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 ...]