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Stand-up for Peoples Co-op

Peoples is a creation of community love. It is having growing pains and needs the community that helped build, nurture and support it to come together.

This is a CALL-OUT to get involved, objectively view the actions of the current Board of Directors and ask those that may be willing to run for the Board to do so.
There has been quite a response to the newswire post of a former employee of Peoples Co-Op. Discontent has been raised on several issues involving the choices the co-op has been making and where it is headed.

Noose Papier made a very revealing comment and if Noose is not on the Board of Directors, he/she should consider running:

"I am sorry to hear that someone in the community was fired. Unfortunately, that is where the Coop movement is headed. There are poeple making decisions about how to corporatize the Coops. Firing dissenters is one element.

Cooperative Development Services is pushing the Policy Governenace model on Coop boards. In effect, this board policy mandates that the board divorce themselves from the community, and only deal with the general manager, while refusing to hear the concerns of workers. It is a method for a board to "democratically" decide to cede all power to management, while management does what they want with the Coop and employees. Lenin called this democratic centralism. I call it cooptation.

Next, the NCGA and the CCMA are pushing the leaner and meaner model. It is being orchestrated by people like Randy Lee of PCC in Seattle. Remember how PCC pulled out of the NWCGA? Now they are on top of the pile. Coops were forced to merge with the NCGA or be forced to pay more on cost on wholesale goods, by being excluded from a national purchasing agreement with MPW/UNFI. What do you think of when small business are forced to merge? That's capitalism for ya.

All of this has to do with making more profits for United Natural Foods Incorporated, who has a monopoly of the natural food distribution in the US. No more direct purchasing from local producers, or dealing with small distributors. Their hostile takeover of Blooming Prarie distribution speaks to that. The pretext is to compete with Whole Paycheck, but is Coops get corporate enough, they'll just be sold off to the highets bidder in 20 years.

Unless, someone stands up.

When workers voice concerns, they get fired. Some try to organize unions, like in Seattle and Pittsburgh. Management typically hires a consultant and confers with CDS people on how to keep the board of directors unconcerned and uninvolved, by using Policy Governance as an excuse to not hold management accounable to the community.

All coops should adopt a policy of free speech in the workplace and a policy that unions get recognized with a simple majority shoing interest with a petition."

I believe this gets to the real heart of the matter, an orchestrated, systematic plan of taking over Co-ops and it requires some strong opposition. Stay the course with Peoples and help effect positive change. If nothing is done you have no one to blame but yourselves. You will not be able to say "they" took it over. You will only be able to say "we gave it away because we were unwilling to get involved". If it means reeducating members, get your facts and get out there and leaflet, talk one-on-one, hold forums away from the Co-op or within it just don't stand in silence or muffled grumbling and walk off in a huff.

I also believe it is essential to publicize both the discontents and what is working at Peoples on this forum so it can serve as an educational model for other Co-ops locally and nationally.

A note to Peoples Co-OP : Within your membership are many computer geeks. Your website is not finished - it should be! Get it done.
right on 16.Jul.2006 15:37

dan

i am in total agreement...people have every right to complain about what's wrong with where the coop is headed, as long as they are willing to get involved and affect this process. what else is everyone going to do, start shopping at new seasons? at least the coop is a non-profit, and its members have the ability to steer its growth in direction they deem appropriate. voicing concerns is a good thing, but simply saying "i'll shop somewhere else" or "someone besides myself needs to fix things" is not. i personally do not have time to be involved in the process there, and so while i would like to see things headed in a better direcion, i refuse throw accusations around and place blame on others when i am just as entitled to influence change there. moral of the story is this: the coop is changing, and probably not for the better. however, i'd still shop there any day before walking into new seasons, and i'm not going to trek across town to go to a different coop. the structure is set up so that members can be as involved as they'd like, so unless you take advantage of this you need to stop whining about what everyone else is doing and do it better.

nice info 16.Jul.2006 16:09

Listening In

Well, I wonder if this information sheds a little light on the intriguing dismissal of one person from the co-op. Politics. It figures.

"A person": Some of those acronyms are lost on some of us...a little glossary might help

Food Front 16.Jul.2006 16:25

Brian

Food Front is union. They went union about 10-15 years ago and I do not believe management or the board fought the employee's efforts.

Dear 16.Jul.2006 16:28

Listening In

The acronyms are lost on me also. They were contained within my quoting. Hopefully Noose or someone else with more knowledge on them will post an informative response.

Is there a glossarian available?

Unions are second-best 16.Jul.2006 17:29

Lucy Parsons

Even better that a union is a worker-run establishment. If you have to fight a boss, you form a union. There is no boss anymore at People's, 'cause there's a worker collective co-management structure.

Let me repeat myself, clearly and simply: The workers determine their own working conditions with their fellow workers. That all happens within the broad policy strokes laid out by the all-volunteer board. The board is elected by *all* the member-owners of the co-op who choose to fill out their ballots.

Any structure geek who believes in participatory, democratic systems would be amazed at and proud of the structure at People's Food Co-op. No democratic structure can mandate good decisions; that's up to the actual people involved. But a fantastic structure like the one at People's can make space for the best of decisions to be made.

Please, run for the board if you have a love of People's Co-op and something to contribute. It's a serious time committment, and often a thankless position. But it's super important, and I personally feel indebted to the folks who put their time towards it.

peoples is a worker collective 16.Jul.2006 17:34

..

i'm a member of the co-op, not on staff. but one of the things i appreciate about peoples is its labor structure. peoples is collectively managed by about 20 or so folks, who work on consensus and decide things like wages and hours worked and stuff like that for themselves. this is not a typical fight-the-boss situation, because the workers are the boss.

i don't know all the details of the spark situation, but i have spent more than one afternoon sitting in on consensus-based meetings of the collective, and i gotta tell you, the process is far more honest and engaged than pretty much any other meeting of that size that i've attended. of course it's not perfect, of course there are power struggles, of course mistakes are made. but i do not believe for a moment that the collective did not try, honestly and over time, to resolve the issues within itself before resorting to termination.

and, to any members of the collective: thank you for not getting baited. i know it must be hard to sit back and watch one side of this story get spread out and distorted, but i appreciate your restraint. you are loved.

and, to address the original post, yes, yes, please run for the board and get involved in the co-op. meet the board members, talk to the staff, volunteer to help out in any number of ways. it is our co-op and it is interest and passion that will guide it into the future.

More background on people's and empowered workers 16.Jul.2006 18:32

FENBAR

i was on the board of people's from 99- 03 and am still active as a hands on owner.

the direction from the board has always been to empower workers, regardless of business strategies to cooperate with other coops (that's where all the CMA and CCNB orgs come in). the board has also been open to the formation of unions.

here's the thing that can be complex... people's is a consumer owned cooperative. that means "members" are literally and legally owners. the by-laws has it that workers must be owners too. so with workers as owners on an equal standing with consumers as owners (1 person 1 vote) and knowing how important it is to have an empowered staff, the board has always been interested in making sure the workers' voices are heard. people's almost folded several times in the 90's because the workers felt they had no power. so instead of having a general manager (which peops did have until the late 90s), a very time consuming and process heavy workers' collective management model, run by consensus (even with 20 staff members!) was developed as the expansion project was undertaken. this was against the advice of the coop consultants-- too inefficient, they said. the board and membership prevailed in making sure there was a strong egalitarian staff collective model in place. and over the years, the staff has done an incredible, path breaking job in creating this collective model. it is not perfect but the staff are the empowered individuals who resolve conflict and make policy. and they still are today.

the idea that there has been an infiltration of corporate minded, gentrifying, business folks into the management of people's, driven at silencing alternate voices is ludicrous, and, reflecting on it deeper, insulting. i do believe that anyone making that claim either has an axe to grind or simply has not spent much more time there than just doing their shopping. i don't know why kolibri was fired. and though i have always admired him, worked with him on various actions, and continue to respect his sparkly, hummingbird way of earth-blooming, i also trust the process and empowered workers at peoples to do their job. this includes hiring and firing.

i don't know what happened to kolibri, i wasn't there at all the meetings or hearing all the daily workplace banter. to me, and most everyone, it's all hearsay and anecdotal. it is hard for me not to just jump to kolibri's side as a reaction; i know i would if he were working at "new sneazers" market. but no one asked me to get involved in the conflict resolution when it was happening, including kolibri. i understand why: the by-laws, job descriptions and conflict resolution policies were created by the workers for that purpose, and the workers made a decision.

as far as the unemployment issue-- i do not know enough about unemployment law to be able to respond. i wonder if the contesting of his firing was something people's did or is some bureacratic or legalistic issue from the state of oregon. we all need more info to be able to answer that.

if there is anything to propose for folks concerned about people's labor issues, it may be to create a personel committee, to include membership and board. this committee could be a place for worker's to go with grievances when things can't be worked out to their satisfaction through the staff processes. this could be created by the board very easily. there is a model in place at southeast uplift neighborhood coalition. as someone else suggested, this is our cooperative and we need to step it up and get involved if we want to see changes.

think about it-- if you are a member, you are an owner. and if your motivation is to make a more just workplace, than you are backed by the mission of the coop.

in solidarity and cooperation.

with the ideal comes the actual 16.Jul.2006 23:06

worker bee

I'm not privy to the the entire workings of peoples' but have been involved for a while inside and have seen what happens with personalities. The board is weak with high turnover and is completely under the thumb of one or two on the collective who scream the loudest and have some very un-cooperative ideas of governance and punishment. There are reasons other local co-op orgs don't want to deal with peoples. And despite the holy ideal of consensus some folks boss and others cave in, going along to get along.
I'll keep going there but am hoping there's been enough heat generated to take down some of the shit that's been shoved on us all.

Dear 17.Jul.2006 07:15

Worker Bee

You stated the Board was weak with high turnover. One item I have viewed in most organizations is that generally all adopt a Board term as one year because it's been the status quo of organizations for decades. Is that part of the weakness?

Maybe there are many members who would consider 6-month terms and would be more effective in giving shorter blasts of their energy. Board terms are not set in stone, they can easily be changed by addendum to By-laws. An organization can even set some seats aside as year long and some as six month.

Personally, I view Board turnover as a good thing because it infuses new blood and fresh energy. I am interested in hearing why you believe the Board is weak and what you believe would strengthen it.

You also mentioned the Board was "under the thumb" of one or two of the Collective and that there are reasons other local co-ops don't want to deal with Peoples. These may be very real concerns yet they are vague statements. Are you willing to give some concrete examples?

No "shit" has been shoved on anyone. Everyone has a voice. It is up to each member to use it.

This is a good discussion 17.Jul.2006 09:09

I have something to add

I think I might know a reason that People's (or any other business) would say that someone who was fired was fired for cause. This is because when a business does a 'lay-off' (i.e. no reason given for firing) the worker may claim unemployment benefits but the businesses unemployment insurance costs go up by a lot. Especially, if this is anything like the coop I worked at, if other people have been fired in the past and they got unemployment benefits. From the insurance company's point of view this can make a coop look like it just fires people at the drop of a hat. Since they pay out for unemployment claims this can make the coop look like a really bad, expensive, risk for them.

Based on other people's comments and my experience with collectives I'll bet that they went through a pretty intense process to fire this person. If they were paying staff time to go through the process it was probably also expensive. I don't know the details about how this person was fired. For all I know it was for a totally fucked up reason. If that is the case the fired worker has recourse and *should* be able to get benefits on appeal. But if the worker was fired for good reasons and the coop's process was followed I think it's unfair for that person to harm the coop and benefit themselves. After all, if there were good reasons for the firing, the person was already getting paid while they were dragging the organization down. This is harsh I realize. I'd like to hear what happened from people who were directly involved.

. 17.Jul.2006 10:57

.

"as far as the unemployment issue-- i do not know enough about unemployment law to be able to respond. i wonder if the contesting of his firing was something people's did or is some bureacratic or legalistic issue from the state of oregon. we all need more info to be able to answer that."

Peoples is specifically contesting it.

Come on people 17.Jul.2006 13:31

Get It Together

Come on people.
Lets not drag this on anymore.
The collective at People's worked within the scope of their duties-they fired a co-worker.
If you have a problem with this firing, or the way the coop is run in general, then get involved and do something practical to change things.
If you are not willing to do that, then the only other intelligent option is to trust in the system that we have helped build and quit slandering our coop's name.
To continue this she-said, he-said business is tiresome and gossip-y, and I would hope beneath us all.

Hello 17.Jul.2006 18:41

Get it Together

this newswire item was specifically "pulled" away from Kollibri's simply to start a dialogue of what is and isn't working at People's because some issues other than the firing were brought up. it was meant to encourage people to get more actively involved. there is no shame in that.

Noose_papier 17.Jul.2006 22:47

Noose_papier

My remarks are not about People's specifically. I was referring to the general trend nationally. Agree, disagree, or be offended. Or, do get involved with your coop, and find out who are behind the acronyms. Start with Google, and go from there, and design your struggle. Talk to the folks in other Coops, esp. Oly and Seattle. peace.

[ 18.Jul.2006 10:39

]

I think the original comment is astutely pointing towards something real that is also affecting Peoples. There is definately more industry lingo and industry model thinking going on there. The corporate model has its own mindset and to see that creeping into co-ops is, well, creepy.

For the first time, I had the feeling recently of missing the old little Peoples store. I agree with the person who posted that a small number of people are defining the soil in which discussions and decisions happen. Certain thinking patterns come in and have their own inevitable logic. As one example, that logic can result in the decision to fire someone where with other thinking patterns, other outcomes would happen.