BRATTLEBORO -- Workers at the Brattleboro Food Co-op have agreed to join the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local 1459. Eligible co-op employees voted 74-45 in favor of joining the union during the vote which was held Wednesday in the co-op’s community room.
"I think it’s time to take a deep breath and figure out what the next step is," said Union Organizing Committee member Hannah Aleshnick after the votes were counted. "We’re excited to get this going and get a contract in place."
About 142 co-op employees were eligible to cast a ballot and 126 votes were cast during the vote, which was overseen by a representative of the National Labor Relations Board.
There were seven disputed ballots which were not counted and would not have changed the outcome of the vote.
The co-op has seven days to appeal the vote, after which the result will be verified.
"We have always maintained that the workers should decide among themselves, in a fair and democratic process, whether or not to join the union," Brattleboro Food Co-op General Manager Alex Gyori said in a press release. "It is our sincere hope that we can move forward in a positive manner and continue to make our new store the best it can possibly be."
The co-op celebrated its new $9 million, 14,500-square-foot building at an open house this past weekend. Aleshnick said there was a tense atmosphere in the co-op over the past few weeks.
Both sides had plenty of opportunities to talk about the union, Aleshnick said, and now the staff will hold meetings and gather information so it can negotiate a contract that serves all of the staff.
"This could have been done differently, but now it is clear what the staff wants," Aleshnick said. "Now we have to find out what is important to the staff and move on from there."
The co-op board said from the start that it wanted all of the workers to weigh in on the unionization issue.
At a Sept. 10 board meeting members of the union organization committee gave the board a petition with signatures from a majority of the workers who supported the union.
The committee asked the board to voluntarily recognize the union, but the board said they wanted to see a vote.
The board turned the issue over to Gyori because the board considered it a staffing issue.
"The Brattleboro Food Co-op Board of Directors is satisfied that the staff has exercised their right to choose," said Board Chairman John Hatton. "Now that the union has been voted in, the board looks forward to a good working relationship between management and the UFCW."
More than 500 co-op members signed a different petition asking the board to recognize the union, but the board and Gyori moved ahead with their plan to hold a vote.
At the co-op’s annual meeting on Nov. 4 Gyori defended the store’s use of Downs Rachlin Martin, which some co-op members have accused of being anti-union. Gyori said the co-op used DRM for all of its legal needs and he said the firm never gave the co-op advice on how to defeat the union. At the meeting board treasurer Tom Nunziata said the co-op had spent $1,880 on labor issues.