Thursday, September 27, 2012

UNFI, the Teamsters, a Strike and the Co-op

It's 5AM at the Co-op when a big semi maneuvers through our tiny parking lot and backs slowly up to our warehouse. The warehouse door rolls up with a loud clack and clattering as the earliest of the co-op's workers - our delivery crew - set down their coffee cups (or tea) and get ready to begin their day. They'll spend the next several hours unwrapping pallets of groceries and wheeling them out in big stacks to the retail floor. Before the store opens, volunteers arrive to begin breaking down the piles and putting the products on the shelves. At 8AM, the first shoppers will wend their way through the last of the delivery as they pick up their own morning coffee, and the box corral will be overflowing with fresh boxes.

If you drove by the Co-op in the early morning (long before dawn in the winter) this is a scene you'd see repeated three times a week at our Eastside store, and twice at the Westside. The orders are from United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), one of our main distributors. Earlier this month, Teamsters Local 117 workers at our local UNFI warehouse voted to strike after contract negotiations stalled. We began working on our response right away.

If you haven't worked in a retail environment, you may not know what exactly a distributor does. Basically, UNFI gets products from many different natural food companies and stores them in a big warehouse. That way, we can place one order to UNFI and get items from a hundred companies, rather than placing 100 individual orders and receiving 100 shipments.

UNFI is only one of many, many distributors and direct suppliers that the Co-op works with. We buy produce, meat and cheese, and bulk items from other distributors and, most importantly, we work directly with local farmers and producers. But UNFI is the biggest single distributor that we work with.

So when we heard about the Teamsters' vote to authorize a strike, we knew we needed to get to work fast. The authorizing vote is just the first step in a strike. When the strike actually begins is known only to the workers planning the action. (If bargaining goes well, the strike may never happen.) Knowing that the strike was a possibility, we formed a committee and got to work.

Our mission at the Olympia Food Co-op is broad. In addition to making "good food accessible to more people" we "support efforts to foster a socially and economically egalitarian society." It's a tall order for a little co-op, but it guides the choices we make all the way from which products to stock on our shelves to how we organize our workforce.

When it comes to this strike, we knew we were going to support the Teamsters. Besides being the right thing to do, we've known some of the workers at UNFI for years. Some of them have worked at the Auburn warehouse since before UNFI was formed by the co-op's earlier supplier, Mountain People's Warehouse.

News from the Teamsters has been disheartening. Although the strike hasn't begun and UNFI and the Teamsters have been in mediation together, UNFI has erected fences around the warehouse and sent threatening letters home to the workers' families. They immediately lowered workers' pay by ceasing overtime. More recently, they published an ad on for 170 replacement workers and then held a job fair for the new workers in the warehouse as an intimidation tactic.

UNFI wants to force workers to adopt demanding production standards that create a dangerous work environment. They insist that workers receive wages and benefits that are 25% lower than local industry standards, while removing retirement protections. They want to replace sick days with seven "personal days", half of which must be scheduled at least 48 hours in advance - essentially forcing workers to take unpaid sick days. 

Meanwhile, UNFI's most recent financial statements state that their income for the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012 increased by $4.2 million, or 20.1%. 

Our first step is to let our members know that the strike is a possibility and ask for your help! If you feel strongly about fair pay and safe working environments, we urge you to contact UNFI directly to tell them to deal fairly with their workforce! (Contact info is copied below, and we'll also have this in the stores tomorrow.)

Our second step is to plan for a disruption in our UNFI deliveries. Don't worry - there will still be plenty of groceries to buy. We're creating an account with an alternate distributor so we can keep you stocked with spaghetti sauce and quinoa while we support the Teamsters in their struggle for fair wages and a safe work environment.

Stay tuned to the blog for  updates! We'll post more information as we receive it. And if you have ideas, comments, questions or concerns, email us at outreach -at-

Tell UNFI their workers deserve a fair contract!

Hank Heatherly , General Manager
United Natural Foods Incorporated
Phone: 253-333-6769

Steven Spinner, President and CEO
United Natural Foods Incorporated
313 Iron Horse Way
Providence, RI.,
Fax: 302-655-5049

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Proposed Board Agenda for Sept. 20th!

As always, meetings are open to members! We meet at 610 Columbia Ave SE, across the street from Olympia Supply, from 6:30-9:30 pm.

Proposed Board Agenda for September 20, 2012 6:30-9:30 pm

Announcements                                                                                  2 min
Mission Statement/ Commitments Review                                     3 min
Member Comment                                                                              5 min
BPC Report                                                                                         5 min
Ref. 74 Endorsement                                                                                    10 min
Appoint a VP                                                                                        5 min
Committee Reports                                                                           15 min
Annual Meeting & Elections Update                                                15 min
Bylaws Review                                                                                  45 min
Committees Review Pt. I                                                                   45 min
Executive Session (Teamsters’ strike/NCGA Contract)                    15 min

                                                        Total Meeting Time:               2 hours 45 min       

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We want YOU for the Co-op’s Board of Directors!

Admit it: you just imagined yourself – just for a moment – on the Co-op’s Board. Indulge yourself for a moment and learn what being on the Board is actually about. We’re opening up a record seven positions this year and are searching for applicants that can help lead the Co-op through the challenges and opportunities we face in expanding, improving food security in our region, supporting local farmers and producers, running an extensive volunteer program, and all of the ins and outs of collectivism and consensus.

As a Board member, you will be joined by nine other Board members, 84 staff members, roughly 300 volunteers, and thousands of members and shoppers. You’ll be overseeing the overall trajectory and vision of the entire organization, and doing more in-depth work with the committees that you join. Each Board member attends a monthly Board meeting (currently 6:30-9:30 on the third Thursday of each month) and joins two to three committees in areas of your interest. Committees are made up of Board, staff, and volunteer members and include: Outreach and Education; Member Relations; Finance; Hiring; Local Farms, Products and Producers; Ecological Planning; Personnel; and the Newsletter. We also have temporary committees that form to deal with specific opportunities, for instance: Expansion, or the International Year of the Co-op committee. Committees are where you get your hands dirty, helping to create on-the-ground policies and plans in partnership with staff members.

Board members are most successful when they arrive with a passion for the Co-op, a willingness to learn, good interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to dedicate 10-20 hours per month on Co-op activities. Special skills and experience are always welcome, especially in areas of financial and business expertise, farming and food, or co-operatives. However, anyone with passion, time, and willingness to learn can be a great Board member, and we welcome and encourage applications from all people, ages, and backgrounds.

Applications are due September 10th, and elections run from October 15 through November 15. For more information, please see the full information sheet at . You can contact Fern at with any additional questions, to request an accommodation, or just to turn your application in.

From all of us on the Board and at the Co-op, we look forward to working with you!

Note: This was also published in the August newsletter. 

Apply to Join the Co-op's Board Today!

Join the Board of Directors!





 The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors is the elected body that represents the membership by establishing policies, overseeing the operating and capital budgets, approving plans and recommendations, and setting general guidelines for staff and working members. The Board holds ultimate legal responsibility for the operations and actions of the Co-op.

The Mission Statement for the Co-op (from Section I.2. of The Bylaws) is:
The purpose of the Cooperative is to contribute to the health and well-being of people by providing wholesome foods and other goods and services, accessible to all, through a locally-oriented, collectively managed, not-for-profit cooperative organization that relies on consensus decision making.  We strive to make human effects on the earth and its inhabitants positive and renewing and to encourage economic and social justice.  Our goals are to:
          A.       Provide information about food;
          B.       Make good food accessible to more people;
          C.       Support efforts to increase democratic process;
          D.       Support efforts to foster a socially and economically egalitarian society;
          E.       Provide information about collective process and consensus decision making;
          F.       Support local production;
          G.       See to the long term health of the business;
          H.       Assist in the development of local community resources.

Board Responsibilities (as outlined in Section III.12. of The Bylaws) are:
13.   BOARD DUTIES   Except as to matters reserved to membership by law or by these bylaws, the business and affairs of the Cooperative shall be directed by the Board of Directors.  The major duties of the Board are to:
        A.   employ Staff, approve the make-up of the hiring committee, approve job descriptions, and approve a hiring policy;
        B.   select officers, and fill Board vacancies as needed;
        C.   approve an operating budget annually;
        D.   monitor the financial health of the Cooperative;       
        E.   appoint standing and special committees as needed;
        F.   authorize appropriate agents to sign contracts, leases, or other obligations on behalf of the Cooperative;
        G.   adopt, review, and revise Cooperative plans;
        H.   approve major capital projects;
        I.    adopt major policy changes;
        J.    adopt policies to foster member involvement;
        K.   authorize major debt obligations of the Cooperative;
        L.   ensure compliance with all corporate obligations, including the keeping of corporate records and filing all necessary documents;
        M.  ensure adequate audits of Cooperative finances;
        N.   maintain free-flowing communication between the Board, Staff, committees, and the membership;
        O.   adopt policies which promote achievement of the mission statement and goals of the Cooperative;
        P.   resolve organizational conflicts after all other avenues of resolution have been exhausted;
Q.     establish and review the Cooperative's goals and objectives.
          R. Provide an annual report to the members to include a financial report, committee reports, and a summary of other significant events held and actions taken by the Cooperative during the year.

Board members receive volunteer working member credit for their time spent in Board and committee meetings.  The monthly hour commitment ranges between 10 to 20 hours. 

The Board meets once a month. Each Board member is required to join 2-3 committees which also meet 1-2 times per month (though this will vary from committee to committee.)  These committees establish plans and policies that are then passed on to the Board or membership for approval.  The standing committees include Finance, Personnel, Outreach and Education, Newsletter, Ecological Planning, Hiring, Local Farm, Products and Producers, and Member Relations. Temporary committees may be formed to deal with specific short-term projects (Expansion, International Year of the Co-op, etc.)

To be eligible to run for the Board you must be a member of the Co-op with a current address on file, and you must be willing to make a 2-year commitment.  Board members are elected for two-year terms and may serve for a maximum of two consecutive terms. This year the Board has five positions to fill.  The newly elected Board members will receive an in-depth training on consensus decision-making, anti-oppression, the Co-op’s finances, policies and general procedures, and a history of the organization.

The election will be held from October 15 to November 15.  New Board members will be asked to attend the November and December Board meetings to begin their training and meet the current Board members, and they will officially begin their term in January. 

If you are interested in running for the Board, you must fill out the application and submit it and a current digital photo of yourself to by 9pm on September 10th.

Take this opportunity to be an active participant in your Co-op’s future and the future of our community!

For more information contact Fern at

Board of Directors Application

Please answer the following questions and email them, along with a current digital photograph of yourself, to

There is a strict, combined 500 word limit to your responses below.

1.    NAME:

2.    Why do you want to be on the Co-op Board of Directors?

3.    What general abilities would you bring to the Board?  What specific abilities and experiences would you offer to help provide direction in dealing with the Co-op’s challenges?

4.    What do you see as current strengths of the Co-op that you would like to see maintained?  What would you like to see changed?

5.    What vision do you have for the Co-op for the next five years?

6.       Other comments

*Applications will only be accepted by email at, unless a reasonable accommodation is needed and requested.