The Brattleboro Co-op (Reformer photo)
The Brattleboro Co-op (Reformer photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Food Co-op employees will vote on a proposed three-year union agreement with management on Wednesday, July 9.

The Co-op workers will vote to ratify the proposed agreement by secret ballot during the day Wednesday.

The voting will end at 4 p.m.

A committee of Co-op workers negotiated with co-op administration for more than a year and the two sides reached a tentative deal in May.

About 145 Co-op workers will now vote on the proposed agreement.

"It's been a long road," said Greg Howe, a Co-op employee who sat in on some of the negotiations. "This was tried once before 11 years ago and to finally have this come to fruition feels great."

Howe said talks with co-op management were tense, at times, and federal mediators were called in twice to try to bring the two sides closer together.

A lot of the delay, Howe said, was due to disagreements over health insurance.

He said he was happy with the terms in the agreement that address disciplinary matters between employees and managers.

"We now have structures in place to address outstanding issues," Howe said. "The process that was being used to address disciplinary matters was not working."

Sabine Rhyne, Brattleboro Food Co-op Manager of Shareholder and Community Relations, declined to comment on the negotiations, but said everyone was looking forward to moving beyond the contract talks.

"Right now we are just waiting for the vote," she said. "We are happy that a contract was negotiated and we look forward to the future."

Brattleboro Food Co-op workers started talking about unionizing in the spring of 2012.

Co-op workers voted on Nov. 14, 2012, to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1459.

A majority vote was required and co-op workers voted 74-45 to join the union.

About 142 Co-op workers were eligible to vote that day, and 126 votes were cast.

Seven disputed votes were not counted.

United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1459 Secretary and Treasurer Richard Brown said contract talks took a long time due to what he called the Co-op's ongoing financial struggles.

Brown said the Co-op lost money last year and the union was trying to negotiate a fair deal with management with the understanding that the Co-op was facing financial challenges.

"We wanted to get the best deal we could for the workers, knowing that we had finite resources to work with."

Brown said negotiations ended in May and then union staff spent the next few month-and-a-half meeting with Co-op workers to explain the proposed contract.

"We wanted to ensure that we were being as transparent as possible," Brown said. "But at this point we are not taking anything for granted. We want people to understand that they need to get out and vote to get us over the finish line."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.