On to the next step

Friday November 16, 2012

The votes have been tallied and it’s now official: Workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op have agreed to join the United Food Commercial Workers Union, Local 1459.

Of the 142 co-op employees who were eligible to cast a ballot, 126 participated in Wednesday’s vote, which was overseen by a representative of the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was an overwhelming 74-45 in favor of joining the union (seven disputed ballots were not counted and would not have changed the outcome of the vote).

Both the employees and the management seem relieved to have this issue resolved, especially given the tense atmosphere in the co-op over the past few weeks.

Two months ago members of the union organizing committee asked the co-op’s Board of Directors that a third party be able to verify that a majority of eligible workers had signed a petition from workers that they said supported the union. The committee asked the board to voluntarily recognize the union so they could expedite the process.

However, board members said the workers should decide among themselves, in a fair and democratic process, whether to join the union. Still, their refusal to voluntarily recognize the union, and the use of a law firm that some employees claim is anti-union, had some convinced that the board and co-op management were trying to thwart the organizing committee’s efforts.

Hopefully everyone can agree now that the board made the best decision in calling for a formal vote.

There were reports that some employees didn’t know there was a union drive taking place. Even those who signed the petition later said they misunderstood the intent of that petition; they thought it was merely an effort to begin discussions and didn’t realize the goal was to have the board automatically recognize the union.

If the board had agree two months ago to recognize the union, without the benefit of a vote, there no doubt would be lingering tensions among employees who would have felt they did not have a fair say in the matter. And there’s no telling how long the tense atmosphere would have carried on.

Waiting an extra two months for a formal vote is a small price to pay to make sure everyone had an equal voice, and to erase all doubt about what the majority of workers want.

"This could have been done differently, but now it is clear what the staff wants," said Union Organizing Committee member Hannah Aleshnick after the votes were counted. "Now we have to find out what is important to the staff and move on from there."

Board Chairman John Hatton echoed those sentiments after Wednesday’s vote: "Now that the union has been voted in, the board looks forward to a good working relationship between management and the UFCW."

Aleshnick said now the staff will hold meetings and gather information so it can negotiate a contract that serves all of the staff.

We wish both sides luck as they move on to the next step of negotiating a contract upon which everyone can agree.


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