Celebrating Independent Gainesville
Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.
Hamlet (1.4), Marcellus to Horatio
“Rotten” may be too strong a word–we want to let you decide for yourself where you stand on this issue. And yes, we’re talking about the “hoopla” at Citizens Co-op.
Substitute “Denmark” for “Citizens Co-Op.”
Basic facts/What you need to know:
We’ve been trying to get to the bottom of this, to hear both sides of this story. We want to present both sides to you, indiegainesvillians, so you can decide for yourself how you feel regarding this sad chain of events.
At the time of press, we’ve received two copies of an email from the Co-op. Again, you can read it here. We encourage you to do so.
As many have expressed, “None of us want to see Citizens Co-op fail, but something has to change.”
So that’s what we have, at press time, from Citizens Co-op.
We now present you with some opinions by those affiliated/formerly affilated with Citizens Co-Op (in no particular order):
“…I hear you’re writing about the whole co-op mess and taking viewpoints from both sides. I wanted to let you know that while management claims that the reason workers were fired is because they violated company policy–there were zero policies in place.
No one ever signed an employment contract or even an employee handbook. They made those polices up, afterwards, as an excuse to fire workers trying to unionize. I feel like this information is missing from the conversation and not being reported by other news sources.” -Former worker-owner
Indie: “Can you verify this:
“Union update: An email was sent to all union members stating Notice: “Management hereby acknowledges demand of seven workers of Citizens Co-op to be recognized as a union. Management does not voluntarily recognize such union. Workers may petition the appropriate agency to determine the parameters of such a union and to conduct a supervised election which includes all employees of citizens Co-op.”
The Board is also not opposed to a workers union, provided it is properly established by a majority in an election process which includes all employees of Citizens Co-op, and we have advised the workers of this.”
Source: “Yes they sent that. It is a no to voluntary recognition of the workers union.”
Source: Hi, thank you so much for your coverage and concern for the Citizen’s Coop! I am a former worker-owner ( though I never felt like a true owner) and would love to be available to answer any questions. Like every other worker I came to the co-op with high ambitions and a huge passion for food justice [REDACTED identifying information about the person's job duties and position]. I quit after 8 months, disillusioned by what I saw at the co-op. Had their been a union in place I would probably still be there.
Citizens Co-op Workers Union:
“This is the email the workers sent to management and the Citizens Co-op Board of Directors last night. We are in shock of their response this morning.
Dear Lisa and Board,
We, the Citizens Co-op Worker’s Union would like to meet with you to further discuss our goals and the future of the co-op. We understand it is hard to gather everyone outside of their jobs and lives, and are hoping to gather before the next board meeting this Thursday, March 27th, 2014 at 5:30 PM. Given that board meetings are planned every 2nd and 4th Thursday of the month, we were hoping this would minimize scheduling conflicts. We would be greatly appreciative as we want to work with you together, or not at all, towards a positive, mutual goal.
We acknowledge that as a union we’ve had to have as much control over our actions as possible, and this has created unnecessary tension. We wish to resolve this tension by starting a conversation about hiring and firing policies, financial transparency and a more democratic workplace. Though a strong word, “demand” is the proper language when asking for union recognition. We absolutely believe our goals will help to strengthen the co-op’s values, which is why we’ve continued to work hard through these trying times.”
LD: “So it seems to me the board members who are uncomfortable with how things have gone (and i’ve heard there are some) could really shed some light right now. I imagine those who have invested time, energy, and money into what was meant to be a cornerstone of a sustainable local food economy are in a state of shock. Some openness and communication could go a long way.”
RP: “The reason they gave for firing is that the worker’s used the Co-op email list to send an email that was totally pertinent to Co-op business (the health of the workers) and after 2 of the most senior and valuable workers were fired (to make room for the new GM’s salary) and then insultingly told they could be hired back as cashiers. It was also done after board member Lucien told the workers they have no rights as workers. So if the majority (70%) of the workers aren’t allowed to use the email list, then who is? If the workers are supposed to be “owners” then how could they steal the listserve? Anyone else see this gap in logic? This points to the sham of this co-op, that there are “Real” owners who dictate what goes on there. I worked there, I saw this firsthand. The Gainesville community has been lied to. I was actually warned about this from someone (a local restaurant owner) from the very beginning who was lied to and cheated by the Co-op from the very beginning. I saw for myself and now we all see what kind of people are really running the Co-op.”
JS: “As a former manager and board member, I saw this happening first hand. This is a corporation acting under the name of a cooperative, with the founders and friends always in charge and directing policies behind the scenes in private board meetings. The founders should have started the business with their own money instead of ‘using’ member money. The very first time one of the founders found out that in a cooperative, power goes to the board and membership and the founder does not retain ‘power’ like a CEO would, the troubles began. I was at that early board meeting when this happened and the results of the actions of the founders led to the board resigning and from that day on, the co-op was in the hands of the founders and they did everything to protect their voice, their control and job security. Folks I watched this happen before my eyes as a member of that first board that I didn’t resign from. As manager I watched this ‘cooperative’ charade continue. I believed in the co-op deeply but it definitely has not been upfront with the membership and it was time to leave. This is so sad for everyone involved.”
SG: How did the founders overrule the legitimate board? Can we somehow take it back? I’ve been into this since it was a glimmer in Gretchen’s eye and have dragged other people in with me, the one I feel most guilty about being my mother. She was wisely dubious from the start. She is kindly refraining from saying “toldjaso,” but she would be perfectly justified in screaming it. Can the co-op be salvaged? I don’t want to boycott it and send it down in flames, but come on! I made a special trip this month after the open meeting to buy trucked-in Cali produce (whyyyyy) and other nonsense I don’t need in order to show support for the union, but how can I possibly go in now after they’ve canned five more people?
RP: “Without real protection, without a balance of power and some accountability, there is no reason to think talking it out is a safe option for the workers. And really until the founders step down and let go of something they feel is THEIRS when it belongs to the community, then it will be corporate style (actually worse) business as usual.”
We leave you with this wise exchange:
LN: “In the midst of all this hoopla about the Co-op, I find myself feeling pretty defensive of the Board members, whether I agree with all their decisions or not. I would ask y’all – pretty please – to remember that they are volunteers, that you and I voted to elect them to manage this thing, and, most importantly, that they are actual people who are our friends and neighbors. I trust that they are doing their best in a challenging – and totally human – conflict. Let’s all take some deep breaths before the member meeting.”
RB: Thanks LN: due to the legalities involved in employment situations the Board feels constrained in what we say publicly. I would suggest that there are no ill intentions on the part of anyone involved but there are differences in perspective and all of us need to try and improve communication and respect for all those involved. I am reminded that out of crisis can come opportunity.
JC: “I would agree with you on this R; this is an opportunity to turn the page and build on the great resource that exists. SG has written eloquently and I stand with what she says. I have especially disliked some of the rather flip sentiments some have said; they do not further the process. Personal attacks, especially on Lisa, are wrong; she came into this late, and given an impossible and distasteful task. I am very glad JS weighed in and truly hope he will be part of the process of getting past this period. And yes; deep breaths everyone, and lets get ready for the next phase.”
Please also see here for more information from worker-owners/former worker owners. Do take the time to visit and read through their various sites and please note that in an email sent out yesterday, they wrote:
“We, as the seven members of the CCWU, DO NOT want the doors to close. We completely understand that some of you want to boycott the store until this is resolved, or are fed up with the store’s jagged history and no longer feel comfortable shopping there at all. That is ok. We want people to support us how they see fit, but we also want people to make their own decisions.”
Sign up: Contact List
Stay up-to-date: Facebook and Twitter (@coopworkerunion)
We assure you, beloved Gainesville community we WILL be posting more about this as it (hopefully) progresses and a satisfactory resolution is reached.
Again, we share this with the sole intent of keeping you informed and providing you voice/sounding ground. We are sad that Citizens Co-op has not been able to provide us more of their side since we requested more information.
We have faith that a resolution can be reached. We hope, for the good of all involved, that resolution will be reached soon.