Citizen’s Co-op Dispute Ends

by Joe Courter

The following was released to email, Facebook and the media in late February; it was welcome news:

Our Apology: We at Citizens Co-op have made mistakes in the past, but have recently been working to rectify them. In the past few months we have been meeting with the members of the Union who were fired on March 24, 2014 in order to make amends and come to resolution.

Some policies set in place did not protect our workers and did not live up to the standards that all members could support. Right now we are actively working to change policies including formal recognition of the union.

We are officially and publicly apologizing for terminating the unionized workers: Kelsey Naylor, Ryan O’Malley, Sylvia Arnold, and Teresa Burlingame. We apologize as well for the abrupt termination of our two longest standing employees: Julie Matheney and Kathy Whipple. In the future we hope that those who have lost faith will join us again and help this store continue to be a prosperous part of the Gainesville community.

Citizens Co-op Board of Directors & General Manager

Just under one year after the controversy began, there is finally a resolution to the Co-op workers’ situation. After a National Labor Relations Board ruling favorable to the workers on all counts, the Citizens Co-op has agreed to a settlement of back pay (originally $17K, negotiated down to $10K) and an offer of reinstatement to the four fired workers. The workers will receive a percentage of the payment up front, and then a combination of store credit and payments of 1 percent of the store’s gross until paid up, which could be a year or less if business picks up. So SHOP CO-OP!

It is time to move forward. I have had conversations with the current store manager, Kim Drummond, and it has made me realize that there are different aspects to a Co-op which I had not been taking into account as I looked at the situation.

My personal experience with a Co-op model goes back decades to the Hogtown Granary, which provided a great social hub as well as good food. The pre-firings period of the Co-op had a similar feel with the leadership of Julie Matheney.

What Kim stressed to me is the other aspect of the Co-op that this store is striving toward, and that is the relationship of the store to local suppliers, making that farm to consumer connection which great benefits the local growers. That takes a lot of work to coordinate, and can mean some irregularity in product, but there is much higher percentage of local product than, say Wards or Lucky’s.

So whether that social hub aspect can regenerate is really up to its members and the community, but Citizens Co-op has come out of its unfortunate bunker mentality and dealt with the errors made regarding the former workers. Great credit should go to Kim Drummond for keeping the store going after hiring into a very difficult situation. The Co-op Board owes her a great debt.

Congrats to the workers who stayed strong and positive through the long process, it was in the Co-op’s interest that they raised their voice last year, and their flexibility in the settlement terms were done to keep the store vital. And let it be said again: SHOP CO-OP!  D

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