The Boise Co-op board and CEO have released a lengthy written response to concerns raised by workers and their supporters this week at a board meeting, offering more insight into their philosophy and hiring decisions.
“There are a number of questions circulating due to either a lack of information or deliberate misinformation. We recognize that this is a result of unclear and inconsistent communication,” the board and CEO Michelle Andersen said in a statement posted Thursday on the community grocery’s website and Facebook page. “Honest and transparent communication is key to everyone understanding the ‘why’ behind the decisions that are made and the direction we are going.”
The board got an earful Monday from employees who say the member-owned business has been headed in the wrong direction on wages, transparency, communication and culture since Anderson was hired earlier this year. A standing-room-only crowd of about 60 people jammed into the classroom of The Village at Meridian store.
The meeting followed a letter from unidentified “concerned co-owners” of the Co-op that was posted Sept. 5 on Reddit. It said recent changes in personnel and policy have employees asking for “greater wage equality” and “transparency in hiring practices and managerial decision-making.”
Among the issues cited in the statement from the board and Anderson are:
1. Employee representation. The co-op used to have one employee from each of its two stores — the original Boise store and the 3-year old Meridian one — serve as an “employee communications handling officer,” or ECHO.
The two most recent officers resigned from the roles, and the co-op decided not to replace them. The ECHO positions created unintended consequences in communication breakdowns and gaps between department managers and their staff,” the statement said.
The statement announced new employee forums that will occur quarterly, starting on Oct. 9 at the Village store and Oct. 10 at the North End store.
2. Treatment of workers. “Employees can be co-owners, but they do not get preferential treatment for being employed by the co-op,” the statement said. “They are allowed one vote per household along with other benefits under the co-ownership allotment. The decisions we make are first and foremost for the benefit of our co-owners.”
The board said the co-op’s mission is to “stand up for honest food, “ and its core values are: collective harmony, positive spirit of action and respectful honesty. They reiterated that their mission is to benefit their member owners.
3. Retaliation. The board denied accusations that there has been retaliation against those who speak up with concerns.
“Staff ideas and insight are always welcome and encouraged,” the statement said. “This being said, in an attempt to foster a shared sense of mutual respect and professionalism, we will not condone mean-spirited, spiteful, or bullying behavior. The expectation for all involved parties is to maintain considerate etiquette.”
The statement said the co-op will not condone insubordination, including the spreading of rumors and “toxic gossip.”
4. The firing of a veteran manager, and jobs not posted. Some workers had questioned the firing of Village store deli manager Melissa Craft, and the creation of two new high-salary deli positions by Andersen. The board said the deli had been losing money for several years, so leaders felt it was time to reinvent the department. Jin Yang was hired as culinary director, and Chris Paquette was hired as executive chef.
“Jin is regularly listed as one of the food industry’s leaders in sustainability and environmental innovation,” the statement said. “We tasked them with nothing short of transformation of this important function, and to also train and develop our future culinary leaders. We realize we should have been more clear about these positions and why Jin and Chris were selected right from the get go, and apologize for the confusion and frustration this caused.”
5. Pay. The board said that it did not cap pay raises at 3 percent, as some workers had suggested. But the co-op did ask managers to provide their reasoning for why an employee might deserve a higher raise than that.
The statement was not signed by and did not name Andersen or the members of the board of directors. Board members are Shannon McGuire, president; Rob Anderson, vice president; Jay Henry, treasurer; Alex McNish, secretary; Mary Cogwell; Tana Ruud; Divit Cardoza and Charles Raymond, according to the Co-op’s website.