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Union Files Complaint Against Co-op

Thursday, May 14, 2015
Hanover — A Massachusetts-based union has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board against the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, alleging management at the Co-op impeded workers’ efforts to unionize.

The complaint says that “on about May 6, 2015,” management at the Hanover Co-op Food Store on South Park Street intimidated workers and prevented them from discussing organization inside the store. In doing so, the Co-op violated provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, according to the union, United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 1459.

A spokesman for the Co-op said he had not yet received formal notice of the allegations.

“We have not been served with any charges at this time,” said Allan Reetz, the Co-op’s chief spokesman. “We have and will continue to follow the mandates of the National Labor Relations Act. We continue to treat employees of the Co-op with courtesy and respect, and we are hopeful that union organizers will as well.”

Union organizer Joel Nelson, whose local is based in Springfield, Mass., and represents employees of the Brattleboro Food Co-op, had announced plans to meet with workers in Hanover on May 7, the day after the alleged labor violations.

Nelson said on Wednesday that Co-op employees had invited him to visit, but declined to discuss the details of the charges, citing “an ongoing National Labor Relations Board investigation.”

“We have always helped workers stand up for their rights in the workplace — this is just another example of this,” he wrote in an email. “While this is the first time that we’ve filed a charge on behalf of workers at the Co-op Food Stores, we routinely help retail workers, co-op workers and other workers across the country stand together for better jobs, and we advocate for them when their rights are violated.”

The UFCW complaint, dated May 8, states that the union’s attorney in Washington brought the charges, but that official could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Margaret Drye, president of the Co-op’s board of directors, declined to comment on the particulars of a complaint she had not yet received, and added that the board does not involve itself in labor organization.

“The board has no position” on the matter, she said. “This is an employee decision regarding unions, and we will not interfere with their right to organize.”

A news release from the union said the charges were not related to last summer’s firings of wine and cheese workers Dan King and John Boutin, whose sudden and unexplained dismissals from the Lebanon Co-op sparked protest and a lawsuit by the former employees alleging wrongful termination, among other charges.

“While the wrongful termination case is currently still being litigated,” the news release said, “this unrelated NLRB charge raises the question if anything has changed at the Co-op Food Stores or if Co-op management continues to engage in anti-worker practices.”

King said he had met with representatives of UFCW while he was still working at the Lebanon store. Though Co-op management has denied that it knew of his meetings with labor organizers, King said his firing had a “chilling effect” on workers at the stores, many of whom kept their grievances to themselves as a result, he said.

One Co-op worker, Tara Watson, disagreed with King in a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s Valley News, calling herself “a proud, happy Co-op employee.”

“Not once have I ever been afraid to speak up if I had a question or opinion,” she wrote. “That is one of the things that I love most about my job, that I am able to ask questions and get the answers I need.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com .




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