The Unionization of Bloomingfoods, Part 2

Bloomingfoods

In Order to Form a More Perfect Co-op ● by Robert F. Arnove with Peter LoPilato

[This is the second of two parts. Part 1 was published in our December issue. Interviews for this story were conducted after the Bloomingfoods union was certified and reveal different perspectives. Some see the union as a welcome change, long overdue, and one that will strengthen the Co-op and help it withstand impending threats from Lucky’s Market and Whole Foods, both of which plan to open locations in Bloomington. Nevertheless, although Bloomingfoods employees are by and large pro-union, some expressed only lukewarm support for the Co-op union. They see the organizers as opportunistic, calling for unionization when Bloomingfoods is especially vulnerable. As one long-time member owner put it: “The pay has never been great for a starting employee. But the benefits are reasonable for what might be called a low-skill job. The insurance is really good. I’m pro-union. But some of these kids have never worked before and don’t know what it is to work. They’re complaining about things when, really, they should just be taking care of business.”

These contrasting points of view are perhaps best illustrated by union organizer Andy Marr’s contention that the checkout registers at Bloomingfoods East are unreasonably cold (“at times below 50-degrees”), so much so that one cashier “left her shift in tears.” Another cashier at East scoffed when I mentioned this: “If someone is cold, they’re making inappropriate clothing choices.”]

Who are the union organizers? What do they want?

The employees leading the union organizing effort stress that they are very much committed to the Co-op ideal of a democratic, self-run association of individuals with a community service orientation, and a sustainable, environmentally friendly economy (for more info, go to Facebook.com/UniteBloomingfoods).  The core group of young organizers come out of backgrounds committed to the Co-op’s ideals; they want to remedy injustices they have either experienced or perceived in their work environment.  Claire Cumberland, who has “a passion for the environment, restorative ecology, traditional nutrition and building communities”, has served on the Bloomington Commission on Sustainability, and is now sitting on the local growers guild board.  Kaisa Goodman’s pro-union mother took her as a baby and every year thereafter to the Eugene V. Debs annual banquet held in Terre Haute.  Her partner Dakota Walker, who has been on his own since he was 16, graduated from IU with a Social Work degree, and specializes in bonsai and rare trees. They do summer landscape work with Andy Marrs, a talented pianist who as a youth performed in Carnegie Hall, and who, as noted in Part 1 of this article, is hoping to have a future with the Co-op because of what it could be. As Walker states, “Working at Bloomingfoods is not just a job, it is being a part of something much bigger. The employees are a key factor in the Bloomington community.” But as Ned Shaw, one of the original founders of Bloomingfoods, points out, the Co-op was never intended to be a worker’s collective. “It’s core value is that is member-owned.”

[Image at the top of this post: Dakota Walker and Andy Marrs. Photo/Bradley Cox.]

Union organizers find there is a disconnect between what Bloomingfoods is supposed to be and what it actually is. For those who still believe in what the Co-op can be, unionization offers the opportunity to remedy past and continuing problems.

There are unaddressed issues going back a decade, as pointed out by former employee Dave Debikey in the October 7, 2014 Board Meeting. The document, “BCS [Bloomington Cooperative Services, Inc.] Employee Grievance Against the General Manager and Petition for Corrective Actions and Policies” (written by a committee of six managers and signed by many long-term employees and managers), was presented at the October 27, 2005 Board meeting. Over 10 single-spaced pages long, it contains a listing of 24 general grievances and policy violations, each with numerous subheadings. Just to mention a few:

— “The General Manager has performed, allowed, or caused to be performed many acts in violation of explicit board policies . . ..”

— “The General Manager has failed to ensure humane, fair and dignified working conditions….”

— “The General manager has failed to adequately protect the staff from unsafe, unhealthy, or illegal conditions….”

— “The General Manager has failed to provide a clear set of personnel policies that govern working conditions, compensations and benefits….”

— “The General Manager has failed to provide a fair and thorough review of any grievance by means of a known procedure that can be used without bias.”

— “The General Manager has failed to ensure that all employees provide exemplary customer service… consistently friendly and courteous customer/staff relations.”

The Bloomingfoods Board immediately created a committee (consisting of Board president Spyridon Stratigos and members Susan Kornblum and Matt Turissini) to address the above grievances. The summary report sent to those who signed the October 27, 2005 petition began this way:

“From the moment the grievance was brought to the Board of Directors’ attention just prior to the October 27, 2005 meeting, until now, it has been a matter of grave concern and discussion, and has been a black cloud hanging over our organization.  While some good has come out of the process, it is the Board’s intention to put this matter behind us and to move on to more constructive procedures for bettering Bloomington Cooperative Services.  The overriding theme that has emerged is of communications breakdown on all levels.  In the Board’s opinion, until these channels of communication are opened, this organization will not be able to grow in a positive manner.”

The report continues:

“We are recommending that any future discussions be deferred to HR and, if needed, to the Personnel Committee.  We immediately addressed many of the HR concerns that constituted the majority of issues presented to us in our meeting with staff, and Patty Steward [head of Human Resources] responded promptly and professionally.  As to the substance of the grievance, we have documented our findings in a report to George (Huntington), have made several recommendations, and have made sure other changes were implemented.”

Mitch Rice, who served two terms on the Board including one as  President, says that “George tries to make corrections when they are presented to him [by the Board], and he is good at that.”

Debikey sees things differently. There has been no permanent, significant change in improving lines of communication between employees and the Co-op’s administration and the Board, or in strengthening the Board’s ability to address the issues listed above. The 39 signatories of the complaint wanted the Board to have a greater understanding of what was happening in the various stores. According to Debikey, the employees would like to have more incentives to use their creative talents and business acumen to run the stores more efficiently and boost sales. He believes that fundamental structural change is required for any meaningful improvements to take place in the overall operations of the Co-op.

Silenced Voices

Wages aren’t the only issue. It’s how employees are treated.  Kaisa Goodman has worked at Bloomingfoods since the summer of 2012. In the spring of 2013, Bloomingfoods announced the availability of new positions at the  Elm Heights store. The East Produce Manager, at that time, indicated he wanted Goodman to transfer from the East store to become Assistant Produce Team Leader at Elm Heights.  In mid-June 2013 she was earning the “living wage” [her quotation marks] of $10.28. (To clarify, $10.28 would have been in compliance with the City’s Living Wage Ordinance.) After checking with Human Resources, the manager thought she could expect a raise to $11.00 to $11.50/hour, based on her one-year review and his recommendation of a promotion.  By mid-November she became “frustrated with the fact that I had never gotten my raise. I had left a job at East that I loved, and was working much harder and taking on many responsibilities.

One day, I asked [the manager] about my raise again, and he snapped. On the sales floor he started yelling at me and waving his hands and getting in my face. He told me that he never, ever told me I would get a raise and that Assistant Team Leader was a non-existent position that he had never mentioned.  He continued to scream and even call me a liar until I was crying. The tirade only ended when I excused myself and walked away.”

Implementation of Grievance Procedures: Get Over It

Goodman’s story continues: “A week later, I gathered up the courage to talk to my Location Manager . . . about the situation. I explained what (the manager) had said to me . . ..  He had a history and reputation of treating people badly.” The Location Manager “told me she had never heard of him misbehaving, that this was an isolated incident and that I should have a better attitude and get over it. She even asked why I had told her. I asked who I should have told, and she said I could tell HR (Human Resources), but they wouldn’t care either.”

Goodman has not filed a grievance. Still, she faced serious consequences, including going without her anticipated raise, missing out on an East store promotion, and losing her schedule, while continuing to work on a daily basis with the former Produce Manager.

Mitch Rice agrees that “HR is always three, six, nine months behind — there’s a sort of a hippie laxness, but the thing is, they’re not hippies!  If HR had acted as well as Cook does with its employees, they wouldn’t have needed a union.”

John (not his real name) worked at Bloomingfoods from 1997-2010 and had a very different experience. “Bloomingfoods treated me extremely well. When I was going through one of the worst parts of my life and had alcohol issues, Bloomingfoods gave me six weeks off work, they paid me for the six weeks, and they paid for me to go to rehab. They didn’t cut my insurance. For a period of time I was drinking on the job. I was not a valuable employee. I should have been fired. There are a lot of employees who have worked at Bloomingfoods for 10 or 20 years and they’re happy.”

Unwritten Rules

At the October 7 Board meeting, Sonja Dorr Binder spoke out about how her claim for Workmen’s Compensation still had not been paid more than a year after she had torn a rotator cuff lifting a box at the East store. On top of the injury, she now suffers from cancer.  Her fellow workers, aware that she had difficulty working during the three-week periods she was receiving chemotherapy, came to her rescue. The employee-created-and-funded Bloomingfoods Employee Emergency Relief Fund enables co-workers to donate Paid Time Off (PTO).  As many as 15 employees donated PTO to Dorr Binder. Some worked a few of Sonja’s shifts and simply wrote her a check for the time off.  Instead of facilitating what the employees were doing, HR systematically whittled down the amount of PTO that could be transferred to Dorr Binder. Because she was only a part-time employee, her donated eight-hour shifts were credited as only six hours. Eventually, employees were told not to solicit their fellow workers for further donations of hours to Dorr Binder. Andy Marrs, who played a lead role in efforts to assist Dorr Binder, asks, “Why has an unwritten rule barred salaried staff from donating PTO to part-time workers? Why would HR not do everything they could to help our attempt to care for Sonja?” As of December 28, 2014, Dorr Binder still had not been compensated for her 2013 injury.

Great Ideas, Less Money

Bloomingfoods introduced Open Book Management (OBM) a couple of years ago. At the time, the system seemed promising. According to former employee Claire Cumberland, it was “less of a way to manage employees and more of a way to allow employees to understand the financial nuts and bolts of the company and their effect upon them.”  In keeping with the way a democratically run co-op should be managed, she notes: “The main points being that it was supposed to make everyone feel more as part of a team and as individuals who could make a difference for the whole and that those things add up to a worker base that feels empowered as if they were the owners.” Sports metaphors sprinkle the discussion of how OBM works, with teams meeting daily or weekly in “huddles.”  But, according to Cumberland, “As is the case with most of reality, there were/are pros and cons that have left the Co-op seemingly worse off or at least left the employees more disgruntled.”

What Open Book Management did accomplish was to acquaint employees with each store’s financials. According to Cumberland, “Bloomingfoods employees as a whole are incredibly bright, very educated, and fully capable of understanding the complexities of the ecosystem presented by a company with five stores (plus a commissary kitchen).” Employees became aware of “labor hits” at the stores, especially during the winter months and when students were on summer break. Labor hours along with financial information were posted on whiteboards for everyone to see. It became evident to Cumberland that some stores were being run more efficiently than others. In order to cut labor costs in certain departments, managers, according to Cumberland, had “to pick up the slack which renders them ineffective in the company; not due to lack of commitment but due to a lack of time and energy as many are spread thin.”

According to Cumberland, “Bloomingfoods employees have great ideas–all that is being asked of us is to make less money.” Cumberland has recently resigned from Bloomingfoods and moved to Indianapolis.

We’ve grown from a small store in an alley to an organization that operates multiple retail locations and a production commissary,” Huntington points out. “We employ close to 300 members of our community, and our membership embraces over 12,000 households reflecting many demographic and philosophical differences. We do our best to hear all of those voices and meet their oftentimes competing wants, needs, interests, priorities, and desires. Hearing all these voices and striking a balance that pleases most is often a difficult task. It’s one that we embrace every day.”

Baby, it’s Cold Outside

Without being all-encompassing, other issues, according to Andy Marrs, include “a lack of real tangible commitment to prioritize the lives of the employees, a dysfunctional communication system and an irrational belief they can’t afford better working conditions and benefits.” When asked to clarify what he meant by use of the terms “irrational” and “dysfunctional,” Marrs provided a lengthy response, parts of which follow:

“There is, of course, a certain rational quality in the foundation of Bloomingfoods’ stance on working conditions and benefits – our profit margins are not big and given the general industry standard, we are, for better or worse, functioning within, there is only so much the Co-op can improve. [Bloomingfoods currently pays 100% of the $400 monthly insurance premium for full-time employees] Where the irrationality comes into play in a very big way is that the current modus operandi is to simply do nothing. ‘Small’ issues like broken space heaters at the registers (in what is often below 50 degree in-store temperatures in the winter) go months without replacement, and when they are replaced they get the cheapest, most ineffective models to save money.

“With regard to communications, it can be extremely difficult, or even impossible, to find functional channels of communication and feedback as well as inter-departmental interfaces that actually lead to change. No one ever knows what is going on. The staff have no [emphasis his] idea what is being done in administration and administration has little respect/understanding of in-store systems. Employees in one department get their hours cut  (and then quit because they can’t pay their bills) while another department in the same store is hiring!”

Dakota Walker (who has worked in various capacities in the Near West Side store for 3 years) sums up his frustrations with the overall ethos and policies of the Co-op: “The truth of the matter is that Bloomingfoods has rather corporate practices when it comes to employee treatment: a failed grievance process and low wages.”

Bloomingfoods pays full-time employees a rounded-off hourly wage of $11.00 (plus health premiums and an employment discount worth a combined value of $2.15 per hour) in compliance with the City of Bloomington’s living wage ordinance. Most full-time employees are limited to a working week of 36 hours. One reason for not offering more hours is that the Co-op is required to pay overtime for those non-management employees who work more than 40 hours. The result, according to Goodman and Walker, is that the gross income of a full-time employee working 36 hours is approximately $2,300 less than the average annual salary of $27,000 (which includes $4,000 in health benefits), calculated on the basis of an employee working 40 hour per week. This information was provided at the November 16, 2014 annual membership meeting. The take-home pay after taxes for those employees working 36 hours is approximately $17,000.

“Two years ago you could do two weeks of doubles and get fifty hours of overtime.  Today if you work one hour of overtime they flip out,” Marrs explains. “The culture changed dramatically when they opened Elm Heights and Kirkwood began taking losses.” Marrs thinks it is disingenuous to cut hours and payroll while subsidizing the Kirkwood store (the store in the alley, behind Tracks).

The Kirkwood store has been operating at a loss for several years, perhaps as much as $100,000 annually. Some feel that Bloomingfoods’ original store should be seen as part of a whole. Because of its proximity to campus, despite losing money, it still serves as an introduction to Bloomingfoods for students, eventually leading them to become members and shop at the other stores.

“I don’t think that people want to shop at the Kirkwood store, other than a small minority of members who feel sentimentally attached to it,” Marrs says. “The Kirkwood store should close.”

You Say You Want a Revolution

In its December issue, The Ryder introduced the theme of two competing missions of food co-ops and the challenges they have faced over the past forty plus years.  In his article, “Why Co-ops Die: An Historical Analysis,” (Cooperative Grocer, Issue 9, February-March, 1987), Robert Grott defined the economic mission as providing “for needs that otherwise would not be met. The social mission was defined in relation to the need to operate democratically: they can provide people with a new measure of control over their lives, and they offer a context for community organizing.” The problem is that the context in which food co-ops function has changed dramatically since the late 1960s. Major national grocery chains like Kroger compete with food co-ops by expanding their organic and local produce and meat offerings. “There’s no monopoly on natural foods anymore,” Bloomingfoods co-founder Ned Shaw points out, “and in fact, if it weren’t for the success of Bloomingfoods, there would not be an organic section at Kroger.” Huntington adds, “We now find ourselves in a very competitive landscape. Supermarket chains, big box stores, and even a new hybrid of “super-natural” grocery stores are emulating us and attempting to meet a growing consumer demand for healthy and local foods. Items that once were found exclusively at food co-ops can now be found elsewhere, putting significant competitive pressure on our stores. Our new competitors have deep pockets and can weather economic swings, grow quickly when necessary, facilitate infrastructure improvements, conduct large scale marketing and media campaigns, and are even able to impact availability of some products to other retailers.”

The changed market context has forced co-ops to give greater attention to their profit margins and less emphasis to the social change mission they once fostered.  There’s an old saying: “A co-op that is not run first and foremost as a business won’t be around long enough to start any kind of revolution.”

Nevertheless, Bloomingfoods partners with and actively supports the efforts of a number of community organizations, including Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard, Local Growers Guild, Middle Way House, Slow Food Bloomington, Cardinal Stage Company, Bloomington Playwrights Project,  the Monroe County Humane Association, and the Lotus World Music & Arts Festival. From July 2013 through June 2014, Bloomingfoods donated $12,500 through its SCRIP program to Habitat for Humanity, Bloomington Area Birth Services, Bloomington Chamber Singers, and many local schools.

“We are enormous fans of Bloomingfoods and what they do for the arts and for this community,” says Randy White, the Artistic Director of the Cardinal Stage Company. “They’ve always been there for Cardinal Stage.  Every time we get together to discuss how we can work together, they make it clear that they want to help in any way they can.  And they do so many things that benefit us — especially with our Cardinal for Kids series.”

But for Andy Marrs, this is not enough. “Do we do anything for the homeless population? Do we do anything for low income families? We could sell bulk items at cost so that [low income families] could get really affordable prices on granola, oatmeal or rice.”

Yes, We Have No Bananas

Some of the early leaders of co-ops like Bloomingfoods have difficulty in accepting the changed emphases and more corporate practices that have been adopted in order to survive economically. David and Linda Stewart, who both served twice, at different times, on the Bloomingfoods Board are concerned that  “the Co-op has lost its way. While there were varying opinions held by those of us involved in the Co-op in its early years, our opinion is that the Co-op should be more than a grocery store; a place where every dollar spent is a political statement as an alternative to the corporate capitalist system. We’ve lost that battle. The Co-op is now an apolitical place to purchase up-scale foods. It’s a grocery store with feel-good branding and is definitely part of the status quo, part of the System. In order to fight the status quo, you must organize, and the Union is a good place to start.”

Ned Shaw indicates that the Co-op has always meant different things to different people. “When we first started in 1976 we had to decide whether our managers or our members were in charge. And we decided that it should be our members.  There was a group at the time who said we shouldn’t carry bananas because those are grown in countries ruled by dictators. But we determined that members should determine what’s on the shelves. The original core value of Bloomingfoods — what we stood for when we started — was that we were member-owned. And members would vote with their purchases.”

Whether or not Bloomingfoods is an agency of radical social change, members are very much aware that its survival depends on it being a model of a sustainable, profitable enterprise. Many also would like to see the Co-op run more democratically in accord with its founding principles. One area for more member/owner input pertains to the workings of the Board of Directors and their degree of oversight of the GM’s role. The document presented by Gracia Valliant to the October 7, 2014, Board meeting provides a concise summary of changes many members would like to see. (See Part 1 of this article). There is a general perception that Board members work hard and, over the years, have made valuable contributions to the strength and well-being of the Co-op. While boards normally refrain from micro-managing the day-to-day operations of an organization, they are expected to play a more direct role in major policy decisions, such as purchasing the former Encore Café (now the Near West Side store). Still, many feel that Board members need to have a greater acquaintance with how policy is implemented and how individual stores are operating.  Annamaria Mecca, currently a part-time employee at the East Side store, acknowledged that until she stepped down from the Board several years ago and started working on the floor, she really had no idea that so many problems existed.

“The Board is oblivious to the situations outside of their meeting room,” says Marrs. “These people are on the Board because it is a feel-good, no investment, no-work-involved position for community members.”

Everyone agrees that most board meetings are poorly attended. “In the 12 years I worked at Bloomingfoods  I attended many board meetings,” John says. “I’m pro-union all the way. But employees don’t go to the meetings. Nobody makes their concerns heard. And then they complain.”

Management Responds

In accord with the fifteen-day period that the neutrality agreement was in effect prior to the November 10 and 11 election, General Manager George Huntington refrained from commenting on the pros and cons of unionization and the content of the criticisms elaborated above. Although he could not condone humiliating treatment of employees, the demands of his job (including traveling to consult with other co-ops around the country) did not provide him the opportunity to be as present as he would be in the various stores. Based on his experience managing a local convenience store prior to being hired as GM in 1994, he expressed how much he enjoys working in the stores and his preference to spend more time outside the Co-op’s main office doing so.

Following the election, Ryder editor Peter LoPilato and I met with Huntington and Branding and Communication Director Jeff Jewel at the Co-op’s offices on Gentry Street to discuss their response to the various grievances and issues reported above. According to Huntington, the Co-op’s administration “typically doesn’t respond to personnel matters, which are private.” He further noted that without detailed information of what occurred in a particular incident, he couldn’t comment on it. Both Huntington and Jewel indicated that there is only so much to which they can respond without adequate documentation. The overall tone of their comments was conciliatory and concerned.  Although, for them, “the past can’t be changed,” they both expressed the need for all involved  “to go forward in a positive direction.”

The Election and Beyond

Part I of this article documented the outcome of the November 10/11 election: of those voting, there were 88 “yes” votes  as opposed to 23 “no” for unionization. The article concluded with this paragraph: Following the election, representatives from UFCW Local 700 and Bloomington Cooperative Services, Inc. (Bloomingfoods) will be involved in drawing-up a contract spelling out the details of what unionization means. Among the issues to be resolved are the following:  will there be a role for a union representative on the Co-op’s Board and, if so, what will it be?; will employees have a free or reduced membership fee?; will part-time employees have full health benefits?  Other questions center on what will relations be like between those employees who join the union and those who do not, as Indiana is a right-to-work state; and what voice will member-owners have in shaping future policy decisions?

According to Local 700 UFCW negotiation director Scott Barnett, there are over 40 mandatory subjects of bargaining besides such basic issues as wages and benefits. The list includes bonuses and pensions for current employees, cost-of-living adjustments, profit sharing, grievance procedures, hours of work, life insurance, discharge and discipline, overtime premiums, promotions, pay for training, and tuition reimbursement.

All parties concerned are hopeful that a contract can be agreed upon by the spring of 2015.  Immediately after the election, there was a “cooling-off” period lasting until the beginning of the New Year. In a November 11 press release, Barnett noted that “you’re coming into the business time of the year for retail, and we don’t want to interfere with the business during the holiday season.”  For Barnett, the goal of both labor and management is that Bloomingfoods succeeds as a business. As he indicated to me: “We’re all in it together.”

Mitch Rice acknowledges that people don’t shop at Kroger because it’ s unionized, but rather because “it’s cheap and convenient.”  But Rice still believes that the Bloomingfoods union is necessary. “If we have competition, we have to have a full team dedicated to the Co-op. You don’t appeal to everybody. You appeal to people who hold similar values. Your most important asset is not your equipment. It’s not your business plan. It’s the people who work for you.”  The Co-op may find it difficult to compete with Kroger or Whole Foods in price, Rice explains “and so what is the extra part that’s gonna push us over the top? — the people who represent us to the community. I think unionization is exactly that. We’re a consumer’s co-op. We’re not a worker’s co-op. But we could become one of the first member-owner-worker co-ops out there.”

By the beginning of December, UFCW Local 700 and Co-op employees had selected together the 7 members (4 full time and 3 part time representing all 5 store locations plus the commissary) who will be involved in contract negotiations. In January, the negotiating team employees and Co-op administrators will be introduced to Interest-Based Bargaining, IBB (a process described earlier in Part I of this article.)  Retired UFCW Local 1443 representative Greg Leifer, who served as an advisor to Outpost Natural Foods labor and management in their process, will work with the Co-op’s administration/management team. Conrad Bolling, a neutral third party Indianapolis-based mediator with the Federal Mediation & Conciliation Service FMCS, will facilitate the IBB process with labor and management in Bloomington.

Management, labor, and member-owners, for the most part, are hopeful that the presence of a union will strengthen the Co-op. Ideally, there is a strong affinity between the guiding democratic and communitarian values of a co-op and those of organized labor. The employee leaders of the unionization initiative consistently have articulated a vision of Bloomingfoods as an exemplary social organization contributing to a sustainable, eco-friendly economy, and a work environment in which all can thrive.

The Future

What does the future hold? Andy Marrs says that in order for Bloomingfoods to be successful, the Co-op needs to “move beyond fear. In order for this to happen we must formulate a true vision, not just a superficial statement of purpose.  It must be truly inclusive, and it must not shy away from education, differences of opinion, and accountability.  Evoking the symbolism of sustainability is not enough; we must articulate ourselves into a movement that sees issues of economic inequality, fair trade, monolithic industrial agriculture, local food security, energy scarcity, and the subversion of democracy as interdependent.   We must begin to see ourselves as a community leader, not just a community icon. I believe there could be a future where it becomes irrelevant whether or not we can ‘compete’ with Whole Foods in purely economic terms, because we will be more than just a business to our consumers; we will be way of life.”

In the news release following the election, both Huntington and Barnett expressed their thanks for the orderly and respectful way in which the organizing process evolved. Huntington welcomed “Bloomingfoods’ new partner in the workplace,” and added “It is time to move forward with our relationship with the employees’ newly-elected representatives and to make our Co-op even better.”

Huntington talked to The Ryder about some of the challenges the Co-op faces. “It’s a tall order—providing immediate economic value to compete and doing so in a way that still lets us strengthen our community. Creating that balance is our ongoing duty and challenge. We wish to create and foster the development of a vibrant, strong, and sustainable local economy. We want to pay the most we possibly can to our local vendors and service providers. We want to employ as many members of our community as we can. We want to pay those staff members well and to provide the best benefits package we can. We want to reinvest in our community and enhance the quality of life for all of us. We want to provide support for local social service, arts, and educational organizations. We want to support others as they attempt to create co-ops, and, in doing so, strengthen other local communities. This all makes our lives better. In short, we want to practice that co-op ideal of self-help and embrace the cooperative principle of concern for community. We want to do all of this and still sell food at the best possible price to our customers.”

As original founder Ned Shaw says, “Volunteer members built Bloomingfoods and its the members that will keep it great.” George Huntington holds similar views, as, generally, do member-owners.  A Co-op that embodies its founding principles and successfully joins its economic and social mission promises to be one that will prosper in the foreseeable future.

[Author’s Notes: During the period that the Neutrality Agreement was in effect between October 28 and the November 10/11 election, no interviews were conducted with Bloomingfoods employees. The author would like to thank David Edgerton for helpful editorial comments. For those wishing to read a fuller version of Part 2 of this article, contact Robert Arnove.]

[Robert F. Arnove is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus of Education at Indiana University. He writes on education and social change. His latest book is Talent Abounds: Profiles of Master Teachers and Peak Performers (Paradigm Publishers: 2008/2009).]

The Ryder ● January 2015