BRATTLEBORO—Despite the presence of more than 60 pro-union employees and shareholders who packed the room and hallway where the Brattleboro Food Co-op Board of Directors was holding its monthly meeting, the board on Monday night opted not to voluntarily recognize Local 1459 of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) to represent the co-op employees.
Instead, the board left it up to Co-op General Manager Alex Gyori to decide whether a secret ballot vote will be taken.
No action was taken Monday night. As of press time on Tuesday, there was no formal statement from Gyori confirming that the union question will be resolved at the ballot box.
Union Organization Committee member Greg Howe has said more than half of the Co-op employees have signed a petition asking the board to recognize the union.
On Sept. 10, the committee presented to the Co-op board that petition, known as a “card check,” or majority sign-up process, where the majority of eligible employees state they wish to have union representation.
The board had the option to voluntarily recognize the card check and waive the Co-op’s right to request a secret-ballot election, the outcome of recent union drives organized by the UCFW at co-ops in Northampton and Greenfield, Mass.
In referring the matter to Gyori, Co-op Board of Directors President John Hatton said Monday night that the board considers the decision to be a staffing issue and, as such, was under Gyori’s purview.
He added that the board “supports the workers’ right to choose whether to do this through a democratic process.”
But in a tense 20-minute sequence at the start of Monday’s board meeting, the board and Gyori sat in silence while supporters of voluntary recognition pressed their case.
Longtime Co-op member Andy Davis presented the board with a petition signed by more than 500 members and shoppers.
“Do not fight the decision and aspirations of the workers,” Davis urged in asking the board to recognize the union.
Another longtime Co-op member, State Rep. Mollie Burke, D/P-Brattleboro, offered her support for the union.
“The Co-op was built on trust and goodwill, but there comes a time when that does not work,” she said. “The size and complexity of the new Co-op store underscores the need for an external structure.”
The Co-op board went into executive session following the presentation by the union supporters.
Hannah Aleshnick, a co-op staff member and a member of the Union Organization Committee, expressed disappointment after the meeting that the board members handed Gyori the authority to make the decision on a union vote.
“We don’t want to drag this out, but if they want us to vote, we have no choice,” she said.
Supporters met in the Co-op’s Community Room after the meeting to plan a strategy for going forward. Actions such as a boycott, picketing, and a letter-writing campaign to the local newspapers were offered.
Some of the people present on Monday night were veterans of the unsuccessful unionization effort that took place between 2003 and 2005.
“I can’t tell you how many heated discussions I have had with people saying, ‘We’re a co-op, why do we need a union?” said Dora Bouboulis, a Co-op member for more than a dozen years and a member of the Brattleboro Selectboard.
“We’re in a situation where the workers need to be in the forefront,” said Bob Bady, another veteran of the 2003-05 union effort.
At press time, a vote procedure had not been established. The Co-op staff could administer the election themselves, or a more formal voting process overseen by the National Labor Relations Board would take place.