Forum, July 2: The Co-Op Debate Continues

Co-op Board Must Answer

To the Editor:

When I came down to Sunday breakfast my husband said, “The news is going to make you very angry.” Given the news that we read daily, that was not much of a bulletin, however, when I read about the firing of John Boutin and Dan King (“Wine and Cheese Firing Party,” June 29), I very nearly threw my tea cup across the kitchen.

My husband and I have been members of the Co-op since 1992. I shop almost daily at the Lebanon Co-op and enjoy very cordial relationships with many of the wonderful people who work there. Two of my favorite and most helpful Co-op “pals” are Dan King and John Boutin. I not only enjoy seeing them and chatting with them, but they have both been unerringly helpful and go out of their way to be of service.

Although I often feel as though Kenyon fans flames which are not as hot as he perceives, this column may well reveal unethical behavior on the part of “our management.” If his report is accurate, that neither gentleman was given a reason for dismissal, then management acted unethically. Even in “at will” employment arrangements, one is ethically entitled to know what one is accused of and deserves the right to due process.

I expect that the board of the Co-op is going to hear from many members of the Co-op community. I fully expect the board will undertake an independent and transparent review of just what has gone on and that the board will report openly to its members and the entire Co-op community.

I hope and expect that John Boutin and Dan King will be asked to return, though if they have been treated as shabbily as Kenyon reports, they may wish to take a long time to decide if this is the place they want to work.

If John Boutin is truthfully telling us that the management is asking employees to push higher-profit margin items rather than give honest advice, the management should be ashamed. The board should address that as well.

The Co-op has a long history of treating members, customers and employees with integrity, honesty, compassion and with the best of intentions. I am disappointed if what has transpired represents a change in that philosophy and management application of those characteristics.

Karen R. Blum


Workers’ Right to Unionize

To the Editor:

Jim Kenyon’s story (“Wine and Cheese Firing Party,” June 29) struck a chord with me because, before I was born, my father, who had five children at the time, came home from his job in a meatpacking plant in Somerville, Mass., and told my mother that he had been fired for trying to organize a union. That was in 1932, before the 1935 passage of the legislation establishing the National Labor Relations Board, which prohibits employees from being fired for trying to organize a union. So my reaction was “How could Co-op management be so clumsy? Surely, they must be aware of their responsibilities under the NLRB.”

I have included two website addresses for the interested reader to get some facts about employees rights:

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They shed more light than the heat provided in Kenyon’s column. If the allegations are true, the employees have substantive recourse beyond that of Jim Kenyon.

Bob McCarthy


Wondering About the Co-op

To the Editor:

I have read with interest the columns by Jim Kenyon about unrest among the employees of the Hanover Co-op. I wasn’t surprised to see the many responses from readers defending the Co-op. It has been a landmark in Hanover for many years and more recently in Lebanon and White River Junction as well.

My wife and I have been Co-op members for many years and have rarely had any reason to be dissatisfied. It feels good to shop at a cooperative that is supposedly owned by and responsive to its customers.

So perhaps Kenyon is a sensationalistic muckraker whose job is to stir up controversy whether or not it has any basis. But the story in Sunday’s paper about the firing of two long-time employees seems to put that possibility to rest. I’ve known both of them for years as two of the friendly and helpful staff members in the Lebanon store. It’s hard to imagine that they simultaneously engaged in some behavior that justifies their being fired. Kenyon’s opinion that they were fired for looking into the possibility of collective bargaining by Co-op employees is more plausible.

I work in Centerra and shop at the Lebanon Co-op two or three times a week. It would be quite inconvenient for me to begin going to one of the stores in West Lebanon, but I’m giving it serious thought. I hope to see rather soon a statement from the Co-op about why these firings were necessary.

And I also want to know why they moved everything around to different shelves so you can’t find things where they used to be.

Clifford Cary