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"