Park Slope Food Coop employees accuse management of meddling in union efforts

Hear, o Israel! Food Co-op boycott moves a tiny step forward

Labor leaders are accusing management at the Park Slope Food Co-op of violating employees’ efforts to unionize by refusing to sign a “neutrality pledge,” despite a recent settlement with federal labor authorities.

“They’re not just squashing the unionization efforts. They’re intimidating workers,” said labor organizer Chelsea Connor. “They’ve taken retaliatory measures against employees.”

Workers are demanding management at Park Slope’s unique brand of food-based communism sign a “neutrality pledge” committing the store to refrain from taking any action that would stymie their effort to organize, which has so far been plagued by accusations of union busting on the part of the market’s granola-munching leadership.

“Companies aren’t allowed to retaliate against unionization efforts, but many of them do — as is the case with the Food Co-op — because labor laws aren’t strong enough,” said Connor. “So, neutrality agreements offer an added layer of protection to workers while they’re going through the unionization process.”

The Union Street grocery store between Sixth and Seventh avenues employs 72 full-time paid staffers, who work hand-in-hand with co-op members that contribute two hours and 45 minutes of labor per month in exchange for the right to purchase cheap, organic produce and use the supermarket as a platform to advocate for international issues.

The paid staffers’ effort to unionize gained headlines in April, when the New York Post reported on several veiled threats that co-op managers allegedly aimed at workers, including one store head who told staffers they “should have a backup plan” if their collective bargaining scheme petered out.

The Nation Labor Relations Board — the federal body that governs labor laws in the United States — ordered managers not to meddle in the unionization process amid a settlement earlier this month, which required the co-op to post fliers detailing their rights to organize.

But even with federal watchdogs breathing down their neck, co-op management still haven’t warmed to the unionization effort, according to Connor, who said that whatever passes for ownership at the leftist supermarket remains obstinately opposed to the neutrality pact.

“We asked them for a neutrality agreement, and they wouldn’t even sit down with us to talk about it,” she said. “They haven’t even come to the table to discuss it.”

The recent settlement bars Connor from speaking openly about certain aspects of the co-op’s secretive inner workings, but she was able to describe how employers use various tactics to cow perspective union members — such as threatening them with termination, writing them up for disciplinary actions, and reassigning them to arduous tasks as punishment.

Co-op workers declined to be interviewed publicly for fear of retaliation, but their website details the complaints that have led them to advocate for collective bargaining power.

One of the major sticking points is their status as “at-will employees” who can be terminated at any time, without proper cause. They also complain of overwork, inconsistent scheduling, and inadequate workplace safety standards.

Co-op members have supported the market’s full-time staffers through an online petition that has garnered 3,300 signatures, and union advocates hope the recent settlement and added attention will lead additional shoppers to intervene on their behalf.

One petition author said she hopes members’ grassroots advocacy will force management to engage in good-faith discussions.

“The management… said that the members don’t have anything to do with this. We are pushing back against that,” said HanaKyle Moranz. “We have an investment — a literal investment, and an investment of our labor.”

Moranz — who has been a co-op member for around 13 years — believes managers were obfuscating calls to stay neutral.

“They’re definitely not addressing any individual members directly,” she said. “Management has said they recognize the right to organize, and that they’re taking a neutral stance — but unfortunately, that has not been the experience of the staff.”

Co-op management did not respond to requests for comment.

Reach reporter Aidan Graham at agraham@schnepsmedia.com or by calling (718) 260–4577. Follow him at twitter.com/aidangraham95.