Park Slope Food Co-op employees demand neutrality agreement
by Salvatore Isola
Aug 27, 2019 | 1451 views | 0 0 comments | 440 440 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Park Slope Food Co-op has been a community staple for decades, and some workers are now calling for a change.

Last year, full-time employees met to discuss unionization, and claim the co-op attempted to thwart those efforts.

Last week, the co-op board posted a notice to employees confirming that unionizing is legal under federal law and that the right will not be infringed upon by management. This followed a settlement with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The co-op was founded in 1973 It is a member-owned and operated food store designed to be an alternative to commercial, profit-driven grocery chains.

Located at 782 Union Street, its 17,000 members are required to work nearly three hours every four weeks, but it also employs roughly 75 full-time employees.

In April, employees met with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) for assistance. The RWDSU filed formal complaints with the NLRB saying that the workers faced intimidation tactics to prevent unionization efforts.

The RWDSU argued the co-op fostered “a general atmosphere of making it uncomfortable for workers to talk about unionizing.” This included aggressive emails and unexpectedly changing employees’ schedules.

And while the notices, which must be posted for 60 days in the workplace, are a step forward step in the unionization process, some employees still are not satisfied.

They want the co-op board to sign a formal neutrality agreement, which said RWDSU communications director Chelsea Connor says would go “above and beyond” the federal protections.

In the spring, RWDSU submitted the first draft of that agreement and asked the co-op board to hold a conversation about the terms. They received no response, according to Connor.

“Other neutrality conversations have at least come to a very first meeting,” Connor said. “That did not even happen here,” she said.

Last Friday, union supporters were outside the co-op collecting signatures on petitions in favor of a neutrality agreement. As of Tuesday morning, there were over 3,300 signatures.

Co-op member HanaKyle Moranz recalled employees being frustrated with the posted notices this week. In her 13 years as a member, Moranz said the debate over unionization “is the loudest it’s gotten.”

But not all members are in favor of unionizing. In the May issue of the co-op’s newsletter, 43 full-time employees said they were either ambivalent or outright opposed to forming a union.

“Most of us are actually pro-union and have doubts that the traditional union model is the right fit for our very non-traditional workplace,” a letter they signed read.

In a statement, the co-op board explained its neutral position is balanced by recognizing “the right of co-op employees to choose to organize or join a union” alongside “the wishes of the large number of paid staff who expressed strong reservations about the terms of the Labor Neutrality Agreement.”

Joe Holtz, general manager and one of the co-op’s six general coordinators, elaborated on the stance.

“They may not know all the facts about what the staff really wants,” he said of those pushing for a union.

On the charges of intimidation tactics, Holtz said “I don’t agree with any of that.”

Connor said employees want more than just improved wages and benefits.

“Workers here really want respect and a seat at the table,” she said. “They don’t currently have that. This is phase one of what we anticipate will be more actions by members.”
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