Say What? The Kitchen Language Controversy at City Market.

The relationship between City Market‘s management and its union has had its moments of tension over the years, but, for the most part, conflicts have been handled out of the public eye. However, things boiled over on Thursday, November 14th, when Local 203 posted the following on its Facebook page:

First UE Post

This statement was quickly disseminated on social media by activist members of to co-op, many of whom reacted quite angrily. A lively discussion went down on Vermont Workers’ Center Executive Director James Haslam’s Facebook page as to how to respond, with some advocating an immediate boycott and picket, and others counselling patience to see the results of the grievance process. On Saturday the 16th, the union posted that: Continue reading

Regulator Report Levels Claims of Self-Dealing and Excessive Compensation at Vermont Health CO-OP

Full release from the Department of Financial Regulation

CO-OP Response

We will hopefully have representatives on the show on June 2; awaiting final confirmation.

Excerpt:

All current board members were asked to serve on the board by Mr. Mitchell Fleischer. Mr. Fleischer is the current president of the board and has been a driving force behind the CO-OP’s formation and application to DFR. As president of the board, Mr. Fleischer is paid a salary of $10,500 per month, and is expected to work with the CEO to oversee all departments of the CO-OP and to provide leadership, direction, planning and participation in business operations and strategic development (Ex.25, p.1). Other board members are compensated at the rate of $250 per board meeting attended (Ex. 26). The Vermont Legislature has expressed concern with excessive remuneration to board members of health insurance companies, passing a law in 2012 requiring a supplemental filing disclosing salaries of board members and senior officers. … To further put this into perspective, Mr. Fleischer’s $126,00 annual salary eclipses the salary of the chair of the board of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, a much larger nonprofit health insurance company, who is paid $28,900 per year (Ex. 27). It is also significantly more than the $48,750 annual salary paid to the chair od the board of MVP Health Plan, a multi-billion dollar health insurance company operating in several states (Ex. 28). The board is responsible for determining reasonable compensation, if any, for directors (Ex. 29, p. 7). There is no evidence of any discussion by the board of Mr. Fleischer’s surprisingly high salary. Nor is there evidence of any discussions of salaries for any officers of the CO-OP. The CO-OP’s compensation practices exhibit a lack of oversight by the board of directors and an outsized influence by the president of the board. There are tremendous risks associated with licensing a company given these characteristics.

The board has allowed the CO-OP to enter into a contractual arrangement with Fleischer Jacobs & Associates, Inc. (“Fleischer Jacobs”) that is illegal and creates a conflict of interest for Mr. Fleischer. Mr. Fleischer is both the president of the CO-OP board of directors and the president of Fleischer Jacobs. On December 4, 2012, Fleischer Jacobs entered into a contract with the CO-OP to be the exclusive agent in soliciting applications for CO-OP products (Ex. 30). Though formalized in December 2012, this arrangement was contemplated at least a full year earlier when the CO-OP was applying to CMS for loans under the Federal Loan Program (Ex. 31, pp.4-5,7). Under this agreement, the CO-OP is paying Fleischer Jacobs at least $26,786 per month through 2013, with the possibility of an additional $250,000 through 2013 for marketing and distribution, for a potential total of more than $500,000 before even beginning insurance operations (Ex. 30, p,9). The CO-OP has maintained that this arrangement with Fleischer Jacobs is a key component to the success of the CO-OP, even after being advised that the agency and commission structure under the contract under Vermont law for plans offered through Vermont Health Connect. … Notwithstanding this admonition, the CO-OP has not submitted to DFR an amended contract changing the payment structure to Felischer Jacobs. (pp. 18-20)

Owning the New Economy Summit

On April 27th, about 100 folks attended the final event of the Vermont New Economy Series, an all day summit at the University of Vermont billed as “Owning the New Economy”. Cooperative Vermont hosted two conference sessions and footage of the afternoon session, “Building the cooperative economy” is up!

A Win for Democracy at Vermont Federal Credit Union!

by Matt Cropp

Note: These are my initial reflections of my experience of tonight’s Annual Meeting since, sadly, my video camera decided this would be a fine evening to crap out. Some things could slightly be out of order and omitted, so I will try to get my hands on the official minutes and link them here as soon as they become available.

I’ve been to the past four or five VFCU meetings, and this years was, by far, the most well attended. It was the 60th Anniversary celebration, so, instead of being at the DoubleTree it was at the Sheraton, and included a dinner for which close to 400 people RSVP’d. The meeting business began uneventfully, and the nominating committee presented the incumbent two candidates, who, as it was a non-competitive contest, were declared by the chair to have been elected by acclamation, to which a few people mentioned that they dissented from that statement.

The meeting then rolled around to new business, for which I raised my hand and made the proposal which our group of Vermont Federal members had developed. After noting that none of the assembled members had had any say in the “election” that’d just taken place, and that the nominating committees at other co-ops of which I am a member (such as City Market and the Intervale Community Farm) go to great lengths to recruit candidates and facilitate competitive elections, I proposed the following resolution:

“We, the assembled members of the Vermont Federal Credit Union, instruct the nominating committee to include on the 2014 Annual Meeting ballot all legally qualified candidates who have expressed an interest in serving on the Board of Directors, so as to ensure that members have a meaningful voice in the composition of the Board that represents them.” Continue reading

Credit Union Annual Meeting Season, 2013!

democracySpring is a time of many wonders, but for Vermont co-operators it means one thing: credit union annual meetings! That’s right, it’s time again to practice democracy at our cooperative financial institutions. If you want to make sure your values are reflected by the institution that controls your life savings, check below for the date of your Vermont credit union’s annual meeting!

  • Granite Hills Credit Union: Monday, March 11th at 5pm at the Knights of Columbus on Pine Hill Road in Barre. There will be a short presentation, prizes and giveaways. The meeting will feature a spaghetti and meatballs dinner with salad, rolls, coffee/tea and dessert.
    • Member (Adult or Child member) — $6.50.
    • Non-member child 6 years of age or younger — $6.50
    • Non-member over 6 years of age — $7.50.
    RSVP for dinner by March 8th; Doors open at 4:45 pm; business meeting begins at 5:30 pm.
  • New England Federal Credit Union: Wednesday, March 27th at 5:30 pm at the Credit Union’s headquarters at 141 Harvest Lane in Williston. Guest speaker, Eric Hanson of Hanson & Doremus Investment Management, will discuss “The US and Global Economy.”
  • Vermont Federal Credit Union: Thursday, April 11th at the Sheraton in South Burlington. Doors at 5pm, dinner at 6:15 (RSVP deadline of March 29th), meeting at 7:15.
  • VSECU: March 13th at the Capital Plaza in Montpelier. H’ors d’oeuvres at 5:30, followed by a free estate planning seminar and the annual meeting.

P.S. Annual meeting dates were nowhere to be found on many CU websites. If you’d like your Annual Meeting to be added to the list, please send the info to our Facebook page.

City Market Fosters Start-Up Telecom Co-op

Whether engaged in banking, retailing, or generating electricity, all cooperatives are bound together by the fact that they adhere to the “Rochdale Principles.” Descended from the rules that governed the world’s first cooperative store in Rochdale, England, the modern list of seven principles serves define the core of what it means to be a cooperative.

Most of the ideas put forward in the Rochdale Principles tend to apply to the relationship between a co-op and its members. All co-ops, they assert, should be characterized by such things as “voluntary and open membership,” “democratic member control,” and “member economic participation.” The sixth principle, however, deals with the relationship between an individual co-op and the movement as a whole by promoting “cooperation among cooperatives.”

Unfortunately, coops often interpret Principle Six narrowly to mean joining their trade association and, if they are particularly ambitious, putting a little bit of money in a cooperative development fund. On the other hand, some co-ops take that responsibility quite seriously, and go above and beyond in support of other co-ops and the movement.

A fantastic example of such inter-cooperative cooperation is ongoing right now in Burlington, VT. In the face of the possible sale of the local municipal telecom provider by the City to a corporate buyer, residents formed a group to explore the possibility of establishing a co-op which would offer a local and democratic alternative to corporate ownership.

Tabling At City Market

Tabling at City Market

Almost immediately, Burlington’s food co-op, City Market, stepped up to support the campaign. Updates about the telecom co-op project began to appear in its newsletter, and volunteers staffing a table in the first aisle of the co-op on days in which the space is not being used for food demonstrations have become a regular feature. When asked about the food co-op’s decision to take such an active role in promoting the new start-up, City Market General Manager Clem Nilan responded that:

City Market, as an organization, is hard-wired to support new and existing cooperatives. Our Global Ends … reads, “the cooperative model is supported,” [a]nd Cooperative Principle 6, Cooperation among Cooperatives, attests that cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

At Onion River Co-op, we can see and measure the positive impact we have on our community.  We are happy to share our resources to promote the cooperative model. … If Burlington Telecom becomes a customer-owned co-op, the telecom’s revenues and profits would remain in Burlington enriching our community and  supporting good jobs.  Businesses like City Market and households (like my own) depend on fast reliable information transfer which BT provides through world-class fiber-optic capacity.

Because Onion River Co-op has been operating at a high level for many years, we have the resources to implement our goal to support the co-op sector.

As a result of such support (as well as countless volunteer hours), the telecom co-op has raised over $80,000 in pledges and recruited hundreds of members. Though the project has a long way to go yet before the goal of mutualizing Burlington Telecom can be achieved, City Market’s dedication to the principle of “cooperation among cooperatives” has provided a big leg up and suggests the importance of that principle to the ongoing project of building the cooperative economy.

So, what is Cooperative Vermont?

Cooperative Vermont is a multimedia initiative aimed at increasing awareness of, and fostering conversation within, the Green Mountain State’s cooperative movement. In addition to this website, which aims to compile co-op news, views, events, and job opportunities, Cooperative Vermont also includes a bi-weekly interview show filmed live in Burlington at VCAM, as well as a Facebook page and a Twitter feed.

If you’d like to get involved in any way (as a writer, sponsor, guest, etc.), send an email to coopvermont@gmail.com

CoopVT