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Co-op seeks formal election through NLRB

BRATTLEBORO—One worker, one vote.

That is reasoning behind the decision made late last week by Brattleboro Food Co-op General Manager Alex Gyori to have a formal election by the Co-op’s employees on whether they wish to be represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).

On Oct. 1, the Co-op’s Board of Directors declined to voluntarily recognize the union after workers presented them with a petition signed by a majority of eligible employees called for the board to do so.

The board decided to let Gyori make the decision, and he chose to put the matter of unionization to a secret ballot that will be supervised by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

“We sent Alex a formal request for a community election, which could be overseen soon, and by a third party from the community. He refused,” said Charlie Lewis, a member of the Co-op Union Organization Committee. “So the UFCW is going to request a formal election through the NLRB.”

Co-op Board of Directors President John Hatton said the intention all along has been to leave the decision of unionization up to the staff.

“The Co-op board has been consistent in supporting the rights of the staff to choose, though a fair, democratic process, whether or not to be represented by the union,” Hatton wrote in a letter to The Commons. “We support the legal rights of the staff to decide for themselves, and we have always seen this as an issue about and for the staff alone — not the board, management, or the shareholders. If the staff chooses, through a fair and democratic process, to be represented by the union, then the board will certainly accept the union.”

At the Oct. 1 meeting, more than 60 shareholders and community members showed up at the board meeting to express support for the union drive. After that meeting, there was talk of direct action against the C0-op in the form of picketing and boycotts.

On the Co-op’s Facebook page, Shareholder and Community Relations Manager Sabine Rhyne posted the following last week: “We know that we live in a passionate community. Know that we support all of our employees’ right to choose whether or not to unionize, one by one, in a democratic process. This is consistent with the cooperative principle of one member, one vote.”

According to federal law, the UCFW must file a formal request for an election with the NLRB which, according to Local 1459 Secretary and Treasurer Rick Brown, is in the process of being done.

Once the request is filed, the union and the Co-op have seven days to set an election date and decide which employees will be eligible to cast ballots.

Lewis said his committee is “in the process of deciding how to go about keeping our momentum going for the next few weeks and keep our co-workers informed.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #173 (Wednesday, October 10, 2012).

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