Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Charlie Lewis, center, speaks to the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s Board of Directors at a meeting Monday night.
Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Alex Gyori, general manager at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, listens to employees at a Board of Directors meeting on Monday night.
Originally published in The Commons issue #169 (Wednesday, September 12, 2012).
BRATTLEBORO—Workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op have announced their intention to organize a union.
A group of workers formally made the request at the Co-op’s Board of Directors’ meeting on Monday night.
In a statement read by Co-op employee Charlie Lewis at the meeting, the decision made by a majority of the more than 160 members of the Co-op’s non-managerial staff to seek representation from Local 1459 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UCFW) stemmed from a number of factors.
According to the statement that was written by a group of employees, “we are tired of working in an environment that takes pride in calling itself a cooperative, but does not include staff in the cooperative community.”
Forming a union, they wrote, “will be the best way of securing the rights we seek.”
Alluding to the difficulties of the past year that included the slaying of Michael Martin by a co-worker and the transition to a new building in May, the employees stated that “forming a union will help us all work together more successfully and cooperatively, which is crucial after last year’s tragedies and as we move forward with our new larger store.”
After the meeting, Lewis said that the statement was prepared over the past few weeks and most of it stems from a desire to have a more democratic decision-making process in place.
Hannah Aleshnick, another Co-op employee who participated in drafting the statement, said Tuesday that the people involved in the union drive “all have a vision of what the Co-op is and what it could be,” and that having a union is one way “to try and improve that vision.”
Richard Brown, secretary and treasurer of the Springfield, Mass.-based Local 1459, has assisted the Co-op workers with the current organization drive.
The initiative comes on the heels of successful union drives by the UFCW’s Local 1459 this year at nearby Massachusetts co-ops — River Valley Market in Northampton in February and, in August, the Franklin Community Co-operative, which operates Green Fields Market in Greenfield and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls.
Brown, who was quick to credit the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s employees for doing most of the work, said that “unions and cooperatives have a natural bond.”
“The people in the core group really believe that the principles of cooperatives — community involvement, solidarity, fairness, and equity — are in line with that of unions,” she said.
She also said that the structure of the Co-op excluded the voices of employees.
“Because this is a cooperative of shareholders, only the shareholders have a say in decision-making,” said Aleshnick. “Many workers are also shareholders, but that is the only outlet we have to address our concerns.”
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