that our co-op is half-owned by its workers; taking our investment money, parading ourselves to our consumers as being a corporate entity that looks after its workers, but without actually providing the means by which that half-ownership finds any kind of demonstrable expression.

So. The clause about fulfilling work experience is important. Always has been.

I have huge respect for the worker-owner in question. Even so, my first reaction was that she was wrong. Anecdotal or not, my sense was that nothing had been brought to my attention to suggest that this clause had been removed from Ends. But, precisely because of my respect, I took the time to check. Tine which lasted well over three hours. I mention that because it should not take me three hours to check whether an important aspect of my rights as an owner of WSM has been seriously reduced.

This is what I came up with.

At no time, as a worker-owner, have I ever been formally communicated with, by e-mail or by paper, to inform me that the Mission Statement was being changed to exclude the important protection stating that my work experience should be fulfilling.

You do not communicate with me by putting a post-it up on a wall half-an-hour away from me. You do not communicate with me by putting something up on a blog. You communicate with me about reducing my rights by following what are the normal processes of governance. You write to me one-on-one with a proposed change, a venue where it will be discussed, and a process whereby I may express my approval or disapproval, in the presence of my peers.

This is exactly why I have been expressing concern about the evolution of process in our co-op. A Co-op Fair is not the Annual Meeting, demanded by our By-Laws. A survey is not a discussion and vote in the presence of peers. Using language about a concept 'resonating' is not the language of governance process accepted as the norm by every other corporation in the world.

You want to change my protection as a WSM worker-owner, you write to me and ask me. This did not happen. It is happening with the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff'. And you have seen the reaction. We care. We are concerned. We respond. There was no response to potentially removing a protective clause about workers from Ends, other than the one worker-owner, apparently after the event, because you, the Board, did not communicate with worker-owners about it.

And let me stress this. Management in WSM manage operations. They do not manage relations between the Board and owners. You do. If there is a change to governance process, language, policies, whatever, that affects owners, you communicate with owners. You. The Board. Not management. If it affects worker-owners. You communicate with worker-owners. You. The Board. Not management.

Let's talk about what did happen. There was general chit-chat. I wrote to you in general terms about properly consulting owners before making changes to the Mission Statement. This was not some idle reference on my part. And I apologize for the length of this e-mail. But this is important. It has context in terms of institutional memory and history. And I'm not sure you know about that reference.

The previous Mission Statement was not thrown together on the back of an envelope. It was the product of the careful consideration of a full Board Task Force, which met for a year. The recommendations of that Task Force were then put to the full ownership. They made a decision. They. The owners. Not just the Board.

You were engaged in a process to undo the work of the ownership. It was incumbent upon you to engage with owners just as fully. You appear to have failed.

Leaving that on one side. I receive no formal communication, as a worker-owner, about any changes to Ends which affect me, as a worker-owner. I am invited to attend an employee Co-op Sales Event - much the same thing as the consumer Co-op Fair. Again. Please note. An event organized by management, not by the Board.

I used to be a lawyer. I know how to root out what is important. I try the sandwiches. Button-hole Ruffin. And make for the conference room with all the governance stuff. I find the display about wanting to change the Ends. There are all sorts of arrows and written bits. I follow as best I can. And this is important. As a lawyer, I am left with the very clear impression that the full shopping list of the Mission Statement will remain, with a few tweaks as to wording. And there is this added thing about changing the sentence to do with 'vibrant commercial center.' There is no indication whatsoever that the clause about fulfilling work experience will be removed. More than this, I am very clear in my mind that it will definitely remain. I double-checked. To make sure. It is what I was primarily concerned about. For the rest, I did not care. We've had discussions about 'vibrant commercial center'. What does it mean? WSM should be vibrant? Downtown should be vibrant? So. You want to make that sentence more meaningful? Go for it. Provided you keep the clause about fulfilling work experience.

I think no more about it.

I read the Annual Report. I am concerned there appears to be no Annual Meeting. I make a mental note you are skirting with legality, and will keep a watching brief. I do not take part in the Owner Survey. Done it before. It may be interesting to you. But it has no part in governance process. Whatever you may say. Feedback, resonance, wine and cheeses are not governance process. Elections, formal meetings, by-laws, motions, votes, these are governance process.

Next thing I know, I am reading your October Minutes.

I remember that, when the new web-site first went up, I had noticed that the Mission Statement had been removed. I believe I wrote to the Board then. Got no response.

I checked with the WSM By-Laws. Yup. Article VI, Section 2. Still a need to hold Annual Meetings. Mission Statements have to be approved by owners. Approval comes at Annual Meetings. Not by smoke signals at Co-op Fairs. Not by resonance from an ownership survey.

But I decide to check the Ownership Survey anyway. Taken down. Decide to re-read the Letter from the Board in the Annual Report. One more time, an impersonal reactive 'Letter' in an online document is not a communication with me as an owner. But I'd read it the first time. I checked again.

I was right. All it said was that you were wanting to replace the sentence in Ends about vibrant commercial center with one which actually talked about selling food. Leaving aside my concerns about the manner of this process, I hadn't made issue at the time because, what the heck, good change.

But. Absolutely nothing about getting rid of the remaining shopping list of the Mission Statement, including the all-important clause about fulfilling work experience.

So. What was the worker-owner talking about?

As a final check, I followed the link in the 'new' WSM Board Policies, and looked at the section now entitled Ends. And there was this one sentence about selling food and shared everything.

And this part I will take slowly.

That is all there was. And is. This one sentence. There has been no formal communication with me, as a worker-owner, about removing a hugely important protection of my right to a fulfilling work experience. A right I deem to be so important, I pursued a formal grievance all the way to the Board about it a few years ago. The only time in the history of WSM that a worker has pursued a grievance to the Board. The only indirect communication with me as a worker about Ends was a display at our Co-op Sales Event, from which it was clear to me that this clause was not being removed. The Letter in the Annual Report talks (perhaps, I now realize, somewhat disingenuously) only about replacing the one sentence referring to vibrant commercial center with this new sentence; nothing about removing the remainder of the Mission Statement. Nothing about removing the clause guaranteeing workers a fulfilling work experience.

Between this, and removing our right to ethical dissent from Treatment of Staff - by mistake - just what is going on?

More formally, as I indicate at the beginning of this very long e-mail, I want a formal response to this e-mail. Where is the remainder of our Mission Statement? By what formal process and with what authority did you remove it? And specifically, please present to me the formal consultative process involving worker-owners directly which gave you permission to remove the clause guaranteeing workers a fulfilling work experience?

I note that one of your Board members states that this latter protection is still afforded in the notes appended by Ruffin to his interpretation in the Letter appended to the Annual Report. Do I have that right? If one of my Board members truly believes that a post-it offers the same protection of rights as a clause in a Mission Statement, then perhaps I should not be surprised that removing a clause from Board Policy guaranteeing my right to ethical dissent is described by that same Board as a 'mistake.'

After this hugely long missive, I'll make it easy for you. And I've put this in bold, so that you can't miss it. I will be writing to you later this week with my thoughts on the re-wording of the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff.' I still want the response to this e-mail that I request. But, as far as the specific clause about fulfilling work experience is concerned, if you agree to include that requirement in 'Treatment of Staff' going forward, I'll regard that as compliance with my concerns about that clause. And I will include language to that effect in my comments to you about 'Treatment of Staff'.

Mind you, I still want you to explain to me how you feel you have the authority to remove the remainder of the Mission Statement. But if the new wording of 'Treatment of Staff' includes fulfilling work experience, that will be an end to that issue. If not, then this issue will continue, and will evolve. I promise you. You do not take away the right of WSM workers to a fulfilling work experience by subterfuge, default, improper process, sleight of hand or mistake.

I want to end by adding this. It's difficult to know how to express this, because you have consciously made governance a process of smoke and mirrors.

You could say that you made very clear that the new Ends would only be the new one sentence. And that no-one objected. But I think you made it difficult to object.

I know what I saw at my Co-op Fair. Nothing clearly stating that the remainder of the Mission Statement was being removed. Add to this the following. No direct communication with me, as a worker-owner, that you were removing an important clause protecting my rights. A disingenuous Letter in the Annual Report. Which talks about the new one sentence. But nowhere specifically states that you are removing the remainder of the Mission Statement. And the fact that you are offering as comparison only the one sentence about vibrant commercial center. Meanwhile, you have removed the old Mission Statement from the official web-site.

If this wasn't all deliberate deflection, then it was avoidable confusion. And there is way too much of this. Is it any wonder that no-one objected? We didn't know what you were doing.

Now, I know that some find the expressions of my concern as an owner somewhat confrontational. But, to be fair, in the past two months, I have discovered that you have attempted to remove two of the three vital protections afforded workers in our co-op. Do you not think this justifies a bit of confrontation? I don't like taking family discussions to the media. But I will if the internal processes are being eviscerated.

I look forward to a full and meaningful response. I would be grateful if this e-mail could immediately be forwarded to all members of the WSM Board, including the newly-elected members.

All the best,
Geoff
Worker-Owner"


Friday, November 20, 2015

Pop Voxx EP - Tracking Complete!


Last evening, completed the last major element of tracking for the six-song Pop Voxx EP. Horns on 'Kisses', 'Romantic Fool' and 'Caribbean Sunrise'. Excellent playing from the guys, and some truly wonderful arrangement by Danny Grewen. All at Nightsound Studios, with producer Chris Wimberley and recording engineer Meghan Puryear. Won't be long now. The EP should be mixed and mastered by the end of the year. With the new Pop Voxx band. Yes. Band. Er. Yet to form it. New band playing a showcase/EP release party early in 2016. Keep your eyes and your ears open!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hugh John Simmonds, CBE: April 20, 1948 - November 15, 1988


More so than at any time since I first learned cursive writing (1962), the world we live in is shaped by violent conflict. And whatever impulses may be driving the desire for armed confrontation, its expression is fueled by arms sales.

Which brings me to the annual anniversary of the still unresolved and mysterious death of the man who is the subject of my recently-published book, Maggies’s Hammer, and the dichotomy at the heart of that book and its promotion.

I will this coming Friday conclude two and a half months of initial international radio interviews talking to all and sundry about my book, its subject matter and why it helps ordinary folk and experts alike better to understand just what the heck is going on in the world today.

But, here’s the thing. My primary angle, beyond attempting to find out why my good friend, mentor and Margaret Thatcher’s favorite speechwriter ended up dead in a peaceful woodland glade, thirty miles west of the British Parliament, is to expose the rampant and high-level corruption associated with the arms industry in the UK, and the UK’s special covert military arrangements with the US. And explain how they feed so much of today’s geopolitical agenda. Everything from the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Africa, to last Friday’s appalling tragedy in Paris.

And yet, while I am engaged on what some might see as this noble mission, the man at the heart of my investigations was, in fact, actively seeking to make money from that which I now seek to expose. The first of so many dichotomies that have become acutely visible to me in the course of some 30-40 radio interviews.

I want truth. And yet so many of those to whom I speak engage in lies. That’s what spies do. My aim is simple – find out what happened, so that Hugh’s family may know. Yet too many of my informants play with me, as if I am a part of their game. And I have to try to sort out the chaff from reality. My interviewers genuinely feel for my ambition. Yet, they constantly seek to move my commentary into areas that, frankly, have nothing to do with my book. As a consequence of which, I feel myself ever so gently, on occasion, losing sight of the essential narrative. While worrying that what I see as my primary need (the opening of the relevant government files in the UK) becomes less likely the more I speak on radio programs that might affect my credibility.

Dichotomies abundant.

But, there is one constant which never changes. As awkward and as outrĂ© as it might seem in an age of yes she did, no he didn’t, instant ADD social media gratification. In 1989, I held the hands of an eleven year old girl. Whose face was vacant, her eyes haunted. And promised that I would find out why her father had died, without explanation for her. I will fulfill that promise.

And so, today, a few days after the western world engaged in its annual ritual of remembering those who died on our behalf. In military conflicts around the world. Conflicts they and we had no hand in designing. As we attempt to absorb the horror of one of those conflicts acting out in what we had assumed were our safe neighborhoods. As, hopefully, we might once again want to reconsider the importance to our economic way of life of arms sales. And the toxic influence they have on our body politic through associated arms kickbacks. I remember that twenty-seven years ago, on this day, my best friend died in the service of his Prime Minister. A fact which, as we remember so much else, very few will feel constrained to remember. Something I genuinely believe, now that my book has so very kindly been published by Kris Millegan, a man who has yet even to meet me, something I believe may finally change in this coming year.

RIP Hugh. Love to Janet, Karen, Juliet, Tanya and Paul.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Durham Co-op -- Even More ...


Fellow Southern Village Weave worker-owner, Neil Shock, has written a wonderful commentary on the article this week in IndyWeek about the Durham Co-op [below]. Thank you, Neil!

I'm assuming that, when WSM 'leaders' talk about clash, conflict and problems with worker-ownership as a principle (as they do in said article), they mean the times that one or other of those pesky WSM worker-owners has stepped up and reminded said co-op 'leaders' (whether in Orange County or Durham) how it is that co-operation, policy governance and their own policies are actually supposed to work? Cf. Attempts to remove WSM Employee Policy protections? In which case, yay for clashes, conflicts and problems. Which no doubt explains why I've never been asked to give governance classes.

On an aside, I find it interesting that, on the whole, and notwithstanding the fact that WSM is half-owned by its workers, whenever media outlets consult WSM 'leaders,' they seem always to limit themselves to management and Board members.

Anyway. Hush my mouth. Neil's lovely commentary:

" "But Stasio says it's more complicated than that. Based on the consultant's recommendations, he says, the co-op is adopting what is known as "policy governance," delegating management of daily operations to its general manager rather than an overly meddlesome board of directors. Issues will arise if the board micromanages such an organization—and having workers on the board will lead to more interference, he says.

Moreover, workers would face constant calls to recuse themselves over conflicts of interest when votes affect them, Stasio adds. And the store's general manager would also have to oversee employees who could, as part of the board, push to fire her."

I am a worker-owner at Weaver Street Market for the past four years, I have belonged to other co-ops in the past as well as working union jobs, I have had the board explained to me multiple times by multiple people, I have sat in on half a dozen board meetings, I have done some research on policy governance, and I was part of the election committee for the 2014 WSM board elections. So as I reading this all I can think is, "Bro, do you even co-op?"

Rather than being a conflict of interest, this sort of hybrid worker/consumer co-op leads to compromise-- if done correctly. It's fairly commonsense.

The ownership (workers and consumers) want a certain action taken. They elect a board responsible to them *only* and present the board with demands and goals. The board prioritizes these goals based on democratic input and shapes the objectives and parameters within which the co-op attempts to meet the owners' demand-- constrained by bylaws and budget, mostly. Once the board does that they present the goals, the boundaries, and the metric for progress to the General Manager. The GM is responsible to the board to see that we get from point A to point B without stepping out of bounds.

The GM is responsible to the Board. The Board is responsible to the owners. The owners do not directly interfere with the GM. But the owners ultimately hold the power and employ the board and GM. Owners -> Board -> GM.

Now, once the GM has been given their task, they are in charge of operations. The GM is essentially an executive position. That means that they function as a boss toward the workers. Which sounds like an inversion of the relationship above. The GM now holds most of the day-to-day power, including power over the worker-owners, with regards to daily operations. But the GM can only act within the parameters set by the board. Which is why it is crucial to have workers represented on the board-- to prevent conflict in daily operations by agreeing to the parameters of how the GM does their job and to provide recourse if the GM is putting unreasonable demands on workers.

The GM is essentially tasked with keeping the ball rolling towards the goals set by owners while the board is the where the compromises are made.

Also, this is total nonsense:

"Moreover, workers would face constant calls to recuse themselves over conflicts of interest when votes affect them."

Why? Wouldn't consumers be forced into the same situation?

Likewise, this misses the point of policy governance:

"And the store's general manager would also have to oversee employees who could, as part of the board, push to fire her."

Yes and no. The GM is responsible to the board in total, not to workers solely.The GM operates within the boundaries created by the board, which includes compromises made with the consent of worker-ownership. The GM only has to stay within the boundaries to be compliant. If the workers feel that the boundaries allow for the GM to abuse workers then they can go to the board to shift or narrow the boundaries. And active worker-owner representation should prevent the situation from going too off course to begin with. Again, compromise. The GM would likely only be censured or fired for failing to stay within the boundaries set by bylaws, policy, and budget.

On top of all this, worker-ownership incentivizes workers to be responsive to consumers, since profit in the firm is returned to them in their dividend. This tends to be a bit more progressive motivation than, "Do what the GM says or we'll fire you." "

[Not sure how to comply with WSM Employee Policy on this one. Do I add the caveat that only my comments are my opinion? Since Neil's are his. Even though I mention them in my article. And are WSM 'leaders' still making comment? Even though they say they have no comment to make on the comments not attributed to them? Ok. I've got a headache. And I need to go lie down ...]

Monday, November 9, 2015

Durham Co-op -- The Consultants


I have set out elsewhere the advice the Board of Durham Co-op Market (DCM) have attributed to the Weaver Street Market Co-op (WSM) GM, in the DCM Board deliberations which preceded their decision to promulgate a referendum, seeking to abolish worker shares in DCM, which referendum has now been withdrawn pending further discussion.

The consultants the DCM Board have been using have now decided to post their own statement on the discussion thread following the original article on Bull City Rising. Sigh.

Merrily scattering disclaimers all over the place, I decided to enter the fray (again), and offer a gentle rebuttal. To be honest, I've had enough of so-called co-operative consultants peddling a line which, in my personal opinion (only), has absolutely nothing to do with applying co-operative business principles in practice. It might seem harmless. But not when it leads to the sort of episode we have just witnessed with DCM.

CDS statement:

"There are all kinds of cooperatives including consumer-owned, worker-owned, farmer-owned, and multi-stakeholder. We love them all! CDS Consulting Co-op is a shared services cooperative owned by our member consultants. As consultants committed to supporting other cooperators, we often base our recommendations on what we have seen work for other co-ops.

While we are intrigued with multi-stakeholder models, we know of only one example of successful implementation of a worker/consumer hybrid food co-op - Weavers Street Market. Given the rarity of this model, it's not one we have a strong reason to recommend or identify as a best practice.

Starting a new food co-op is a very complicated and challenging endeavor that takes several years to implement. In order to survive, new co-ops require an intense focus on building sales, improving operations, and achieving profitability. We think the more complicated multi-stakeholder model makes it even more challenging and therefore do not advise it at the start up stage. This is a matter more of practicality than of values.

We support the Durham Co-op Market's board decision to take more time to discuss the organizational structure with the co-op's members. If they decide to implement the multi-stakeholder model, we will offer the best consulting support we can to help them move forward with their decision.

Marilyn Scholl, manager
CDS Consulting Co-op"


My gentle response:

"I apologize, but I'm going to introduce a slightly tendentious note. As before, I want to stress the views I'm about to share are personal, and do not represent in any fashion the official line of Weaver Street Market Co-operative - although I might wish that they did. These views are, however, based upon some nine years of advocating for worker rights within WSM, and attempting to make WSM a stronger business by being a better co-op (and if you're in any way interested in what that looks like, maybe take a peek at my blog, linked below).

The representative of CDS says: "In order to survive, new co-ops require an intense focus on building sales, improving operations, and achieving profitability." I'm bound to say this is very much reflective of a fearful attitude prevalent among many in the co-op community. The inference is that we can get around to being a co-op once we're successful as a business.

Look, I'm not stupid. I used to earn six figures a year as a management consultant. I know how to do corporate capitalism. But why is it that so many in our co-op community are so scared of the notion that it is co-operation that enhances the chance of profitability, rather than being an obstacle or an afterthought?

What first attracted me to co-operation was the notion that it represented an alternative business model. Not just an alternative ownership model. But a whole new way of making a business successful.

As I see it, the concept always has been this. You get to the heart of what it is you want to do. You have a group of people who have a common need. Could be groceries. Could be a mushroom farm. Or horse-riding. You set about mutually meeting the need. While removing all the extraneous outside interferences that add cost to the equation: capital that can be speculated; empire-building management; marketing that guesses, as opposed to consumers deciding what they want.

You bring in people dedicated to providing the need, and ask them how they would like to provide the need. Because if you ask, and they are allowed to decide, then they are invested in making sure the how they decided actually works.

Nothing here of that intense focus on remote management techniques, operational excellence, building sales, etc. etc. Just meeting a need, the simplest way possible, by asking consumers and then asking workers. Democracy.

And for the life of me, as simple as the concept appears to be to me, someone steeped in the arcane intricacies of corporate capitalism, I simply do not understand why co-operative consultants seek solace in those arcane intricacies, rather than actually giving economic democracy its best chance.

DCM have taken a moment to rethink their path. I would invite them to use the moment to rethink more than just the voice they give to workers. Actually take a longer moment genuinely to work out why you want to be a co-op at all.

Co-operation. Democracy. Inclusion. Consensus. These are not afterthoughts to the business model that should be DCM - and WSM for that matter, too. They are the very foundation which creates the business model that is the much better alternative to conventional corporate capitalism."

Just to keep things updated, Bull City Rising just posted an account of the DCM Annual Meeting last evening. This is the last time I will be posting from that blog. For no reason other than the fact that I have an EP to complete! I invite you to keep any eye on the blog yourselves.

[As always, I am duty bound by WSM Employee Policy to state that these opinions are mine alone, and do not in any way represent the policy of WSM. Mind you, anyone who is an employee of WSM is subject to the same policy. I can't help but wonder about the manner in which the DCM Board were offered the advice they attribute to WSM; whether any declarations were made about the nature of that advice (personal or WSM policy); and, if the latter, what entity of authority within WSM has ever properly determined a policy which states that WSM may tell other co-op's that worker-ownership is not best practice. I mean, I wonder.]

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Durham Co-op -- Stop The Press !!


The referendum to do away with worker shares has been withdrawn, pending further discussion. I would say only this. Do not gloat. This is a victory for no-one other than democracy. Which means that everyone has won.

It takes a deal of courage to stop mid-course, and choose a different path. Well done everyone. And I do mean, everyone. Including the brave folk who spoke up. And the courageous people who listened, heard and acted.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Durham Co-op, Worker-Owners, Bylaws, Continuing ...


The article about Durham Co-operative Market (DCM) seeking to do away with worker-ownership is now up on Bull City Rising (BCR). I am quoted (with no explanation as to who I am -- oops). But, I prefer this part:

"After the Durham Co-op opened, though, the board began honing and reviewing governing documents, including grievance policies. It was after conferring with CDS and Weaver Street general manager Ruffin Slater, that Durham board suggested striking the language about worker shares, subject to a vote of the membership. “They [CDS] said ‘Nobody does this,’” says Frank Stasio, board president.

Stasio says that Slater also advised against a worker-owner component because "it’s very difficult, especially for a start-up.""

Sigh.

Next up. The Annual Meeting itself this coming Sunday (November 8), at 6.00pm, in the DCM store. What I didn't know was that voting has been underway for two weeks already. However, it continues until the Meeting itself, and I believe is permitted at the Meeting as well. We'll see.

In the meantime, BCR has a Facebook Page, and comments are going up on the post there.

[For the sake of complying with WSM Employee Policy, I posted the following comment to both the original BCR article, and to their post on their Facebook Page:

"I am the 'Geoff Gilson' quoted in the article. Although no description is given of me.

I am a worker-owner advocate with Weaver Street Market Co-op. I was approached for my thoughts. And the comments I make are made in a personal capacity only.

It's a difficult thing. I believe that co-op's work best as a bulwark against speculative and corporate capitalism if they are truly democratic, and remain under the control of their community, free from outside interference.

By definition, not being a member of the Durham Market Co-op, and living one town over (in Carrboro), I am 'outside interference.' So, I commented with care.


That said, my experience has given me a universal interest in worker rights. And I felt compelled to say something, however carefully."]

Oops. There's more. I have now discovered an online notice for the DCM Annual Meeting, which notice has the wording of the proposed change to the Articles of Incorporation, and indicates that voting may take place up to and including November 13. So, one can vote at the Annual Meeting this coming Sunday (November 8), and a bit beyond. The Annual Meeting and all voting takes place in the store itself. And yes, I'm up at 5 o'clock in the morning. I've made the point before, and I'll make it again. I don't get to do any of this on anyone's clock but my own.

Durham Co-op - Proposed Changes To Bylaws


I think there is something in the air! I was approached by a local media representative on Thursday (November 5) for my comments upon what appears to be a move by the Board of the new Durham Co-operative Market (DCM) to remove protections for workers from the DCM Bylaws, at their first Annual Meeting, to be held this coming Sunday (November 8), at 6.00pm.

The reason for the approach was the understanding that the Bylaws of DCM were based upon the Bylaws and Board Policies of Weaver Street Market Co-operative (WSM).

I made some enquiries, did some research, wrote a statement, had a conversation with Frank Stasio, the President of the DCM Board, and nationally-renowned host of WUNC's 'State of Things,' and then amended my statement, which was released to the media representative in question, and posted on my Facebook Page and here. The media representative is Lisa Sorg, and the media outlet is Bull City Rising. Both Frank and I will be speaking further but separately with Lisa on Friday morning.

Before I come to my statement, I want to make clear that I completely believe that the Board of DCM believes itself to be acting in the best interests of its workers, and at no point has my interaction with DCM been hostile.

DCM have been completely friendly and welcoming to my input. I am just concerned that, as well-meaning as they believe themselves to be, they are being given bad advice by their consultants. I am wary of anyone who says that worker interests can best be represented by anyone other than workers, be they consumers, management or consultants. Let workers represent themselves, both in operational decision-making and on the Board.

My statement:

"I am a worker-owner advocate of some nine year’s standing with Weaver Street Market Co-operative (WSM), which co-op helped with establishing the Durham Co-op (DCM).

I am told that this coming Sunday (Nov 8), a ‘consumer-owner referendum’ will be put to the DCM Annual Meeting, which referendum is described as removing the notion of worker shares from the DCM Bylaws, thereby apparently removing worker-owner representation from the DCM Board of Directors.

I have been approached in the belief that the governance structure of DCM is modeled on that of WSM, which is what is known as a worker-consumer hybrid co-op, one where the capital is forthcoming from both consumers and workers, and one where, therefore, the rights of both consumers and workers are represented and protected.

CAVEAT

I can find no Bylaws on the DCM website. I can find no reference to any proposed changes to be presented at the Annual Meeting. I can find a list of Directors for DCM, which list does not appear to include any workers from DCM. I can find no reference to there being worker shares.

I am, therefore, making this statement solely on the basis of what has been told to me. I am doing so because I take the notion of worker rights seriously. If there is an attempt to reduce worker rights in any co-op, I would be disappointed, and would want to say something.

So, I may have this all completely wrong. In which case, the only deleterious impact is that I look foolish. And I’ll take that risk!

ECONOMIC DEMOCRACY

The supreme concept behind co-operation is that it avoids the self-serving pitfalls of corporate capitalism by putting all decision-making democratically in the hands of those the co-op immediately serves. Thus, toxic outside interference (speculators and the like) is reduced to a minimum.

If the locally-based, democratic owners of DCM choose to remove rights of workers this coming Sunday, that is their right. And commentary from me, one town over, is, by definition, ‘outside interference.’

WORKER/CONSUMER HYBRID

I can find no evidence that DCM is a worker/consumer hybrid. Even if it is not, I would recommend the structure to it and to all other co-ops. It is a model which, if properly implemented, can be both profitable and fully protective of the rights of all that are served, including those who do the work necessary to make the entity profitable.

The essential modus is this: consumers decide what it is they want provided to them – without the need for expensive capitalist marketing, which merely spends a lot of time and money guessing. And workers then decide how to provide – without all the soul-destroying and wasteful shenanigans of remote worker-management techniques.

It is no secret that I advocate heavily about WSM. Not least because the senior management of WSM seems neither to understand the component about workers being included in decision-making, nor to want to implement the co-op policy that demands such worker inclusion.

I am told that “the party line in Durham is that it's ‘not a best practice’” [worker shares, that is]. Sigh. Again, I emphasize that I am speaking in the absence of a lot of information.

However, if it is true that there is a proposal which some might characterize as diminishing the rights of workers in a co-op, then that is not something avowedly progressive people would want widely to advertise.

In my WSM co-op, we are in the middle of an exercise to attempt to diminish the rights of workers in our worker-consumer hybrid, by having the Board Policy which protects the right of workers to be included in operational decision-making totally removed.

I have played some small part these past few days in bringing that move to a halt, and getting it reviewed by the WSM Board.

The ‘line’ used in advocating for removal of that worker protection was that “it is not in line with other co-op’s.” A line which appears to be similar to the one being attributed to ‘Durham.’

Both lines are nonsense. The essential point about co-op’s is that those immediately served are protected from interference with the provision of what they want, in the way they want, by democracy.

The lines offered essentially amount to, well, democracy is inconvenient. Of course, democracy is inconvenient. That’s the whole point. It offers the checks and balances to protect against corporate capitalism.

I would go so far as to say this: when you hear a line about ‘in line’ or ‘best practice,’ it is most likely coming from a technocrat and not from a dedicated co-operator

There is absolutely no evidence that the application of democracy interferes with the ability of a co-op to make a profit.

Quite the reverse. Economic democracy enhances the performance of workers, produces dedicated consumers, and prevents any and all profit from being siphoned off by outside elements.

CONVERSATION WITH FRANK STASIO

On Thursday evening, I spoke with Frank Stasio, the President of the DCM Board of Directors. I understand that he will be speaking on Friday morning with the same media representative who approached me.

Briefly, what Frank stated to me was that DCM has been receiving extensive consulting advice about governance, as it has developed operating and governance structures this past year. That the original structure was, indeed, based upon that of WSM, which included worker ownership as a class of ownership separate to consumer-ownership. That the advice of the DCM consultants was that a worker-consumer hybrid is not best practice. That the DCM Board wished to protect worker rights. But that the advice was that this could best be done not by worker input as a separate process, but by the GM making proposals. With the caveat that workers could become general owners, and vote alongside consumers.

My reaction, in tune with the above, is this, subject again to the caveat that I am not an owner of DCM:

1) I think it is important to the concept of co-operation in retail that all stakeholders are included in decision-making. In a manner that best presents the ‘investment’ of the stakeholder in the co-operative. I do not believe that there is anyone better able to represent the interests of workers than workers. Not the Board. Not the GM. I am concerned that subsuming the voice of workers among consumers (who have a different agenda) and to the GM, who is the ultimate boss of all workers, who may not feel free to express their true concerns to their GM, is diluting the voice of workers. I think there should be a separate worker voice in operations and on the Board.

2) I am a little concerned that DCM is removing the protection that exists for worker input without having a plan to replace already in place. I completely believe that the Board of DCM is acting in good faith. I’m just concerned about the hiatus created. Once something is removed, it is difficult to put it back.

3) I would be much happier if I was hearing that the workers of DCM are totally in support of the proposed changes to the DCM Bylaws.

4) I am little moved by consultants who say that democracy is not best practice. And yes, I know that comment is tendentious. It’s what I’m hearing from the consultants in this matter. My opinion!

I am sending this statement to Lisa Sorg (the media representative), Frank Stasio and Leila Wolfram (the DCM GM). I am also posting it on my Facebook and my blog, only because I put all my co-op involvement there. Anyone is perfectly welcome to comment there also!"

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Charles, Participation, Self-Management


Got a very nice note from new Weave Worker-Owner Director, Charles Traitor. He confirms he will be speaking at the WSM Board Meeting tomorrow evening (November 4), in support of new language for WSM Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff,' entrenching not erasing WSM employees' rights to be allowed to participate in WSM decision-making; which decision-making must also be transparent.

I am delighted that Charles will be representing worker views so soon and so actively. Thank you, Charles. That said, if any WSM owners, worker or consumer, are available tomorrow evening, please do not leave him on his own. Try to find the time to attend the Board Meeting, to show your support.

And to any WSM Board Members or managers reading this, if no throng turns up (e.g. I will be working), please do not take that as a lack of support. The true indication of support that worker democracy has in our co-op was demonstrated quite clearly in the 62 votes garnered by Charles, and the 33 votes received by Caitlin, in the recent Worker-Owner Director election.

The truly interesting part of Charles' note was the emphasis he puts on the organization and self-management of worker-owners. Charles makes the point that the correct language in policy is important as a reference. But it counts for nothing if there is not that organization and self-management.

I am a tad concerned that we do not become so taken with 'organization and self-management' that we do not apply it where it can work. For myself, I have spent my time over the past nine years focusing on the proper language and its implementation, so that the space exists for workers to take advantage if they so wish. I have not attempted to organize as such. My view is that I can not force folks to do things. I can only show them what is possible.

But you know, I really think that what Charles and I are doing are the flip sides of the same coin. On the one hand, making sure the correct language and opportunity are in place. On the other, organizing folks to take advantage of the opportunities created.

Now, that said, I do think you can expect Charles to be knocking on all of your doors, to ensure that you do now participate. Not just in implementing the language and opportunity that has been forged. But generally, in utilizing worker-ownership in a collective sense, so as to inculcate among workers more of a sense of what is possible in our co-op.

Charles also very kindly closed his note with a quote from Eugene Debs: "I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out." Grateful for the quote. Even if no-one would ever mistake me for a socialist!

As Charles said: "Good luck to us all - I mean, good organizing" ...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

WCHL Commentary: Co-op Employee Democracy


So, my Commentary on the proposed changes to WSM Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff' hit the airwaves on WCHL this past Monday (October 26). Please act (workers and consumers alike), and help your friendly workers at The Weave.

In the meantime, Charles Traitor, the newly-elected WSM Worker-Owner Director, has himself taken to the intra-WSM social media (Slack), and posted his opposition to the proposed changes to 'Treatment of Staff.' Opposition which is much in line with mine and other employees.

I trust that Charles will be allowed to voice that opposition at the WSM Board Meeting on November 4, and that he will have effect. Don't, however, take that for granted. If you are free that evening, please find the time to attend the Board Meeting, and show your support for Charles and those he represents.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Treatment of Staff: Chapel Hill News


As promised, article on page 10A of The Chapel Hill News section of The News&Observer. Little tucked away. But it's there.

Now. As I urged yesterday. Please put a copy up on your breakroom noticeboard. You are entitled. It is your noticeboard too. This is your news. We are still allowed ethical comment. And your fellow workers deserve to know what is happening on their behalf - the good as well as the bad. They deserve to know that voting works, protesting works. In our co-op.

But don't stop there. As the article makes clear, the WSM Board will be reconsidering the Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff' at its Board Meeting on November 4.

Please write (all of you, consumer and worker) to them (board@weaverstreetmarket.coop) and tell them that we workers do not want any changes to that Board Policy. We want to continue to have our rights to be involved in decision-making within WSM (even if that doesn't happen at the moment!), ethically to dissent and to take our grievances to the WSM Board.

If you feel so inclined, go one further. Ask the WSM Board now to demand of the WSM General Manager that he immediately hold a full consultative exercise (just as he did to try to push through the proposed changes to WSM Employee Policy), to allow workers to design the process by which, going forward, we will be involved fully and properly in WSM decision-making, in line with the document produced in 2007.

We won a step. Now, we need to continue down the Yellow Brick Road, all the way to the Emerald City. That would be the sustainable, walkable, bikeable, authentic, locally-grown and organic Emerald City, by the way ...

Friday, October 23, 2015

Treatment Of Staff: Partial Victory For WSM Employees


I do not often toot my own horn - unless it is about my book or Pop Voxx / Geoff Gilson. But you will know that I responded ... um ... aggressively to the proposed changes to the WSM Board Policy 'Treatment of Staff,' notice of which we were given only last Friday, with feedback supposed to be in this coming Monday.

People wonder why I care. Why I go out on a limb. Well. Because I don't like seeing my friends hurting. I am not a brave person. I am terrified every time I take on WSM management. I have bills, too. But, sod it. Friends come first.

So, I posted on Facebook. Tagged the world. Put up a post on OrangePolitics. Recorded a Commentary to go out on WCHL on Monday. Spent two hours yesterday with a local newspaper. Their journalist spoke at length with the WSM General Manager.

Five minutes ago before I left for work this morning. Fifteen minutes before I was due to have a private meeting with the WSM Human Resources Manager. The newspaper in question received a letter from the WSM Board, saying they are withdrawing the changes, and are going to re-consider, due to employee feedback.

You guys responded. And it worked. I hope I played some small part in triggering the employee and consumer feedback. Now. Follow through. Demand the changes to 'Treatment of Staff' are simply binned. Permanently.

Now. This is only the first step. Second step is for the WSM Board to act further. As I set out in the e-mail I sent to them today:

"I have just heard that the WSM Board sent to The Chapel Hill News a letter stating that the Board would be reconsidering the proposed changes to its policy 'Treatment of Staff.'

We have had only a very short period to consider those proposed changes. It has taken me a while fully to grasp their impact. Time, I would add, which has all been off-the-clock. Those proposing the changes are paid when they produce their paperwork. I do it on my own time.

In any event, I now formally request of the WSM Board that they leave the policy 'Treatment of Staff' intact, in its entirety.

Rather I request that they ask the WSM General Manager immediately to hold a consultative exercise with WSM employees to design a process fully and properly to implement the said policy.

I have spent much time over the years discussing with former Board members why the policy that exists does exist. 'Treatment of Staff' was not a whim. It was a carefully-considered response to the special worker-consumer hybrid that is WSM.

It is no good saying the proposed changes are merely bringing WSM into line with other co-ops. Other co-ops are not worker-consumer hybrids.

There is a need to ensure parity between worker and consumer agendas. That is achieved on the Board.

There is also a need to ensure protection for the work conditions and for the return on the very considerable investment ($500) that workers-owners make, within the workplace itself, so as to be sure that managers do not impinge upon those conditions and that return.

Hence 'Treatment of Staff.'

The proposed changes would take away completely the right of workers to be involved in decisions made by managers that affect their workplace. Those changes should not be made. Seeking worker opinion is not sufficient safeguard against management. However irritating that safeguard may be to management.

The proposed changes also remove from Board protection the worker right to dissent ethically (to complain about overbearing management, and therefore to protect work conditions and return on worker investment), and the right to take grievance about breach of Board policy by management to the Board.

It has, quite rightly, been pointed out that the right to dissent ethically and to take grievance about breach of Board policy is contained elsewhere in WSM Employee Policy. But that's the point. That is not Board policy. Protected by the Board.

If 'Treatment of Staff' is altered, the right ethically to dissent will, henceforth, only be guaranteed by the General Manager, not his boss. Bit of a problem if it's the General Manager you're ethically dissenting against.

Same thing with appeal to the Board. It follows that appeal from the General Manager to the Board has to be guaranteed by the Board, not by the General Manager.

So. Bottom line? Unless there is really good reason. Which to date I have not heard. Then please leave the existing 'Treatment of Staff' completely alone.

But. It goes further than that. I have been campaigning for three years now to get the terms of 'Treatment of Staff' which relate to including employees in decision-making fully and properly implemented. Without success.

Please now take this opportunity to stop leaving those terms dormant. In 2007, a consultation exercise was held among workers in WSM to determine which decisions should get covered by those terms. A document was produced. If you ask the General Manager, he will produce it.

What I would wish now, on behalf of all the workers of WSM, is for a new consultation exercise to be held, which would design how we could successfully implement the policy calling for employees to be included in decision-making, in a way that fully meets the terms of the policy, without overbearingly interfering with day-to-day operations.

Therefore, I formally request with this e-mail that the WSM Board do so make request of the WSM General Manager, as expeditiously as possible, but certainly before the end of 2016, that he conduct a full consultation exercise with all WSM employees, to allow them the opportunity to help design a process for fully and properly including them in the making of the decisions outlined in the said 2007 document.

I wish this e-mail to be forwarded to all members of the WSM Board, including the two members just elected.

Yours truly,
Geoff"