Wedge Co-op dumps 'anti-union' law firm: 'We made a mistake'

thewedge.jpg
The Wedge says it made a mistake in choosing its law firm.
The Wedge Co-op has dropped Seaton, Peters & Revnew as its law firm for labor negotiations with newly unionized warehouse workers following critical feedback from members.

Wedge board president Sarah Wovcha says she received numerous emails from members about the law firm's perceived "anti-union" bias. Members were concerned that the firm's hiring was "inconsistent with the Wedge's cooperative principles."

"What I said to those members in my response, and what I'm saying to you now, is we apologize," Wovcha says. "We made a mistake."

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Sarah Wovcha: "We made a mistake."
Curtis Neff, a labor organizer at UFCW 1189, expressed concern earlier this week that the firm is "union-avoidant," or "union-busting."

After the Wedge began receiving feedback from members, Wovcha says she turned to Google and found an op-ed ("Dayton Should Let Go of Child-Care Union Plan") published earlier this month in the Star Tribune by Doug Seaton.

"What's relevant from the Wedge's point of view is having a law firm that publicly published this opinion that was critical of the governor's efforts to unionize was not really sending the message we would like," Wovcha explains. The Wedge wants a law firm more "publicly neutral," she says.

The Wedge hired Seaton, Peters & Revnew due to concerns about the long-term cost of negotiations, Wovcha says, not in an attempt to bust the workers' union.

The Wedge was represented by Dorsey & Whitney during the warehouse workers' unionization drive, but that bill ended up being more than the grocery store expected. The Wedge asked local law firms to bid on the negotiations. Seaton was "competent" and came at the "most reasonable" price.

"We were honestly trying to be good stewards of the Wedge by saving money in what's probably going to be an expensive process," Wovcha says.

When the Wedge hired Seaton, Wovcha explains, the board told him they "wanted to be fair and neutral, and he agreed he could do that." But after the membership outcry, the board decided to re-examine the decision and change representatives.

The Wedge has rehired Dorsey & Whitney to handle its negotiations with the union.

"Dorsey has a long record of productive labor negotiations, including contracts between many local grocers and the UFCW Local 1189, our warehouse staff's chosen representative," Wovcha explained in an email.

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The Wedge Community Co-op

2105 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN

Category: Restaurant

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28 comments
Chris Little
Chris Little

Wake up people! The Wedge has , and will continue on a course towards being a big ugly heartless corporation. That is what they are, most just can't or don't want to see it. They do not follow the co op mission staement of recent years past anymore, they're buying up the farms that provide their produce, Their warehouse serves the entire tri state area of co ops and I call that a monoply. Their mark up on everything is beyond outrageous, I'm a former employee so I know. You'd think with all of their "buying power", prices would get lower, but they just keep going up now don't they? The fact that the GM does not believe in global warming is just the tip of the iceberg with this woman, she is a right wing wing nut who doesn't give a damn about the community she is supposed to be serving or her employees, and if you think that when you order food from the Deli that you are getting quality ingredients in your food that the Wedge is known for - Think again and look for the Sysco truck that pulls up in the back of the store, because Sysco garbage is what they're using to make that food.   I've also worked in unions and I know that the union arrangement is less than Ideal, but this  goes to show you just how degraded and deplorable the working conditions must have become for some of the workers there--that they would make the choice to unionize. It is not a decision they took lightly I'm sure, but I have a feeling they were forced specifically by the attitude and conduct of, and the direction that the current GM is taking with regards to the Wedge. Anyone who wants to get serious about a boycott, I'm IN!

anon
anon

 Um...I think what you call "buying up the farms the provide their produce" would be called "saving the only local organic farm from being sold to developers who would put houses on the property" by most other people.

Chris Little
Chris Little

I would call it a very convenient opportunity to both save that farm AND add to their monopoly. Yes it seemed like a benevolent move on the Wedge's part at the time, but looking back now?. . .not so much when you add it to all of the other subsequent bullsh*t and the direction the Wedge is going in now. I think its time that people stopped looking at the individual actions of the Wedge and start looking at the big picture. Stop assuming that our "community" co op has its members best interest at heart and start asking why they are straying so far from the mission statement that once hung on huge board in the front of the store. What happened to that bigger than life board??? Does anyone remember that? Is that even important anymore??and really?? "the only local organic farm"??? You mean the only local organic farm THEY control.

motorcycle accident milwaukee
motorcycle accident milwaukee

A lot of Calgary attorneys are assisting makers set up combined tasks to discuss the large capital cost associated with some oil beaches tasks. 

Occu Bagger
Occu Bagger

Make the world a better place - break a union.

long time member
long time member

Nicely done Wedge Board.  This is precisely the action I would expect you to take in this circumstance.

A different Greg
A different Greg

I have enough experience with law firms to know that you shouldn't go looking for congruent values from them...you'll just end up being disappointed.  They'll do what they're paid to do.  I am a member of the Wedge - but am not aware of any issues that make it a bad place to work.  If there are some, I'd like to know what they are.  I am not motivated to shop at the Wedge by my dividend check.

guy
guy

i'm surprised city pages hasn't done an expose on the wedge.  as a former employee, there is more than meets the eye going on at this place.  just talk to some former/current employees.  it is a pretty horrible place to work.  but would the members or non-members ever know?  not a chance!  all they see is their dividend checks getting bigger and bigger so why question the happiness/sanity of the employees???

Gpratt
Gpratt

Guy, give me a call: 612-372-3753

Satorrotas2011
Satorrotas2011

horrible place? talk to some other employees and you get a different story. what might be the difference? go figure... lose your job. go someplace else and there you are. happy now?

guy
guy

i'm assuming you have never worked there.  

Bikermichael
Bikermichael

Perhaps the board should address the reason(s) that they and their workers are in a place where union(s) and lawyers are needed/wanted. 

guy
guy

agreed.  unionizing is usually a sign of things going terribly wrong. 

Greg
Greg

I am afraid the world doesn't work that way,,but I wish it did!

anon
anon

Yes, the board listened, but I think thats about where any input from members and the community will end. All that response said was, "we are looking for a better facade".

Sadly, the board is just as corporate and conservative as the GM they hired. 

Did you know that the GM of the wedge does not believe in climate change and will not let the wedge comment or mention carbon emissions? Yes, the mission of any business is to make profits and return money to the members, but this is beyond insane. 

MEMBERS, I implore you to vote in the elections held by the wedge, call the GM and let the staff members know you support them when you shop. The worst thing the Wedge upper management can think of is a PR nightmare, so if you want to see change in the operations of the co-op you need to be vigilant in voicing concern and distaste. 

Member Also
Member Also

Members can attend board meetings, and if you plan ahead you can bring concerns before the board.  The next meeting is May 17th.  

The Board is also currently seeking a Member-At-Large to serve on the Nominations Committee for the upcoming elections.  And we need strong pro-labor candidates to RUN for the board itself.  

Vote in the election, show up for the annual meeting, ask questions at the annual meeting!  Mention your concerns in the member satisfaction survey.  Start a petition.  

Twitter, facebook, and email comments are fine but easily ignored or dismissed.  Phone calls are better.  And best of all would be to go into the co-op (politely) and ask (politely) to speak (politely) with the GM face to face, and follow up with a letter to each board member.  

As long as this is limited to the blogosphere, the Wedge will see it as a tempest in a teapot, not a massive PR nightmare.  And yes, Wedge board, thank you for having the courage to change course, admit you were wrong, and publicly apologize.  You've given me a glimmer of hope.

Greg
Greg

Sarah Wovcha, I applaud you ! You made a mistake, you owned up to it,,you made a correction.  Teach THAT to the politicians, I dare you! Well done,,and keep up the good work !

From an old-school union rep.

Marge
Marge

I wish the board would take notice of the leadership at the wedge and make the needed changes.

Dave
Dave

Right, blame the law firm. They were acting on the demands of their client, which threw them under the bus. Any lawyer will tell you that's how it worked here. If the law firm tries to prove otherwise it opens itself up to a lawsuit on breaching the attorney-client privilege that survives the termination of their relationship.

This is just tacky.

Pro-Co-op = Pro-Labor
Pro-Co-op = Pro-Labor

Nice work!

Members responded, the Board listened. That's exactly what makes a cooperative different.

Co-ops are supposed to be member-driven, not profit-driven - the differentiation has served co-ops well, and it's nice to be reminded of it in this situation.

Regarding the cost of negotiations, a cost-benefit analysis by the board may be in order: paying a living wage to all employees vs. the cost of paying a law firm, negotiations, public relations, member relations, etc.....

either way, job well done to the Wedge Board, and to the members who spoke up.

ludwigtr
ludwigtr

Anti-union or not, don't you think they'd have the most experience in what both employees want and what employers want?  So they have been anti-union in the past.  They work for YOU, YOU tell them what you want.

Good god, bitchy whiney hipsters...I'm done shopping here, and it's because of the clientele, not because of the business.

Erik Esse
Erik Esse

Whine about "hipsters" if it makes you feel better about yourself (everybody else does it), but the whole point of having a co-op is that the members own it and can tell management how they want it run. That's exactly what just happened.  If you want to shop at a store where you have no real voice there are plenty of corporations to choose from. You might want to watch out, though, because whiny hipsters are everywhere...

Joshua
Joshua

My voice at the stores I shop at is my dollar. If I don't spend any money, they don't make any money. I prefer to shop at businesses that spend as little money as possible on political BS.

ludwigtr
ludwigtr

Yeah, because when a business hires a company to represent them and their interest, a company that that specializes in unions and dealing with them, that's obviously a mistake.

And no shit about the whiney hipsters...  Especially in uptown.  Irony for the sake of fashion is kind of like stupidity for the sake of attention.

Jake
Jake

"We didn't realize what a dumb move we made until we were informed of our dumb move by our customers, who did the background research we didn't bother to do in the first place."

i.e. "We only listen to our members once they've created a massive PR embarrassment."

Acquifer
Acquifer

So the Wedge decided to go back to the overpriced lawfirm that represents Cargill? I would hope that agribusiness whoredom would be no less discomfiting to the Wedge than union busting.

swmnguy
swmnguy

"We made a mistake."

Yes, they did.  Although Dorsey is no friend of the little guy, either.  On the other hand, The Wedge is no longer a little guy; not by any stretch.  I prefer to patronize smaller businesses, myself.

Satorrotas2011
Satorrotas2011

Aye. Bring back the Ma & Pa grocery store. You'll pay higher prices, of course, and those businesses don't hire as many people as a co-op grocery.

The success that the Wedge has attained has enabled it to be a local employer giving comparable, if not superior, pay & benefits to its employees as those in conventional, unionized grocery stores. Is this possible? Do the research and report your findings to your cohorts so they have a good idea of what they're getting into. Fair enough?

Who would expect the Wedge to hire a law firm that's primarily "a friend to the little guy?" Far more likely they would hire a law firm that has experience and success at negotiating contracts with unions, duh... 

But put yourself in the position of management. How would you do it?

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