Bloomingfoods Co-op Crisis, Act II. Unite Bloomingfoods marches to Board Meeting

10374081_699008220191555_2854778300834001134_nI’m interested in the unfolding drama that surrounds our local food co-op, partly because, after all, it’s my co-op too, and the place where I shop for any food that we don’t grow here at the GANG or get dumpster diving or at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. And, I’m interested in this drama because it mirrors the larger global drama, where, in classic David v. Goliath fashion, we the people during this ongoing Uranus/Pluto ferment (2012-2016) are challenging the hegemony of multinational corporations.

But wait a minute, you say. Bloomingfoods is a Co-operative, not a Corporation!

Well, yes. It’s supposed to be. But between its visionary, idealistic birth in 1976 and now, 38 years later, with a growing base of 12,000 members, something happened along the way to begin to torque our original member-owner operation into a quasi-corporation, with an expanding physical presence (three major stores, two minor ones, and counting), a long-time CEO-like General Manager, a budget that is not transparent, workers who are both underpaid and feel disrespected and disenfranchized, and a board that vets anyone who wants to serve on it to say whether they can even be nominated to come up for a vote!

Here’s some background:

Iconic Bloomington Co-op Shows Its Shadow Side?

Bloomingfoods, yesterday’s rally to unionize workers, and our moment of creative opportunity as member-owners of our beloved Co-op

BTW: 1976 to 2014: 38 years. Right on schedule for the opening moves of what’s called the “Uranus opposition” in any entity’s life. Uranus, the planet of excitement, sudden changes, wake-up calls, and unpredictable surprises, comes with its Aquarian ruler’s vision of the equality of all peoples, and has a cycle of 84 years. This means that it’s half-cycle is somewhere between 39 and 42 years. So that this Uranian drama is beginning to unfold now is a wake-up call to both the member-owners and the board. We are being called back to our original By-Laws, and our founding purpose as a cooperative. Right on time.

So for Tuesday evening’s board meeting, two days ago, here’s a photo essay of sorts.

The March was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. with the Co-op Board Meeting at 6:30. I got to the East Side Store, where the march was set to begin, at about 5:20. Not many folks there yet. Would they come?

first shot

 

Ten more minutes, and the crowd had swollen enough to make a good showing for our short march to the board meeting.

throng

 

march

Oops! Once there, we were stopped. Not allowed in. What?

in front of meeting

Somebody opened the door to tell us. The fire marshall has decreed that only 40 are allowed in the room. Are you on the list. Did you RSVP? Oops, maybe four of us RSVPed. Okay, you can go in.

The rest of us, and that’s most of us, milled around some more, kvetching about not having even known that we were supposed to RSVP! Was this the first time a board meeting had required an RSVP from member-owners? The answer to that was never clear to me. Whatever was going on behind that innocuous looking front window

window

was something we were not going to be privy to?

At one point I looked down, to find a neatly written word on a relatively new tree stump.

murdered

Oh my! And was our mood murderous, too? Not exactly, but frustrated, certainly, with more than one of us surprised that the board had not realized this would be a meeting that member-owners would like to attend.

At one point the president of the board came outside to try to pacify us. I asked him point blank (but in a civil tone) why they had not chosen a larger venue, since they must have known member-owners would be attending this meeting. He didn’t have an answer.

At some point, amazingly enough, some of us did get by the gate keepers, including myself. I went and sat on the steps above the table where the board was meeting and those of us that had already gotten in were seated or standing. So I heard much of what went on. And noticed especially that the General Manager — the focus of many pointed questions — didn’t ever seem to look at anyone, but just sat there, his head down, busily writing.

To the board’s credit, they did reserve the first hour of their two hour meeting for our comments, which were unanimous in favor of increasing the accountability of the board to its workers. Many other comments as well, most of them very articulate, and respectful, almost anguished. Over and over again, “This is our co-op! If our co-op doesn’t act like one, and especially if doesn’t meaningfully respond to its member-owners recommendations I won’t be able to shop here any more!”

Here’s Lauren (red sweater), a worker at Bloomingfoods East who spoke with passion, grace and concern about the co-op we all know and love and want to return to its founding principles.

inside, Lauren

 

Here’s a twitter feed that logs all the comments.

https://mobile.twitter.com/mollymauls

When it was my turn to speak I focused on that strange rule that says anyone who runs for the board has to be vetted by the existing board, saying that it implies that disruption of existing policies are not allowed. That as a result Bloomingfoods feels more like a corporation than a co-operative.

During the meeting a tornado warning sounded, twice, each time for long minutes. It seemed fitting, turbulence and danger in the weather outside mirroring the turbulent feelings and sense of danger to the founding principles of our beloved co-op inside.

Here’s the final tweet of the final comment, and I’m sure it echoes the feelings that all of us have who still work there, who still buy our food there, and who still want very very much for our co-op to remember that it is a co-op and not a corporation.

Screenshot 2014-10-09 12.25.28

 

 

 

Next up: Annual Member Meeting, Let’s all be there! It’s your co-op, too.

Screenshot 2014-10-09 12.38.10

P.S. I just now RSVP’ed.

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8 Responses to Bloomingfoods Co-op Crisis, Act II. Unite Bloomingfoods marches to Board Meeting

  1. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    Hi, Ann,
    I researched the formation, governance and operations of non-profit corporations (yes, these are *corporations* — businesses with a non-profit business model, and a 501c3 can be a membership non-profit or a co-op non-profit, but they’re still *businesses* licensed by the state as *corporations*) during the great Strategic Plan/General Manager Melee at WFHB in 2013. The practice of having a Board of Directors vet Board candidates isn’t “strange” at all — it’s actually standard operating procedure. See http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/resources/resources-topic/boards-governance/board-development :

    “The recruitment process requires both “vetting” a candidate and “cultivating” the interest of a potential future board member until he or she is ready to accept an invitation to become an ambassador for the nonprofit. Some nonprofits “test drive” potential board members by asking them first to serve on a task force or to volunteer for the nonprofit in another way. Need help finding the right board member? Contact your State Association of nonprofits, local United Ways, or local community foundation, any of which may have suggestions for board-match programs in your area. You may also want to explore Board Connect, an online matching service that is a collaboration between LinkedIn and BoardSource. – See more at: http://www.councilofnonprofits.org/resources/resources-topic/boards-governance/board-development#sthash.vn7yTbha.dpuf

    The difference at Bloomingfoods, and at WFHB, is that Board Members are not invited in, they are *elected* by the nonprofit corporation’s Members. At WFHB, candidates follow a procedure of petition, Board review and approval that is articulated in the By-Laws. The WFHB Board is responsible for putting forward candidates for election to open seats during the annual meeting, but anybody can stand for election if they follow the process in the By-Laws.

    The purpose of this inside vetting by the Board of a nonprofit is strategic — because the Board is the Business Management Core Team of the *business* that is being run on a non-profit model, and the Board is responsible for bringing together the best human talent and resources available for the good of the *business* as a community asset providing a unique community service. The Board needs to have a set of skills in play for the good of the nonprofit business: financial, technical, industry-specific, legal, civic/governmental/regulatory, etc. I was on the Executive Committee that developed the WFHB Strategic Plan (over an 18-month period), and one of the first things our Development Consultant advised was that the Board start using a Skills Matrix to evaluate itself, determine weaknesses and strengths, and evaluate recruited and petitioning Candidates according to their skills and what kind of expertise and knowledge the Board (and by extension, WFHB as a broadcast media company) needed going forward.

    Strategy. Quality control. For the good of the business you’re trying to run, its staff and its constituency.

    Board work is not for everybody. One of the best services run by the Nonprofit Alliance of Monroe County is a training that teaches people how to be a good Board member — what are your responsibilities, how you conduct yourself, what is misconduct, what a Board does and what it cannot do. A Board vetting Board candidates for election is really asking, does this person know what they’re getting into? Are they competent to do this work?

    That’s all I have to say. Just: relax. It’s not malfeasance. It’s good business practice for a nonprofit.

  2. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    Hi again,
    Correction to my comment: the Board Certificate Program is presented by the Bloomington Volunteer Network, a City project. See http://www.bloomingtonvolunteernetwork.org/BoardCertificateProgram

    BTW, I am not a Bloomingfoods Member — I shop there every week and have been intending for years to get a membership, but never had the cash in hand to do it. This union issue makes me wonder if I should. I’ll have to see how Lucky’s prices look in comparison to Bloomingfoods’ member prices, once they open (Lucky’s is much closer to my house). I’ll also check to see if Lucky’s workers are Union members.

  3. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    Hi one more time,
    Mike Glab’s local blog, “Electron Pencil,” carried a new twist to the Bloomingfoods story today, here: http://electronpencil.com/2014/10/13/hot-air-165/#comments

    Nancy Hiller had forwarded Mike the Bloomingfoods Glossary of Benefits, and she puts a long response in the Comments thread, including this:

    “The current situation concerning Bloomingfoods is far more complex and nuanced than the prevailing discourse, especially on Facebook, acknowledges. It is not the “contretemps” that has me deeply distressed, but the black-and-white, us-versus-them, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us nature of the discourse surrounding and inflaming it.

    I did not post the link to the Glossary of Benefits as a claim that Bloomingfoods is a great place to work … I do not actually know whether it’s a great place to work—though I daresay I, at least, would find it a more desirable place to work, especially in a staff position, than certain branches of, say, Marsh, and I can also say that the list of benefits is vastly more generous than I have received in any job I’ve ever held. Rather, as I stated clearly, I posted the link as a rare bit of substance in a debate that has seen precious little substance. Are the benefits actually provided to employees as set forth in this glossary? I don’t know. I do know that some people have found this not to be the case. But the fact that the co-op publishes this information–I did not have to hunt for it; it was right there, freely available, on the website–suggests that management at least intends to take good care of its employees and is liable to be called on any failure to do so. That in itself is significant.”

    It’s a terrific comment. Go read.
    Cheers!

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