Don Kreis: Wine and Cheese Party at the Hanover Co-op?

Consider what happens when your food co-op – the place where you buy all of your groceries, because you love the customer service and the idea that no outside investors are extracting wealth from you and your neighbors – does something you think is awful. Let’s say, for example, that for no reason apparent to you, the co-op fires your store’s wine guy and its cheese guy. Each is a friendly employee who has, countless times, helped you find just the right item to make the meal you are about to prepare just perfect. You smiled whenever you saw either of them in the store; you chatted them up whether or not you needed wine or cheese on any particular day. Now, they’re gone.

Then you read in the local newspaper that the co-op fired your favorite food purveyors because they had been talking to their fellow employees about forming a union – an activity that is expressly protected under federal labor law. The newspaper’s columnist says it is so, apparently because the two fired employees told him that.

What do you do, if you are a loyal member of the co-op? Well, the other day I got an email from a longtime member of a co-op who is in precisely this situation. The member in question said he spends about $6,000 a year at his co-op, and has resolutely defended it against the claims that circulate in the community that the cooperative is an elitist organization whose prices are higher than those of the local supermarket chain stores.

But, said the member, the treatment of the two fired employees “is simply wrong” – so wrong, in fact, that “unless there is some meaningful action from the [cooperative’s] Board I will cash out my shares and organize my life so that I do not have to spend another dime in the co-op.”

Righteous indignation in the face of alleged injustice feels good, of course, but in this instance I would respectfully suggest the member in question is doing precisely the wrong thing. Allow me to explain. Continue reading