East End Food Co-op workers and management have compromised: They will now accept federal supervision of an election to decide whether employees will unionize.
The Co-op's 50 non-management employees will vote in a National Labor Relations Board-stipulated election on Aug. 30 on whether to adopt the International Workers of the World as their union. Management and workers reached agreement on Aug. 7, pending final approval from the NLRB regional director, expected as soon as Aug. 8.
"We tried to do it without having the feds involved," says Rob Baran, general manager at the Point Breeze natural foods store, "but there were too many obstacles."
Those obstacles: a count of cards submitted by workers in support of the IWW which wasn't recognized by management, but which union organizers say showed a clear majority favoring the IWW; management's hiring of Braun Consulting, a consulting firm some characterize as anti-union; the attempted creation of a rival union, the United Workers Committee, by a former management employee; and, most recently, graffiti appearing in a staff bathroom equating the venerable IWW to the Nazis.
Workers had also tried to unionize in 2003, but failed to win the support of the co-op's board of directors. At that time, the board took a more hands-on approach to the store's operations; the board now gives considerable leeway to Baran.
This year, workers and management sought to avoid involving the NLRB and a potentially lengthy and complicated union-approval process. But as the challenges piled on, both factions agreed that going with the NLRB, rather than trying to come to a consensus on an election overseen by a local third party, would be the most efficient route ... and the one least fraught with potential legal issues.
"We wanted to move forward," says Evan Wolfson, a member the Workers Committee, which heads up the IWW effort. "We wanted to make sure it was legal and fair."
The second union, the UWC, has withdrawn its interest in organizing the workers and gaining a spot on the ballot, according to Baran. The fledgling union received the interest of less than one-third of the co-op workforce, he says.
Wolfson and Baran both say they're happy to have reached an agreement.
"We finally got a date for an election," says Wolfson. "Hallelujah."