River Valley Co-op

Board of Directors Response to Labor Questions

February 5th, 2017

Increasing Wages for All vs. Paid Commuter Time for Some

Thank you for your interest and support of the co-op and our employees.  We appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns and questions about the free parking shuttle the Co-op provides. 

We want to assure you we continue to be willing to work with the Union to resolve this issue through the processes we’ve agreed to in our labor contract. The following is some additional information:

First Some History of the Issue Our staff is represented by the UFCW Local 1459. Shuttle pay came up during negotiations with the union in 2015. The shuttle issue was fully discussed over a number of sessions and completely addressed in bargaining.  Management and the union looked at the concerns together.  All views were given a voice. A solution was crafted on which we all agreed. 

Both the union and the co-op agreed that the fair and equitable resolution was to grant all employees a larger wage increase because some employees ride the shuttle and some do not.  We achieved this solution with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service who helped facilitate our collective bargaining sessions.

The proposed agreement was presented to the staff, who had the option to reject it if they weren't happy with it. Instead, they ratified the contract. The union agreed that the shuttle issue had been resolved for the 3-year contract period, and the matter appeared settled through 2018.

Since then, some staff have expressed dissatisfaction with this aspect of their Collective Bargaining Agreement. We have good processes in place through the agreement with the Union to resolve issues that come up. If staff believe that the labor agreement we entered into last year is problematic, there are procedures that employees can use for grievances.  Some have chosen not to use these procedures on the shuttle issue. Instead a public campaign has been organized.  

How River Valley Seeks to Solve this Issue The co-op has repeatedly asked the union to honor and comply with the labor contract by using our agreed upon processes to resolve this issue. The co-op is and has always been willing to listen with an open mind and work for a solution.

We hope you can understand that it might be more complicated than it looks to resolve an issue that we were already assured was resolved through collective bargaining.  It is further complicated because the union has raised an issue of dissatisfaction with the contract that it negotiated, agreed to and ratified; and so far has refused to utilize the processes that we have agreed in our contract to use for conflict resolution. Instead we are threatened with legal action and a public campaign that would damage the co-op’s reputation if we didn’t make substantial payments. This was confusing to say the least. 

Seeking and Receiving Clarity from the State of Massachusetts For clarity on the legal issue we sought an opinion letter from the MA Wage and Hour Division. Receipt and review of the state’s written legal opinion reinforced our confidence that our practices are completely within the law on this matter. 

We shared the state’s letter with union, yet they decided to go forward with a legal complaint anyway and again refused our request to process this issue through the grievance procedures in our labor agreement.

Further, we believe that the union campaign’s unfair labor practice allegations are grievances that legally should be deferred to the mutually agreed upon resolution process.  We did not refuse our employees the right to leaflet and we did not discipline anyone for doing so. We do not believe we’ve violated the National Labor Relations Act. We are asking the National Labor Relations Board to resolve this. 

River Valley Moving Forward to Resolve River Valley Co-op is a progressive employer of over 150 people, about 95% full time with benefits. We are not perfect and we make mistakes, but we welcome the opportunity to resolve all our issues in the spirit of mutual respect. We believe in the labor movement. We consider it aligned with the cooperative movement in working for democratic solutions that empower people and communities. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding during this process. We hear our employees concerns and we ask for your support in our call upon the union to resolve these issues through our collective bargaining agreement. 

In conclusion, our agreement with the union is to engage in a cooperative interest-based relationship.  A win/lose, zero/sum approach is confusing and damaging to any working relationship.  We continue to have an open mind about resolving this beneficially for all and request that this issue be resolved through the processes that both the union membership, union leadership and the co-op have agreed to, the grievance and binding arbitration provision of the labor agreement.  

Preserving the great working relationships that we have with employees and the wider community are important to us. We’ve worked hard to do that. We hope the facts outlined here help you to know more about our efforts to date. We all have the same mutual interests for our Co-op, our employees, and the community. Thank you for your interest in helping us to achieve our goals.

Board of Directors Response

Increasing Wages for All vs. Paid Commuter Time for Some

Updated December 9th, 2016

Recently, we have received a variety of questions and comments from co-op owners related to how River Valley Co-op compensates its employees for commuter time. Please know, we strive to provide as many benefits as possible to our employees, and have carefully constructed a benefits package with the employees’ union to be as supportive and competitive as possible. 

We hope the following background and information will provide more context to this issue:

Foremost, River Valley Co-op strives to work in harmony with its union. In 2012, we partnered with the UFCW Local 1459 – a partnership that speaks to the co-op’s commitment to employees.

Many employees are requesting they be paid for their time on our courtesy shuttle to/from our complementary off-site employee parking lot.  We respect and appreciate their feedback.  However, we recently entered into a union contract in which employees opted to pass on this particular benefit  in favor of others.

Specifically, the union agreed the shuttle commuter time would not be compensated. During 2015 collective bargaining agreement sessions for our current union contract, some suggested that car-driving employees be paid for time on the shuttle. After the union and management reviewed potential costs, we collectively agreed to additional increases to the wages for hourly staff for time worked instead of paying the cost of shuttle commuter time.  The union contract was ratified by a vote of the unit member employees.

Compensating for commuter time is not required by law. Massachusetts and federal law state that regular workplace commute time and costs like that spent on the shuttle are not reimbursable or compensable. A recent opinion letter from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development Department of Labor Standards reinforced this.

We far exceed benefits conventional grocers provide. We employ approximately 150 employees; 90% are full-time (as compared to less than 50% at conventional corporate retail grocers), with benefits. In addition to services that include the free off-site parking and the shuttle, our benefits include: insurance options, paid holidays, paid vacation and personal/sick time, and purchase discounts. 

We wish we could provide even more benefits to our employees. However, we must balance competing needs at many levels including wages, service levels, fair prices for producers, and fair prices for our customers. We hope this information addresses your questions and concerns. Please let us know if there is any more information we can provide.