Update Statement

The CCWU realizes there may be some confusion amongst the public about our decision to unionize and our fight to get our jobs back after being wrongfully fired on March 24th. We wish to reiterate, the members of Citizens Co-op Workers Union were not seeking increased pay or benefits. In fact, we frequently volunteered additional unpaid time to the store. The workers simply wanted a voice in their workplace. According to the bylaws, we were called “worker-owners” and elected a worker-owner to be a voting seat on the board of directors. 

On February 18th, in response to concerns about this representation and our inclusion in business decisions, the workers were told that the worker-owner representative was a gift, a privilege and could be taken away. We were told the co-op is not a democracy and if we disagreed with that, or other policies we should find work elsewhere. We were also told our by-laws could be changed by the board of directors, rather than a member vote. Our two most senior and knowledgeable employees were fired immediately following this meeting, without any previous mediation or warning. Our decision to unionize, a federal right, was a means of gaining legal protection. We felt any disagreement would lead to our termination.

We realize the current situation is complex and not everyone can give it their full attention. Additionally, there has been plenty of misinformation circulated this past month. Simply said, we believe a cooperative business should allow its workers to speak up without fear of retaliation. We also believe members should be allowed to communicate with one another when issues of this magnitude are facing the co-op. 

Here is a list of potential short term and long term goals the CCWU was seeking. These were to be presented to the Board, however, we were fired before having the opportunity to do so.

1. Disciplinary policy – defined causes for immediate termination, versus written and verbal warnings, probationary periods, etc. Though we live in a right to work state and the co-op is a corporation, we sell the fact that we run on principles that are above those of a cut throat for profit business. Everyone deserves a chance, and everyone deserves a voice. 

2. Our elected worker-owner representative is present for all board discussions and votes. If it is a concern, they could be asked to keep private information confidential.

3. Facebook privileges reinstated. Us not posting is hurting PR and advertising, and no one posted anything negative on the co-ops FB page. If something is posted that is considered in poor taste it can be removed immediately by anyone, and that person can lose privileges. 

4. Clearly and thoroughly defined job descriptions and their assigned compensation. The union wishes to make clear we are not looking for increased compensation! We are however making sure that an increase in responsibilities is met accordingly with an increase in compensation. We would like to see this as a tiered, transparent system. 

5. Hiring policy – worker-owner representative is present for all interviews. Also, a 30 day probationary period takes place, after which worker-owners have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the person in question is a good fit for the co-op. 

6. Termination policy – some actions are cause for immediate dismissal, but unless some action is directly harming the business, fellow employees…etc, there should be a due process of remediation before termination.

7. Opportunity for worker input in matters that directly affect the store operations. We are there every single day, and we feel our insight is valuable to the business.

8. Changes in bylaws need to be put to a member vote, rather than just being changed by the board. 

9. Yearly or semi-annual evaluations by peer in addition to management. If a worker doesn’t appear to be working to their full potential, they should be told such, and given an opportunity to rectify. If a worker is fantastic and going above and beyond, it should be recognized.

10. Appeal Process - An appeals process that ensures workers have the ability to challenge any disciplinary action they feel is unfair or unjust.

Fifth in the series of profiles of fired Citizens Co-op workers, Brett Ader

My name is Brett Ader. I have lived in Gainesville for about 18 months, and had been a volunteer with the co-op for most of that time before being asked to fill the role of interim general manager after the previous GM left abruptly in October 2013.  In addition to my work with the co-op, I also run a mobile wood-fired pizza company called Humble Pie.

I initially gravitated to the co-op because like many of us I was looking for something a cut above the average grocery or “health food” store, both for myself and as a source for my business.  The issues surrounding where food comes from, how it is produced, the labor practices and environmental impact associated with production - these are all factors that weigh on me as an individual and as a business owner.  The co-op seemed to be structured around these central points, while simultaneously serving as a model for a community based, democratic, transparent workplace.

It quickly became clear that those who shop at the co-op believe in these values too, and have been under the impression that they were supporting a business that did as well.  Getting to know fellow members by name and help shape the co-op with our tiny staff and shoestring budget was an exhilarating, rewarding experience.  I truly felt like we were doing something different, something beyond simply selling groceries or Micanopy Maiden kombucha, and I was proud to be a part of it.

During my time as interim General Manager, the facade slowly began to erode as I became acquainted with how many on the Board of Directors handle their positions.  A disregard for and outright hostility towards transparency, an obvious air of superiority over other members, and a general disregard for their duties as defined in the bylaws seemed common practice.  Ultimately I was discouraged but still felt confident, firm in my belief that the collective conviction of my fellow worker-owners and our community would be enough to overcome those hurdles.

However, at the now infamous worker-owner meeting in February it was made clear by the Board of Directors and our recently hired GM that any notions of democracy, solidarity, or even cooperation are to them simply hollow words used to greenwash the image of this business. The tragedy, and in the end the irony of it all, is that we have been duped by a shortsighted and power hungry few who despite their doublespeak will in the end be the downfall of our co-op.

The following is from the Citizens Co-op website under the heading “values,” and I think that both the management and Board of Directors of OUR co-op would do well to understand that these tenets should be what we not only try to live up to, but strive to transcend.

"Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others.”  

A fourth profile of the five fired: Ryan O’Malley

Hi. My name is Ryan O’Malley, Gainesville resident for a year and a half. When I first “moved” to Gainesville, I was living on a bus with two friends. I just returned from a year of touring with a band, and was excited to take part in Gainesville’s burgeoning community of artists, growers, thinkers, and doers. I knew it was going to be a positive challenge being around so many motivated people, and I was excited about being able to take part on a grassroots level.

I was hired in February of 2013 at the co-op with four years experience from the New Leaf Market Co-op in Tallahassee, FL. I had no issue with the fact that they couldn’t afford to pay me what I used to make! I was excited to be in a familiar environment, with that all too familiar “co-op smell” created by the bulk herbs, spices and coffee. If you’ve been in other food co-ops you know what I mean! When I started, I immediately felt welcomed and happy to be a part of the collective atmosphere. As a buyer for the dairy, frozen, meat, grocery and special orders of the store I slowly developed personal relationships with vendors, members, customers and my fellow worker-owners. It was increasingly obvious that people and businesses were drawn to the store because of a communal atmosphere bolstered by happy workers willing to do anything for them. The co-op had it’s own culture positively different from most places one would do business. As my presence there became more intertwined with all these lives, I experienced a growing responsibility for the store’s success. It wasn’t uncommon for my co-workers to ask, in a concerned fashion, “Are you even clocked in right now?” I constantly came in on my days off to make sure I didn’t leave anything undone. (and yes, some tasks were slightly frayed at the edges, but I’m a human too!  

All of this changed after February 18th. My morale was crushed, and then trampled upon in the ensuing weeks. I was shocked by the dramatic reactions for our desire to unionize, especially given all the support we had from concerned members and investors. In my opinion the decisions by management and the board have been extreme and unfair. However, I’m not as concerned for my well-being as I am concerned for the future of the co-op and the surrounding community. It has been a difficult process for all involved, but we can only progress from here. I believe the co-op can become a place that holds itself to the co-operative values it espouses, and I hope to be a part of this future. I can’t thank enough, everyone that has taken a stand with us. I have been amazed and inspired by all those involved. Thank you so much.

Third in our series is Kelsey Naylor, one of the 5 fired members of the CCWU.

My name is Kelsey Naylor.  I earned my degree in Humanities and Communications from Florida State on a Bright Futures Scholarship. Before I was hired at Citizens Co-op, I was a volunteer for five months.  I had just come back to Florida after working on a raw milk dairy farm in Petaluma, California.  When I found the Co-op, I was really thrilled to have access to so many high quality, local products.  I started working a two hour shift every Wednesday. Even as a volunteer, I started to get to know the members of the co-op.  Often, the same people came in each Wednesday after the Farmers’ Market. It was then that I realized the co-op was more than an “Organic Grocery Store”.  It was a Community!

When I was told the co-op was hiring last year in April, I was simultaneously applying for organic farm internships in New England and the Pacific Northwest.  Although working a register and stocking shelves wasn’t quite what I had in mind for the upcoming year, I felt the co-op was actively trying to better our local food system.  It seemed important to learn the other side of the food system, to better understand the needs of consumers seeking local and organic foods.  Working in Gainesville would also give me the opportunity to help my mom start farming her land in North Ocala.  

A month after I was hired, the Local Food Buyer position opened up.  I was really enthusiastic about taking this role.  Just as I had developed relationships with the members and shoppers at the co-op, I soon felt the same with many of the local vendors.  Alachua County has so many badass, creative, talented small business owners!  From coffee, to kombucha, bread, honey and everything in between.  These vendors weren’t just looking to sell a product, they believed in the co-op and what it stood for.  Many are members also.  Of course, I’m upset and scared about having lost my job, yet I can’t help but still worry about “my” vendors.  Are they still getting regular orders?  Are they being treated well by the new staff?  Are their products being displayed properly?  My job was so much more than simply placing an order when a shelf gets low.  

Maybe that’s what hurts the most about what happened to me and my fellow “worker-owners”.  We worked so hard and honestly cared about the success of the store.  We weren’t just clocking in for a paycheck (besides, a good chunk of that paycheck was spent at the co-op!).  We gave more than our time.  We felt the weight of the business on our shoulders.  We took that stress and responsibility home, as if we were indeed co-owners of the business. Our morale, our drive to go above and beyond was taken away from us on February 18th—and by the people who are supposed to protect the co-op’s future.  For me personally, that is inexcusable.

This conflict has been incredibly painful, for all parties involved.  However, I do think it’s an opportunity for growth and reformation.  I look forward to the reinvisioned, truly cooperative business and hope to be a part of it.  In the end, I’m thankful for this experience and thankful for all of the brilliant, courageous people I’ve met as a result.

Secondly in our series is Sylvia Arnold another member of the CCWU.

My name is Sylvia Arnold. I’ve lived in Gainesville for the past nine years, I initially came here to go to college but haven’t left. I have an AA in art history and an AS in emergency medical services. Despite having lived all over the world, I never felt a sense of belonging until I came to Gainesville. Here I’ve been employed for a myriad of local businesses including the Civic Media Center (CMC) where I found my interest and later empowerment in grassroots activism.  Without the Civic Media Center moving to south Main Street, I would never have had an interest in Citizens Co-op.

When I applied to Citizens Co-op at the end of October 2013, I wanted to work in and around the South Main Arts Community Center (SMACC) and especially in a place I thought was practicing an alternative business model. I found the practice of this model was true on the microscopic scale amongst the workers in the store. I found my nitch in being the one who could take an extra task or fulfill the gaps in a routine each shift I worked.  It was not easy but every challenge was accomplished. I seriously began to consider turning this job into a career with seeing how much time, work and commitment the Co-op required to grow. Sadly, as time went on I began to see that this alternative business model really wasn’t practiced the higher the chain of authority went.

Once the firings began the message was loud and clear, that even here, everyone is expendable when profit is valued above everything else. Throughout this I have felt rage from the injustice of knee jerk firings, sadness from accusations and threats, and anxiety about having reduced income and the uncertain future of the Co-op. Despite the turmoil, the grassroots labor-oriented activism that has grown out of this has inspired me with courage and comfort. So many people have become supportive of this. It has proved to me that when a few people come together to stand up against injustice, they can fight it, stop it and take responsibility to make something better from it.

In response to The Gainesville Sun’s personal profile on Lisa McNett, the CCWU would like to share our own personal profiles. First, we have Teresa Burlingame.

My name is Teresa Burlingame. I am a graduate from UF with degrees in biology and wildlife ecology and conservation. I have been living and working in Gainesville for 6 years, doing everything from helping run an environmental summer camp to studying the genetics of insects. After being a member, avid shopper and volunteer at the co-op, I was lucky enough to be hired as a worker-owner this past October.  In the cover letter I wrote expressing interest in employment I stated:

“Building a strong community base where you live, and supporting the local workers is incredibly important; not only do you have a group of people that cares about each other and can help each other when times are tough, but you are also living in a way that is considerably more environmentally sustainable. I strongly desire to be a part of the co-op because I think you are doing great work in keeping the community together and alive.”

I was so proud to be a part of this cooperative and worked actively every day to make it better for everyone involved.  I strived to do my absolute best in helping every customer that came in, member or not, have an experience that was different than your average grocery store. Lately I am afraid that Citizens Co-op has not been living up to the standards I thought it held. Being fired from the co-op broke my heart. Working there was more than just a job; it had become a passion.

Since it happened I have been dealing with a lot of personal issues and I am forever thankful for the support that we have seen from the community as well as nationwide. On March 24th when I woke up I quickly had to come to terms with the fact that my 5 month old kitten that I had been desperately trying to save for weeks after suffering acute kidney failure was not going to make it. I grabbed my phone to inform my vet only to see that I had been fired via e-mail along with 4 of the hardest workers I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The next day I was also informed that someone very close to me was seriously ill. Times have been tough, but I am still standing strong for the co-op I believe in. I want my co-op back!

Once again, thank you everyone for all the support you have shown toward this cause. It means more than you could know.

Citizens Co-op Board of Directors refuse to budge

We had a meeting today in the Courtyard at 4pm with the board of directors, including Lucian Kragiel, Rob Brinkman and newly appointed Rick Nesbit. Jeffrey Weisberg, a mediator from the River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, facilitated the meeting. Also present was James Ingle, in order to help facilitate. There were five non-participating, neutral witnesses in attendance. 

No agreements were made and the five workers have not been reinstated.

Citizens Co-op Workers on Strike for Unfair Labor Practices

Two workers at Citizens Co-op, Anna Mack and Jon Church, went on strike to protest the recent firings of fellow union members.

At 4pm today a meeting is scheduled between CCWU and the Board of Directors/Management of Citizens Co-op. At this meeting issues, goals and future objectives of the Co-op are to be discussed. The CCWU hopes that this can be a productive meeting of the minds between them and management.

Hello CCWU Supporters!

The CCWU would like everyone to know that there have been several verbal and written disciplinary actions towards workers recently. Multiple union members have been pulled aside by management during their shift to be questioned about the usage of the member e-mail list. These employees were told that they acted directly against policies in the Citizens Co-op employee handbook. This handbook was drafted in 2011, and through multiple changes in management and structure of the co-op, has never been previously referenced to these employees by management. At the end of this handbook there is a place for a signature, which no employee has been asked to sign. We do not feel comfortable posting an excerpt from the handbook, however, we encourage members to come into the store to ask to review it for themselves.  After reviewing the Confidentiality Agreement, we do not believe it has been violated.