Electric Eggplant #8

January 24, 2020


Greetings fellow workers. Welcome to the latest edition of the Electric Eggplant and the latest from the 1186 Bargaining Committee.

The most recent bargaining session took place on Wednesday the 22nd, and came on the heels of an exceptionally well-attended WSGC Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday evening, featuring many member/owners expressing their great disappointment and dissatisfaction with the tactics of management surrounding negotiations and the quantity and quality of information provided to the Board and the member/owners themselves regarding the progress of negotiations and positions taken by the Co-op.

Wednesday evening began with the Willy Street Co-op Workers Union putting forth a deadline for completion of the contract, March 11th, so it can be brought to you, the workers, for a vote. To that end, we offered 17 bargaining dates in the month of February to management. The management team accepted three of those dates. We on the Bargaining Committee are eager to complete the contract for our fellow workers; unfortunately, management appears to prefer the slow pace set since the beginning of the process, despite the urging of our Chief Negotiator to the contrary, and the demands of the many member/owners in attendance on Tuesday (not to mention calls, emails, and comments of support that have been rolling in since our movement became public). If the management team cannot see fit to make more time for bargaining, only 6 sessions remain before the deadline. Will this be sufficient? We are concerned but we will do our best to hold up our end of the bargaining table by spending ample time preparing, communicating and considering your input, and arriving to the table well-prepared and focused. Next, 1186 presented our economic proposals.

Economic Proposals

The Union offered proposals on the following:

  • 401(k)

  • Bereavement Leave

  • Employee Assistance Program

  • Employee Discount and Other Programs

  • Holidays

  • Jury Duty

  • Life Insurance

  • Breaks

  • Medical, Dental, and Vision Insurance

  • Profit Sharing

  • Short Term and Long Term Disability

  • Travel

  • Vacations

  • Training

  • Paid Parental Leave

  • Staffing

Much of what was proposed mirrors current policy but there are some substantial points that merit review. An increase in WSGC’s contribution to employee’s 401(k) is included, as is an expansion of bereavement leave to be more inclusive of non-traditional families. We proposed continuing the employee discount and assuring various benefits provided to staff, such as the wellness coupon and bike benefits, remain intact. A modest increase to the life insurance benefit, a clause on training and trainer’s pay ($1.00/hour increase to pay for folks while training others when it’s not part of their established work duties), and a modern and progressive parental leave policy taken directly from the Society for Human Resource Management’s policy suggestions were also proposed. Of particular note are proposed changes to holidays, requiring the co-op solicit volunteers to work (for double-time pay) on those occasions before requiring anyone to work. We proposed a modest increase to vacation accrual, making the benefit more available by including part-time workers, increasing accrual rates, and accelerating the process overall to better reward those employees who remain at the co-op. Medical, Dental, and Vision Insurance benefits would remain unchanged in our plan with the exception of including part-time workers again.

One topic, Staffing, was surprisingly contentious as it would seem reasonable that sufficiently staffing our locations benefits the co-op, our customers, and our fellow workers alike. We proposed management maintain staffing levels that ensure employees can effectively perform their job duties and provide the highest level of service to our customers, fulfilling part of the very mission of the co-op. In concert with this we proposed that workers not be disciplined for any infraction primarily due to conditions of understaffing. For example, if you are unable to complete the duties asked of you during your shift because you are doing the work of more than one person, you should not be punished. Management’s response to this proposal? “I don’t know what ‘sufficient’ means.” That was the statement repeated over and over again by management’s negotiator, Greg Leifer. “Does ‘sufficient’ mean we have people standing around?” We attempted to explain that none of us should be punished for the failure to properly staff a site. Management insisted that the sites are staffed just fine, in accordance with their projections and sales/labor ratios. Bargaining Committee members, who work on the ground in the stores, protested vociferously. The voice of workers who know their work and their workplace once again shouted down by numbers and statistics on paper dumbfounded by the repeated phrase “What does sufficient mean? What is sufficient? I don’t know what that is.”

The last straw, however, was management pointing the finger at us. Mr. Leifer accused us of being responsible for frequent and predictable understaffing by having the audacity to use the sick benefit provided to us. He directly blamed co-op workers saying we don’t think we should have to come to work.

He went on, saying that since agreement on the new attendance policy and the quasi-amnesty of 4 extra discipline points absences have gone up (interesting that they could gather that data so quickly, but could not be bothered to do so when requested repeatedly by our stewards inquiring as to the point status of staff members). He did not mention the latest virus that is spreading through the staff ranks, nor did he mention the blizzard that began on Friday afternoon and continued through Saturday. He did, however, express disgust that any worker calling in may have done so from a sense of relief that at long last there was light at the end of the tunnel. Mr. Leifer sneered at the very thought that any of our fellow workers, many of whom had come to work sick over the prior months, would have the nerve to be ill now and take the time they needed to feel even an ounce of recovery. He failed to assign blame for short staffing to the soon-to-be-ex attendance policy forcing otherwise good workers from their jobs or on the absurd notion of basing staffing on sales per labor hour and instead assigned blame to us, the workers. This is the level of respect shown for our labor and for our personal lives; that our being ill, indisposed, injured, burnt-out, burglarized, victimized, hospitalized, traumatized, or anything else that might interfere with our servitude to the co-op is an inconvenience and liability and the consequence for such is to punish our coworkers and customers with poorly staffed stores. This led to a heated exchange followed by the introduction of our wage proposal.

We proposed a co-op minimum wage of $14.00/hr in year one of the contract, and $15.00/hr in years two and three, which will help the co-op achieve the livable wage that was promised to us all in the past. In addition, we proposed significant annual increases - starting at the ratification of the contract for all employees over the next three years. At this point management called the bargaining session to a premature end putting us further into doubt about their sincerity in wanting to come to an amicable solution quickly.

With as much tumult as there was during this session we, your elected bargaining representatives, remain committed to bargaining as often as possible and putting in as much work as is necessary to get us a good contract in a timely manner. Like always, if you have any questions, concerns, suggestions, or comments please speak to your steward and/or bargaining representative. Together, through collective voice and action, we have and can continue to make a truly substantial difference in our workplace.

Upcoming bargaining dates:

  • Wednesday January 29th

  • Wednesday February 5th

  • Tuesday February 11th

  • Tuesday February 25th

There will also be a day of all-members meetings slated for mid-March to go over the contract and either ratify or reject the proposal as it stands at that time.