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Hanover Co-op Petitioners Fight to Reinstate Fired Employees

Hanover — Members of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society are circulating a petition to reinstate two recently fired Co-op Food Stores employees and to address what they perceive as a lack of transparency from store management regarding the decision.

“We have three goals,”said Nora Jacobson, a Norwich resident and Co-op member involved in organizing a July 10 meeting to discuss the Co-op’s labor practices. “We are concerned about reinstating John Boutin and Dan King in their positions. They were unceremoniously fired a couple weeks ago, and we want to get them reinstated with back-pay. We also want the Co-op management to look into and cease at-will employment practices. Finally, we’re looking for more overall transparency in the Co-op’s management.”

Boutin, who worked as a clerk at the cheese counter at the Co-op store at Centerra Park, and King, who oversaw the wine department, were fired June 13. The two men, who had been exploring the possibility of unionizing Co-op employees when they were terminated, have said management refused to give them a reason for their firings.

Co-op management has declined to comment, citing laws protecting employee privacy.

New Hampshire is an at-will employment state, which means employment can be terminated at any time without cause.

While the practice is legal, members of the cooperative have questioned whether it is ethical or in line with the organization’s mission.

Becky Jones, a Hanover resident and Co-op member who has assisted in organizing the July 10 meeting, expressed concerns that Boutin and King were fired to intimidate other employees who might support unionization.

“We feel they were fired to let other employees know that this is the way the Co-op can do business, and if you complain, you’ll get the same treatment,” Jones said. “They had no warning and the management expressed no displeasure about their performance. The Co-op did not like the questions the employees were asking.”

While the Co-op has declined to comment on the terminations, General Manager Terry Appleby said Tuesday that they were not related to a potential union.

“The charges that the Co-op has fired (King and Boutin) to prevent them from organizing a union are false,” Appleby said. “We have not and will not stand in the way of our employees from their legal rights to choose to form a union.”

Cynthia Crawford, a Norwich resident and former member of the Co-op’s board of directors, expressed reservations about the accusations being leveled against the Co-op.

“There’s no proof that the accusations are true,” Crawford said. “I haven’t seen anything from the Co-op one way or another. The circumstances of someone being fired are private, and they’re being made public. If something is awry, I’m sure the board members would look into it. But until I see concrete facts, I think this is peculiar.”

The July 10 meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Richard W. Black Center in Hanover and is open to the public.

Lauren Bender can be reached at lbender@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

Correction

John Boutin, an employee recently fired by the Co-op Food Stores, was a clerk at the cheese counter in the Lebanon store. His position was misstated in an earlier version of this story.