Brattleboro Grocery Workers Are Forming a Union

Workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op are organizing a union. There are more than 160 workers at the store. The workers were set to ask the co-op’s board of directors to recognize the union at the board’s evening meeting on September 10.

“I support the union,” Hannah Aleshnick told the Valley Post. She works at the co-op. “Most of my co-workers support the union,” she said.

The workers joined the United Food and Commercial Workers union Local 1459 www.ufcw1459.com.

A worker who asked that their name not be used said the human resources manager at the co-op is paid $90,000 a year, and that workers there make less than a “livable wage,” as defined by state officials. The co-op's general manager, Alex Gyori, didn't immediately respond to a phone message seeking his comment for this article.

The Valley Post is the first news outlet to cover the workers’ action.

In July, about 75 workers at two grocery stores in Greenfield and nearby Shelburne Falls formed a union. The board of directors of the Franklin Community Co-op, which owns Green Fields Market in Greenfield and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls, voted to recognize the union, pending a review of the workers’ signatures on union membership cards by a neutral third party. The next step will be for the workers to elect a small group of workers to negotiate a union contract with the managers of the two stores.

Workers at the food co-op in Northampton formed a union in February. An article about that is at:

www.ValleyPost.org/2012/04/18/northampton-grocery-workers-form-union

Workers at the food co-ops in the Vermont cities of Montpelier and Burlington also organized in recent years. In 2003, workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op tried to organize but were discouraged by hostile lawyers hired by the co-op’s manager. A new food co-op is set to open in Keene this year.
All of the food co-ops mentioned in this article are run by boards of directors that are elected by the co-op’s customers. The customers get a discount at the stores, and the right to vote for the board, when they pay a membership fee. The fee is fully refundable at any time.

In recent decades, the richest Americans have gotten richer, while the middle class has gotten smaller and the ranks of the poor have swelled. Union workers in the U.S. make about 29 percent more money than non-union workers. That’s around $9,300 a year extra for the average worker who joins a union. For Latino workers, the union advantage is about 50 percent; for black workers, approximately 31 percent. This data is from www.bls.gov. Millions of workers in the U.S. are union members, including workers at Stop and Shop and UPS.

Non-union workers can be fired at any time for no reason. Workers who belong to a union can only be fired for just cause.

More information about co-ops in the Valley is at:

www.ValleyPost.org/2009/03/27/local-food-co-ops-hear-activists

More information about unions in the Valley is at:

www.ValleyPost.org/node/134

Comments

Co-op Unionization

As an employee and shareholder at the Brattleboro Food Co-op I feel the need to voice my opinion and observations regarding unionization at the Co-op. I feel that the Co-op is a wonderful place to work. As with any workplace, there are issues, but I feel very strongly that these issues are being greatly exaggerated by some of my co-workers. I am also extremely dismayed at the questionable and sometimes rather inappropriate tactics that are being used to coerce and bully employees into signing the petition. I am also very skeptical about the phrase "strong majority" of employees wanting a union. Nobody will say what percentage of employees have signed, and if they all ready have a "strong majority" why are they scrambling to get more signatures. In my opinion if an employee has signed the petition just to get somebody off thier back that is not a "vote" for the union.

-Missi Bacon

On Sept. 16, the Valley Post

On Sept. 16, the Valley Post received an anonymous comment claiming that most workers at the co-op oppose the union. (Most of the workers at the co-op signed a petition supporting the union.) The Post will publish the comment if and when the person who wrote it provides their name and contact info. The Post will withhold the writer's name and/or contact info if they provide a persuasive reason to do so.

-Eesha Williams

Here is a petition to the

Here is a petition to the board started by the co-op workers; the public can sign it.

www.change.org/petitions/board-of-directors-and-management-of-the-brattl...

This letter was presented to

This letter was presented to the Brattleboro Food Co-op's board on September 10 by a group of co-op workers.

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The following statement was written by a group of Brattleboro Food Co-op employees, based on conversations with many staff members over the past few months, and after gathering many stories from co-workers.

Because we feel that we have the right to work in an environment:

• in which employees routinely review department managers (and the general manager), and not just the other way around,

• in which managers must follow progressive discipline protocols and cannot fire or mistreat employees merely because of personal disputes or disagreements,

• in which department managers, and upper management, are accountable and take responsibility for their actions and decisions,

• and in which employees are not discouraged by their managers from speaking up regarding grievances;

Because we, the workers of the Brattleboro Food Coop, feel that we have the right:

• to have a legally-sanctioned forum in which to address grievances,

• to have a voice in a democratic decision-making process, so that we may participate fully in the decisions that affect our working conditions,

• to work in an environment in which there is transparency regarding how decisions are made,

• to work in an environment in which the books are open,

• and to have a say in negotiating fair salaries, cost-of-living raises, and benefits;

Because we feel that we have the right:

• to work without threat of termination without cause,

• to work without fear of being offered severance packages out of the blue and with no justification,

• to work without threat of bullying, intimidation (either passive or outright), or mental harassment by department managers or upper management,

• and to be able to depend on a weekly paycheck, regardless of lack of planning on the part of management;

Because we feel that we have the right to work in an environment:

• in which the safety and well-being of staff is seen as a priority,

• and in which employees are valued as the engine without which this business could not operate, and are treated with due respect;

Because we are tired of working in an environment that takes such pride in calling itself a cooperative, but does not include staff in the cooperative community vision; and

Because we feel that these rights have been lacking in our place of work,

We seek to exercise our legal right to form a union so as to have the power to negotiate for and protect these rights, and so that these rights will be guaranteed in a legally binding document.

To this end, we have been collecting the signatures of our co-workers, and already have the support of a majority of the 160-plus members of the BFC staff. We believe that a union will be the best way of securing the rights we seek, and feel that forming a union would be the quickest, most effective, and most cost-effective method of addressing our concerns. We also believe that forming a union will help us all to work together more successfully and cooperatively, which is crucial after last year’s tragedies and as we move forward with our new, larger store.

At this time we present the Board with a recognition agreement and ask that you not delay in giving us your support and agree to have a third party verify the signatures we have gathered. We trust that the Board will see recognizing the Union as part of its Powers and Duties (as stated in the BFC Coop Bylaws, April 4, 2009, Article 5, Section 5.1) of “securing good conditions of employment and assuring that the purpose, mission and principles of the Coop are properly carried out,” reminding the Board that the mission of the Coop “is to provide quality products at reasonable prices in an environment which is organized fairly and honestly, for its shareholders, staff, and community” (Bylaws, Article 1, Section 12). The staff is ready to be treated fairly and honestly.

We respect that you [board members] have an agenda before you, and do not wish to take up any more of your time. We would be happy to meet with members of the Board to expand on or clarify any of these points, or to answer any other more specific questions you might have. Please know, however, that such a discussion would not constitute negotiation, as we are not willing to negotiate with management, or with the Board, and will not waver on our decision to unionize.

The Brattleboro Food Co-op is

The Brattleboro Food Co-op is a cooperative of shareholders: there is no legal, democratic, place for the voice of employees in the structure we currently have. This set-up differs from a worker-owned business.

In the same way that shareholders are a part of a cooperative in order to have a voice in their community (to have a say in their own food security and local economy), the employees at the Brattleboro Food Coop are seeking to harness a similar voice regarding our employment and well-being.

We're looking to have a voice in an organized, legal, and structured way, and we believe that unionizing is the best way to do that at this time.

A strong majority of coworkers have signed a petition in support of unionizing.

On September 10, the core group of organizers approached Brattleboro Food Co-op's board of directors at their monthly meeting, requesting voluntary recognition of the union. We are currently awaiting a response.

- Hannah Aleshnick

Brattleboro Food Co-op

The workers are forming a union, it is not yet formed.

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