Via Infoshop News
On December 18th, 2010, members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and community supporters walked into the Open Harvest Natural Foods Cooperative Grocery’and presented management with a petition signed by supporters and a letter demanding that IWW baker Andrew Losh be reinstated with back wages for time missed.
“I love working at Open Harvest and I support their goals of providing the community with sustainable and organic food,” Andrew Losh stated. “I get along with my coworkers and enjoy interacting with all the great customers that shop there on a regular basis,” he continued. “But it seems as if the relationships between the management and the employees have gone downhill lately.”
Losh was fired by his manager, Nancy Sauer, on December 3rd for not maintaining an unspecified work pace. According to Losh, Sauer has a history of treating employees unfairly.
On October 20th, 2010, Losh took a shift off. Despite giving notice a month in advance, posting a request for a co-worker to take the hours, and ultimately getting oral approval from his manager, Losh was written up immediately upon return for not giving prior proper notice. Losh contested this with his manager and a co-worker who witnessed the approval verified his account. Yet this warning remained in his file.
Community supporter and Open Harvest customer Jason Nord explained, “I support Andrew’s demand to be reinstated. I think it’s important that Open Harvest stay consistent with the values of an organic grocery consumer co-op and not treat their employees in the same fashion any other retail store does.”
According to a current employee at Open Harvest, who asked not to be named out of fear of retaliation by management, “I feel like a large part of the management here doesn’t really respect us (the employees).”
Jim Nelson, the current general manager for Open Harvest, was unavailable for comment, but in the Fall 2010 Newsletter he had this to say about workers, “In the food business today, as I am sure it is with other retail stores, employee turnover is an issue. Another issue is lack of dedication on the job.”
Co-op member and customer John Hennessy found it unsettling to hear of the way employees are being treated at Open Harvest, “From what I’ve heard the employees at Open Harvest aren’t treated any differently than they would at Russ’s. I am a member of the co-op because I want to buy organic food for my family and because I believe in sustainable agricultural practices. I just always assumed that as a co-op, worker treatment would not be an issue, but after hearing about how Andrew was treated and the low wages the employees are paid, I think something should be done by the board (of directors) to correct this immediately.”
According to IWW member Corey Randone, the union is going to keep putting pressure on Open Harvest until Losh is reinstated and workers’ treatment and wages are dealt with. “I joined the IWW because I wanted to help my fellow workers organize for better wages, better benefits, and respect on the job. I never thought I’d have to support a worker at an organic food co-op. Then when I heard about the low wages, inconsistent scheduling, and lack of benefits I was slightly shocked,” Randone stated.
IWW member Brian Ellis added, “While the Nebraska Chapter of the IWW supports the efforts of Open Harvest to provide a retail outlet for local farmers, promote healthy eating, and organize along cooperative principles, there is no excuse for a cooperative organization to embrace the exploitative employment procedures of for-profit retail businesses. It seem ironic that Open Harvest openly touts itself for selling “fair trade” products, but it does not itself adhere to “fair” employment practices such as paying living wages, giving workers a more direct role in running the store, or following open and just procedures for terminating employment. The local IWW chapter is not hostile to Open Harvest’s stated goals; in fact, it supports cooperative movements of all kinds. But “cooperative” must not become a feel-good term that covers up the usual forms of worker exploitation we face in the private sector.”
Andrew Losh summed up, “There are issues with management which I think can be fairly dealt with in the future because I believe that everyone involved with Open Harvest, employees, management, customers, and the board of directors want to do the right thing and I want to be a part of that future. I want my job back.”
You can contact Open Harvest general manager Jim Nelson at 402-475-9069
The Industrial Workers of the World, gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.
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Open Harvest Natural Foods Cooperative Grocery