Submitted by Konstantin_Levin on Wed, 01/05/2011 – 3:04pm.
Monday, January 3rd, the Nebraska Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) sat in on the Open Harvest board of directors meeting. We were given an opportunity to speak toward the end of the meeting and present our list of demands, which are as follows:
1. The reinstatement of employment for Andrew Losh, who was unjustly terminated for failing to meet an unspecified production quota. This quota was continually raised as Andrew’s production increased. His firing was preceded by two write-ups which were contested and ignored by his direct management. These write-ups were unjustified and have been provided as examples of management abuse of employees.
2. Overhaul of the grievance procedure. The current grievance procedure mandates that employees approach the general manager with their grievance. The general manager then decides if the grievance has merit and if so submits it to the grievance committee, i.e. a subset of the board of directors. Not only is this policy extremely intimidating to employees, considering that their grievance may often be with management – which the general manager is a part of, but it essentially gives the general manager veto power over employee grievances. We have asked that a new grievance procedure be implemented, one in which an employee can present their grievance directly to the grievance committee, which should include at least one of their peers – a rank and file worker, elected to the committee by their peers (currently the grievance committee is only four executive board members).
3. Board positions be made available to employees. Currently Open Harvest restricts employees from being on the board of directors – this is not common to all cooperatives, in fact many now allow their employees to take part in this important aspect of running the store. By barring employees from running on the board, a rigid top down hierarchy is ensured, like you would find in any for-profit grocer. As a democratic union, we feel that workers should be allowed to take part in the democratic process of managing and maintaining the coop. Some board members expressed concerns that this may present a conflict of interest. The IWW rebutted this claim by pointing out that the board is comprised of members who have an interest in the store’s prices and at least one supplier is on the board – in these respects there is already a conflict of interest. The best way to manage the coop is to get input from a variety of perspectives: members, consumers, suppliers and workers.
4. A living wage for employees. Open Harvest starts its workers at minimum wage and many employees are kept near this level of pay indefinitely. We find it hypocritical for a store which espouses the ethic of fair trade to pay its workers poverty wages. We think those who work at Open Harvest should also be able to afford to shop there and pay their bills, afford adequate housing, etc. Eating healthy organic food should not be a privilege reserved for the wealthiest in our society. Open Harvest should not simply compare its pay to that of local for-profit businesses. The member owned coop must hold itself to a higher ethical standard.
5. More hours be made available to employees, especially those who want full time benefits. Open Harvest circumvents having to provide non-management employees with benefits by restricting their hours to below full-time (less than 36 hours a week). In contrast management receives a benefits package. We think a progressive coop should certainly be ahead of our nation as it slowly stumbles toward providing health care coverage for all.
A one week deadline was given in which we expect our first demand to be fulfilled and definitive progress to be made on the other four demands. If these demands are not met by January 10, 2011 at 12:00 PM we will escalate our campaign to the next step which may include pickets, boycotts or strikes and the filing of an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board.
Two of our demands were being addressed at the meeting before we even had a chance to speak. One being coop policy L2 which pertains to treatment of staff, included in L2 is the absurd grievance policy; the other being policy L3 which pertains to pay and benefits of staff.
Due to our efforts, the grievance policy was addressed and ruled by the board to not be in compliance with policy L2, which states that employees must receive a fair and thorough review. They agreed that it was indeed intimidating to require approaching the general manager about grievances.
Unfortunately the board ruled that employee compensation was compliant with their policy L3, as that policy dictates that Open Harvest’s employee pay should be comparable to other local area grocers, such as Trader Joe’s, Russ’s Market, Super Saver, etc. Obviously this neglects the fact that Open Harvest is fundamentally different from these for-profit businesses. As a member-owned coop, it does not operate solely to make profits and is also held to higher standard of ethics by its member owners and patrons. The board did state however, that it is planning to review L3 next month and there was some support for holding Open Harvest to a higher standard. We are hoping the pressure we have put on them will expedite this process and get the employees a livable wage as soon as possible.
Within a month of starting our campaign to improve working conditions at Open Harvest, we have already seen general agreement from the board to review these policies. As Board Chair Carla McCullough put it, speaking with Andrew Losh yesterday, “Grievance policy was not on our radar[…]we didn’t even know what the grievance policy was.”
The board generally works at a pace of discussion over months, but many board members have agreed that policy change and talks with management are on the table.
The IWW will be in communication with the Open Harvest board of directors to ensure that our demands are being worked toward. Please show your support for Andrew and the rest of the workers at Open Harvest by calling or emailing the management and letting them know how you feel.
Store number: (402) 475-9069
Interim general manager: Margot Conrad (Kelsi Swanson will be taking over soon)
Store email: firstname.lastname@example.org