Employees at the Brattleboro Food Coop will vote Wednesday on whether to form a union. 140 of the coop’s 160 workers are eligible to say yes or no to joining Local 1459 of the United Food and Commercial Workers.
The election is supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. Employee organizers initially asked the coop and its trustees to voluntarily recognize the union.
But coop manager Alex Gyori says his attitude was that all the employees needed to participate in the decision, even if organizers had a majority of workers who had signed cards.
"I also heard from employees who were very, very unhappy because they felt disenfranchised from that process because they didn’t even know about it," Gyori says.
The employees’ request was also backed by a petition bearing hundreds of signatures from shoppers and share-holders in the cooperatively-owned business.
Union organizer Charlie Lewis, a coop employee, says many workers feel the cooperative model doesn’t extend to employees and that the management style has become increasingly top-down.
"I think some of the issues are grievance procedures… management having a tendency to side with managers in disputes, despite there being grievance procedures in place and things like employee services committee," Lewis says. I think a lot of staff have lost faith in those procedures and doesn’t trust them".
The Coop recently opened a new $9 million building on Brattleboro’s Main Street, with mixed income apartments on the upper floors.
The new store is bigger, and Lewis says some employees may be feeling stretched thin. Coop manager Alex Gyori says everyone has been overextended because of the move and other challenges in the past year.