BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Food Co-op has set a date of Nov. 14 for its eligible staff members to vote on whether they want to unionize and be represented by Local 1459 of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW).
The union supporters and management of the co-op have also been able to come to an agreement on the eligibility hearing, which would have required a contentious, drawn-out period to determine which of the co-op staff would be permitted to vote in the union election.
The NLRB automatically schedules an eligibility hearing as part of the process, but there will not be a hearing, and instead the two sides will have to come to an agreement on which of the approximately 160 co-op staff members will be able to vote on Nov. 14.
"It feels very good. It is a relief to have a date finalized," said Charlie Lewis, who works in the co-op wellness department and is a member of the union organizing committee. "We're happy we have been able to get a date that is mutually agreeable for all of us."
Union supporters originally asked the co-op board to voluntarily recognize the union after they say a majority of the workers signed a petition supporting the union.
The board said General Manager Alex Gyori would be making decisions on the union, and Gyori said he wanted all of the staff to be able to vote on the union question.
The union then asked Gyori to hold a local election, without oversight from the National
The NLRB originally scheduled the election for the week of Thanksgiving and both sides asked that the election not be held during what is traditionally one of the biggest weeks of business at the co-op.
Now, with the election moved up to the 14th, the two sides are looking for support and trying to make their case.
Lewis said it is a big step to have a date set on the calendar and organizers are continuing to reach out to employees to try to answer their questions.
"We had a majority of workers sign our petition so we thought it was reasonable to approach the board and ask them to recognize the union," Lewis said. "Once it was established that there would be an election we were happy to go along with that process. As we have gone along every step along the way has felt better."
"We're very excited that we finally have a date for an election," said UFCW Local 1459 Secretary and Treasurer Richard Brown. "Now we are putting all of our energy into Nov. 14 and into making sure that all of the workers have the information they need about Local 1459 and about what we want to do."
The union vote will be held in the co-op community room from 9 a.m. to noon and then from 3 to 5 p.m.
Absentee ballots are not permitted and a representative from each side will be present during the vote.
A simple majority will decide the issue.
Brown says support from shareholders has put pressure on the co-op management to move the process forward.
Shannon Foster, a cashier at the co-op who is opposed to the union, also says it was important to get a date for the election and the staff members who do not want to unionize are trying to make themselves available to answer questions.
"We have had good feedback from everyone, and people seem happy we are giving them things to think about," Foster said.
Foster agreed that holding an election the week of Thanksgiving would have been bad for the co-op and for the vote.
She points out that opponents of the union are working to make sure everyone votes, and even for employees who are unsure about their decision, it will be important to have a voice on the day of the election.
"We just want people to know that there are a lot of questions to ask," she said. "We want people to ask them and we are trying to find out those answers. Some people seem to be getting nervous because there now is a date, but it is a good thing."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.