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,