BRATTLEBORO -- The union that hopes to represent the workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op is filing papers with the National Labor Relations Board to hold a vote on representing the co-op’s non-managerial staff members.
Rick Brown, secretary and treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459, said the co-op refused to voluntarily recognize the union after a majority of the store’s approximately 160 employees signed a petition asking that the co-op board recognize the union.
"The Brattleboro Food Co-op general manager, Alex Gyori, has declined to voluntarily recognize us, and has also refused to do a community sponsored secret ballot election," Brown said. "We are now filing with the National Labor Relations Board. The union needs to file and we are doing that."
Brown said a community sponsored election would bring in a neutral third party, who both sides would agree upon, to oversee the vote.
Since Gyori rejected the idea, Brown said the federal government will be brought in, which he said will take more time and money.
He said an election will likely be held within six weeks.
Gyori confirmed that the co-op wanted the NLRB to oversee the vote.
"We only want an NLRB-supervised vote," he said. "If it goes to that."
The union’s move to file papers with the NLRB comes after Monday night’s monthly board meeting where about 60 shoppers, staff members and shareholders showed up to ask the board to voluntarily recognize the union. The board declined and has left the issue up to Gyori.
Co-op Shareholder and Community Relations Manager Sabine Rhyne released a statement on the co-op Facebook page Tuesday.
"We know that we live in a passionate community," Rhyne wrote. "Know that we support all of our employees’ right to choose whether or not to unionize, one by one, in a democratic process. This is consistent with the cooperative principle of one member, one vote."
Once the union’s papers are filed with the NLRB office in Boston, the union and the co-op will have seven days to decide who will be able to vote. If the two sides can not agree the NLRB regional director will make the decision.
For the vote to pass, 51 percent of the eligible employees have to agree to being represented by the union.
Co-op employee Missi Bacon, who is opposed to unionization, said she welcomed the vote.
"We welcome an informed and democratic process," she said. "We want everyone to learn more about this. There are more than two sides to it."
Bacon, who has been at the co-op for four years, said the unionization drive has been contentious and has caused bad feelings among the staff.
Bacon said she originally signed the petition because she was led to understand that her signature only supported a vote.
When she learned that supporters were going to present the petition to the board for voluntary recognition she asked that her name be taken off.
And Anna Edson, an 11-year veteran at the store who also is opposed to the union, said a vote would put the decision into the hands of the staff.
Edson said the co-op shareholders, and the board, should not have been involved in the issue.
"This should be between management and staff. The board should stay neutral," she said. "Management knows it has been tough with the move and they have been supportive of us. This is not something the co-op needs."
Greg Howe, a supporter and member of the union organizing committee, said he was looking forward to the vote as well.
Howe wanted the board to accept the petition, but he said he was confident supporters had the necessary number of votes to unionize.
"Those who are opposed asked for this, too, so this should satisfy everybody," Howe said. "We had the signatures on the petition and that was democratic, but I guess this is our last option. We all want to see this resolved."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at email@example.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.