Letter: A Solution for the Co-op

To the Editor:

As someone who concluded a decade of service on the board of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society a year ago, I read your account of this year’s annual meeting (“Co-op Meeting Takes Acrimonious Turn,” April 6) with great interest. You described efforts by Hanover attorney William Clauson to grab the floor and raise certain concerns on behalf of anonymous Co-op employees. These concerns, to which your columnist, Jim Kenyon, has now also devoted two columns, remain vague but seem to center on allegations of workplace bullying at the Lebanon store.

If Messrs. Clauson and Kenyon were truly interested in being constructive, as opposed to merely stirring up trouble at an institution they apparently dislike, they would propose solutions. One that deserves consideration is transforming the Co-op into a “solidarity” co-op, sometimes also referred to as a “multi-stakeholder” cooperative. Instead of being owned solely by its customers, the Co-op would then be owned jointly by consumers and employees, each with the right to elect half the board.

Meantime, to report this story fairly, you should acknowledge that all grocery stores, whether cooperatives are not, are fundamentally blue-collar workplaces that are hierarchical, require a lot of teamwork and cannot afford to compensate employees lavishly if they are to compete successfully in today’s race-to-the-bottom economy. These realities notwithstanding, I can testify from direct observation that the Co-op, while not perfect, works diligently to do right by its employees and to be accountable to its member-owners.

One final point: A recent Jim Kenyon column on this subject implied that Co-op members might reject the proposed plan to renovate the Hanover store to register their displeasure over the workplace complaints. That would be awfully self-defeating where employees are concerned, given that nobody spends more time at the Co-op than its workers.

Donald M. Kreis