2023 Annual Meeting: Questions & Comments
Questions and comments answered from our 2023 Annual Meeting.
Employee & Workplace Concerns
- “I’d like to hear more about how the Co-op is improving workplace culture, empowering employees and improving managerial accountability.”
- “I am interested in how the Co-op will address employee misconduct towards other employees in light of some of the past issues reported by the media.”
- “Why has a current manager not been fired for their inappropriate actions toward another coworker? Please explain why the Co-op fought to the death to protect this person and their job while also committing actions like terminating a worker’s job after an anonymous complaint and no evidence or investigation to support the claims being made?”
- “I understand that there are legal constraints on what can be shared or stated about the harassment that was reported this summer. That said, I think it would be really helpful to hear statements about what our HR policies actually are around this. It’s frustrating not to have this basic information, and I can’t see how it would violate any legal restrictions if sticking to documented and presumably public information.”
- “How are employees doing in terms of morale? What can we members do to help?”
- “What have you all done to improve the HR and management protocol when an employee/anyone reports sexual harassment?”
- “Why were the sexual allegations handled so badly? There were no apologies to the core members! I hope this will change!”
- “Election concerns, strong concerns regarding sexual assault and harassment policy upgrade to this century.”
The incidents of harassment from this summer are counter to our values as a member-owned cooperative business. We recognize the upheaval these events have caused to our community. We are committed to ensuring a safe, trusted, and valuable work environment and community resource for all – which is our daily focus at the Co-op today and going forward.
We have identified several changes to procedures and are strengthening initial training on what harassment in the workplace is, how to report it, how claims are handled, and the consequences of any harassing behavior.
We have worked with our staff to collect their feedback and suggestions for improving the Co-op’s practices. We implemented the updated Harassment Policy and Investigation Procedures to reflect changes in the Vermont Statute that went into effect this past year.
To support staff, we have also collaborated with our union to offer listening sessions for employees impacted by the sexual harassment issues and management/union leadership training sessions, both facilitated by Mosaic and Outright Vermont. We also had the Employee Assistance Program on site many times, both for group and individual sessions. EAP remains available for employee support at any point.
At our recent Annual Meeting, we had a community healing discussion to hear directly from the membership to better understand what next steps would be welcomed. We continue to distill that information.
General Manager Search
- “How’s the search going for a new general manager?”
- “New manager plans?”
The Council has developed a charter for the GM Search Committee. Over the past few months, we have worked to fill the committee seats. The composition of the GM Search committee will be four members from the community, two staff members, one manager, and two Council members. The Co-op is also partnering with Gallagher, Flynn and Company to support the committee’s work and provide recruiting services for our search.
Meeting Conduct Agreement
- “It is totally inappropriate to have us sign the conduct agreement. According to the by-laws, all members are entitled to attend the meeting. For any change to that, the council would have had a warned meeting of the members.
- “Can you explain to me who composed this conduct agreement and when? I do not remember any such item appearing on the agenda at a warned council meeting. Our bylaws place no conditions on members attending an Annual Meeting. So, I do not recognize this, and I will conduct myself within my legal and constitutional rights to free speech.”
- “I consider the conduct agreement to be an illegitimate attempt to take away my free speech rights.”
The goal of the conduct agreement was to clearly state the type of communication the organizers thought best supported having a meeting where all participants felt safe, and the purpose of the meeting would be accomplished. We wanted to ensure that the meeting was set up for all to maintain mutual respect for one another.
Products & Services
- “Can we have country of origin labeling on Co-op products?”
We are working on getting this information updated on our signage storewide. Please give us some time to get this fully accomplished.
- “So happy you are up and running!”
We are also happy to be here serving the community.
- “Please expand the bulk department to include many items discontinued in the front-end remodeling.”
- “Is there any chance of the bulk products coming down in price at the Co-op (spices, beans, grains, etc.)?”
The Co-op has an option to special order items not regularly offered on the aisle, and there’s the option to get a 10% discount for ordering full case amounts.
We received a set of questions about particular staff members and members from the Co-op community that we cannot respond to. It has been our past practice to refrain from commenting on personnel matters or specific individuals.
- “What did we get from our investment in the HR consultant?”
The HR consultant provided many services to the Co-op. They managed the HR department through the end of October. They updated the Co-op’s harassment policies, investigation procedures, and provided a list of best practices for addressing harassment in the workplace. Additionally, they led the HR Manager hiring process and facilitated that transition.
- “Organizers should be open to taking questions from the floor — more questions will arise in our minds as we go through the meeting and hear various ideas and comments.”
There was a process for receiving questions during the Annual Meeting. The team added those quetions to the other questions that were submitted as a part of registration. Questions that weren’t answered at the annual meeting were added to this list of questions, and we are responding to them here.
- “Really grateful to Hunger Mountain Co-op employees who persevered during the pandemic. Thank you!”
Thank you! We’re very proud of our staff and their commitment to the Co-op mission and the local community.
- “If we’re on Zoom, will we be able to vote for the council elections?”
Yes, the vote started at the meeting on November 9 but didn’t conclude until November 28.
- “Will the Co-op Board, during this time change, continue with the current governance structure or seek to receive education and training to learn about a more inclusive governance structure such as Sociocracy? The Franklin Community Coop has done this. The current Governance model has allowed for a top-down structure that may very well have contributed to the problems that were allowed to continue. How open is the board to learning about system changes? Thank you for reading my comment and question. I look forward to your response.”
Thank you for your comment. We’ll pass along your interest in the Co-op’s governance model to the Council. There is also a comment period at the beginning of Council Meetings if you want to address this topic directly.
We have followed a system of governance that allows the Co-op’s General Manager enough autonomy to accomplish the ends within the values and limitations we have set forth via our Executive Limitations Policies. Every system has its strengths and potential weaknesses. We have had many years of successful development as an organization and a business with our current form of governance.