BRATTLEBORO -- Brattleboro Food Co-op workers approved a three-year collective bargaining agreement during a vote held Wednesday at the co-op.
Co-op workers voted 57-23 to support the contract hammered out between representatives from United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1459 and co-op management over the past year.
Brattleboro Food Co-op employees voted to unionize by a 74-45 vote in November 2012 and the contract that was approved Wednesday was the first union agreement workers signed in the store's 39-year history.
"I've been on the bargaining team since this started and I am so relieved it is over," said Joelle Montagnino, a front end worker at the co-op. "And I'm really optimistic about how it will work out."
Beyond the compensation and benefits included in the agreement, Montagnino said the contract establishes work rules and standards for working conditions.
"I am hopeful about a change in culture here," she said. "I think it's really important for employees to feel secure about working here. Having those guidelines with a contract behind it is really important.
"We're happy it's done," said Brattleboro Food Co-op Shareholder and Community Relations Manager Sabine Rhyne. "It's been a learning experience for everybody and going forward it will continue to be a learning experience for all of us and we are really looking forward to the partnership."
About 62 percent of the 129 eligible co-op employees voted Wednesday on the three-year agreement.
UFCW Local 1459 Organizer Jeff Jones said after the vote that it was impossible to speculate why only 80 people voted.
"I like the ratio we have, 57-23 is more than two-to-one," Jones said. "When we won the representation election that we were forced to go to under the NLRB we won that basically two-to-one. So this is a verification of the representation election, in my opinion.
"This was not a vote on the union or not, this was a vote on the contract that we negotiated that Brattleboro Co-op management bargained in good faith. Both sides worked extremely hard. I'm proud of what we have. It's something to build on."
Jones said it was not unusual for negotiations over a first contract to take more than a year.
"As long as both sides bargain in good faith you keep it going," Jones said. "First contracts can be difficult."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.