Sacramento Co-op Owners for Democracy & Human Rights have met the requirements to place two member initiatives on the upcoming annual September 2011 ballot of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. These are the Human Rights Initiative and the Restore Co-op Democracy Initiative. In violation of its own Bylaws, the Co-op Board has refused to put either initiative on the ballot, usurping Members’ rights.
Below is a chronological summary of the efforts of Sacramento Co-op Owners for Democracy and Human Rights to ensure democracy, restore Member control, and promote human rights as a value of our Co-op and the Board and management’s response to those efforts.
► Update: On Saturday July 23 and Sunday July 24, chalk graffiti attacking two Co-op Board candidates and the sponsor of the Human Rights initiative appeared on the Co-op sidewalk. Store management refused to remove the graffiti, although Board Member Alicia Dienst reportedly said Co-op employees had done it. It was removed by two 70-year olds on Saturday night; was back Sunday morning. On Monday it was removed by a man who quoted Edmund Burke to one of the Board candidates: All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. More info.
► Update: On July 17, the Co-op Board posted a fraudulent ballot argument against Measure 2, refusing to post two legitimate arguments it had received. Click for more info.
► Update: At its June 7 meeting, the Co-op Board put its own Bylaws Amendment on the September ballot that would prevent the Co-op from making purchasing decisions on the basis of “political opinion” or “national origin”. If passed, this amendment would have far reaching impacts on products the Co-op carries. The Board’s action also undercuts Member’s rights as the amendment directly contradicts the vote requested in the Human Rights initiative, which the Board refused to put on the ballot. Click here for an informational handout.
► In advance of the meeting, the Board spent an estimated $3000-4000+ to mail a letter to all approximately 7000 active Co-op members. The letter contained numerous accusations against the proponents of the Human Rights and Restore Co-op Democracy initiatives and urged people who who agreed with the Board’s opinion to come to the June 7 meeting. The same information was also sent out to the Co-ops list serve on June 6. Click here for the letter and comments. The turnout for the meeting was at least twice the allowed capacity for the room; Fire Marshalls requested people to leave voluntarily to reduce the overcrowding.
► Update: June 9 Sac Press article: Controversy at the Co-op: Boycott Israel? by Brandon Darnell.
► Update: Co-op Members Sing for Democracy at June 3 rally.
► Update: On June 2, Co-op Board President Steve Maviglio made several allegations in a letter-to-the-editor of the Sacramento News and Review, including that one of the Co-op’s suppliers, Good Humus Farm, had been threatened by the proponents of the Human Rights and Restore Co-op Democracy Initiatives. Proponents have not threatened Good Humus or any suppliers. They have contacted Good Humus and Maviglio to find out if there was a threat, who it came from and the nature of it. Click here to read comments & letters about the May 19, 2011 Sacramento News & Review article on the Sacramento Co-op.
► Update: On June 1, Co-op Board President Steve Maviglio emailed a Member with a walk “through our Bylaws”. Click here for the email and what the Bylaws actually say.
► Update: On May 31, the Co-op Board sent out an email in an apparent attempt to rationalize its stifling democracy and violating the Bylaws. To read the content of the Board email and a fact-based response, click here. The Co-op has included the same misinformation on its web page FAQ on the Israeli Boycott Issue.
► Update: On May 23, Co-op GM Paul Cultrera allowed the group”Save the Co-op” to table at the Co-op again with the Israel lobby’s perspective on Israel/Palestine. Cultrera banned one of the group’s founders, Barry Broad from tabling after Broad grabbed a woman on the wrist on May 8 and she complained in writing to the Co-op. (See Save our Co-op below).
However, Cultrera’s standard for “behavioral problems” is vastly different for Broad’s group. Cultrera claims he banned an entire group, Sacramento Area Peace Action, and anyone associated with them from tabling because of alleged complaints against some individual tablers. Cultrera has still not provided any documentation against the SAPA tablers despite repeated requests. Allowing Save our Co-op to table shows again how Cultrera’s ban is based on CONTENT, not CONDUCT.
Please contact the Co-op Board and Cultrera and tell them that it is offensive to you that they are only allowing one viewpoint on the Israeli/Palestinian issue to be presented in front of the store while prohibiting others. Also tell them to follow their Bylaws and put the Human Rights and Restore Co-op Democracy initiatives on the ballot — tell them you want to vote. Click on Contact Co-op for contact info.
“Save Our Co-op” was started by Barry Broad, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). Save Our Co-op claims that the Co-op Members who have proposed the Human Rights Initiative are anti-Semitic and are trying “to bring divisiveness to our community by trying to drag us into Middle Eastern conflicts.” The JCRC is an unelected body that purports to speak for the Sacramento Jewish community on various issues, with much of its activity focused on quashing any dissent from uncritical support of Israeli government policies. JCRC has excluded from its ranks Jewish groups that criticize Israeli policy. The majority of Jews in Sacramento do not belong to any of the organizations that are represented on JCRC. JCRC is an affiliate of the Jewish Federation which nationally has allocated $6 million to “combat” BDS efforts. More info: www.muzzlewatch.com.
► A formal complaint was filed on May 18 with General Manager Paul Cultrera about his biased tabling ban and undocumented slanderous allegations. Mr. Cultrera continues to censor Members who want to table about supporting Palestinian human rights in front of the store, while he allows others to table with an opposing viewpoint. He continues to justify what is clearly a ban on CONTENT, not conduct on the basis of alleged misbehavior on the part of tablers. Cultrera has been unable or unwilling to provide documentation of these allegations despite repeated requests.
► Board Policy Committee again refuses to follow its Bylaws and put an Initiative on the ballot.
At the May 17, 2011 Co-op Board Policy Committee meeting, the committee discussed the Restore Co-op Democracy Initiative and two Bylaw amendments, one proposed by the General Manager related to preferred shares and one proposed by a Board Member. While the Co-op’s Bylaws (Section 10.05) direct the Policy Committee to review Bylaw amendments, it gives them no authority over member initiatives or referendums (Section 10.06) .
The Committee discussed the initiative and concluded that parts of it would affect Board policies and therefore the initiative was not consistent with the Co-op’s Bylaws Section 8.06 which states that: “The Board shall develop and state in writing those policies necessary to carry out the duties of the Board and the functions of the Cooperative.”
When the Committee was asked what would be appropriate for member initiatives, one Committee member suggested the bag policy (this was not clarified, maybe “paper or plastic”. One member said that “it might be appropriate for an owner initiative to be directed a a particular policy” and later said “anything that is not illegal or in contradiction to the Bylaws”.
Committee member Barbara Mendenhall made the following motion which the Committee then passed, the Committee recommends to the Board that Restore Co-op Democracy “initiative not be placed on the ballot because it obviates the Bylaws and Corporations Code.”
► On May 8 & 9th, the Co-op’s General Manager, against any group discussing or having literature about the Israeli/Palestinian issue in front of the store by allowing a group calling itself “Save Our Co-op” to table. See News release
“Save Our Co-op” was started by Barry Broad, chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). Save Our Co-op claims that the Co-op Members who have proposed the Human Rights Initiative are anti-Semitic and are trying “to bring divisiveness to our community by trying to drag us into Middle Eastern conflicts.” The JCRC is an unelected body that purports to speak for the Sacramento Jewish community on various issues, with much of its activity focused on quashing any dissent from uncritical support of Israeli government policies. JCRC has excluded from its ranks Jewish groups that criticize Israeli policy. The majority of Jews in Sacramento do not belong to any of the organizations that are represented on JCRC. JCRC is an affiliate of the Jewish Federation which nationally has allocated $6 million to “combat” BDS efforts. More info: http://www.muzzlewatch.com.
A complaint was filed with the store and the police about Broad’s forcefully grabbing a woman on the wrist to prevent her from getting the Save Our Co-op literature. Cultrera has now banned Broad from tabling, but apparently the ban does not extend to the whole group. Cultrera alleges that some of the Human Rights tablers had engaged in some undefined and undocumented problematic conduct and banned everyone associated with them from tabling.
Several times Broad had publicly called Co-op Members who support the Human Rights initiative “Nazis”and “Anti-Semites”. He has called supporters who are Jewish “house Jews.”
► At its May 3 meeting, the Co-op board:
1) Took the pro-democratic action of allowing Members to speak to agenda items before the Board discusses them; open comment is still not allowed on items that are not on the agenda.
2) Dismissed the grievance (see below) appealing its refusal to put the Human Rights Initiative before a vote of the full membership as required by the Bylaws.
3) Directed its Policy Committee to review the Restore Co-op Democracy Initiative at its next meeting which will be Tuesday, May 17, 6:30pm at 1901 Alhambra. Since this initiative has met the signature requirement and has been proposed at a Board meeting (a Member proposed it at the 5-3-11 meeting), the Bylaws direct that the Board shall put the initiative before a full vote of the membership.
► April 28: Co-op Manager Serves “Trespass” Notice to Co-op Member on Public Sidewalk
On April 28, 2011, two members of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op were collecting signatures and distributing literature from the public sidewalk in front of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op when Co-op Manager Dan Foley dropped a Co-op “Criminal Trespass Form” in front of one of them. Foley then went on vacation for a week.
Although the Co-op member was not trespassing, the Co-op’s form states that the individual is “no longer allowed anywhere at any time” on the Co-op property or they “will be arrested and prosecuted for criminal trespass.”
“The Co-op is clearly trying to chill members’ Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly,” notes long time member, attorney Joan Maredyth. “This might be something we’d expect from a big corporation. It is very disturbing when it is done by the Co-op that claims to be democratic and member-controlled.”
The Co-op’s allegations of trespassing also violate the City of Sacramento’s trespassing ordinance which does not allow for prosecuting in the case of “constitutionally protected right of freedom of speech including, but not limited to, peaceful expressions of political or religious opinions not involving offensive personal conduct.”
The members are part of Sac Co-op Owners for Human Rights, a local group that submitted a Human Rights Initiative to be voted on by the full Co-op membership. Although the Co-op’s Bylaws direct that member initiatives go on the ballot, the Co-op Board has refused to allow a vote on this initiative, which deals with supporting Palestinian human rights. The group has filed a grievance with the Board about this decision; their appeal will be heard by the Co-op Board this Tuesday, May 3, 6pm at 1914 Alhambra Blvd.
The group had been tabling with the Co-op’s permission in front of the store for several months. However, after they collected the required number of signatures to put the initiative on the Co-op’s ballot, the Co-op General Manager, Paul Cultrera cancelled their tabling privileges. Since February, the group has been talking to other members and shoppers from the public sidewalk adjacent to the Co-op. Co-op management has also banned any group from tabling about or discussing Palestinian human rights.
“If this initiative were about human rights violations in any other country in the world other than Israel, we would never see such bizarre and anti-democratic behavior by managers of a peoples’ owned business,” explained long time Co-op member attorney Susan Scott. “While our local community is suffering from budget cuts, our government continues to give Israel over $8.2 million a day of our tax money. The Co-op’s Board and management need to recognize that it is the members who own the store and it’s up to the members to decide, using the initiative process in the Bylaws, what products and brands to sell and promote and whether to consider massive violations of human rights in that choice.”
Update: As of May 9, the Member to whom the trespass notice was served has attended a Board meeting on Co-op property and been in the store on at least 3 occasions without threat of arrest.
More information: email@example.com
Concerned Members are urged to call the Co-op General Manager 916-455-2667 and the Board (emails below). FMI: firstname.lastname@example.org.
► April 22: Co-op Owners concerned with democracy and human rights file a Grievance with the Co-op Board, appealing their April 5 decision to not put the Human Rights Initiative for a vote of the membership. This Board action violates the Co-op’s Bylaws. The Grievance will be addressed by the Co-op Board at its Tuesday, May 3, 2011 meeting, 6pm at 1914 Alhambra. Concerned Members are urged to attend and to contact the Board (see below) and demand that it follow its bylaws and put the Human Rights Initiative on the September ballot so that all Co-op members can vote on it.
► April 13: Co-op Members Submit Restore Co-op Democracy Initiative for placement on September Co-op ballot. The initiative was submitted on April 13 with more than the required number of member signatures. Proponents have continued to gather signatures and hand out information about the initiative from the sidewalk by the Co-op.
► It is now official, on April 5, 2011, the Co-op Board passed a resolution in violation of its Bylaws refusing to let members vote on the Human Rights Initiative.
► At the April 5 meeting, the Board also refused to consider the Grievance appealing the Co-op General Manager’s discriminatory prohibition against information or discussion of Palestine/Israel or Palestinian human rights in front of the store. See Sacramento Press article.
► At its March 1, 2011, meeting, the Co-op Board took away Member’s right to put initiatives and referendums before a vote of the Co-op’s members. This latest move by the Co-op Board to squelch Member input and the Human Rights initiative would take away the Bylaw provisions which guarantee Members the right to put measures on the ballot WITHOUT Board interference. This provision of the Bylaws is critical because it gives Members an important check to balance Board power.
The Board revised the Elections Code to give the Policy Committee, which is composed of Board Members and members appointed by the Board, the power to review and prevent Member initiatives and referendums from going on the ballot. By taking this action, the Board has violated the Bylaws in creating a defacto Bylaw amendment without going through the Bylaw amendment process that would require Members to vote.
Any disputes about what the Policy Committee decides would be also handled by them – making them the judge and jury.
The new “review” criteria include: “alignment with … Rochdale Cooperative principles”. Nothing in the Bylaws requires compliance with these principles and determining this compliance would be very subjective.
► Looking at What the Sacramento Naturals Foods Co-op board is saying about its decision to take away Member’s rights to propose initiatives without Board interference
Co-op Board in an email 3-8-11 : “The Board took no such action to deny owners the ability to put initiatives on the ballot that conform to our bylaws, articles of incorporation and the cooperative principles. Any initiative brought forward that meets that threshold can be put on the ballot. This is in compliance with the Co-op’s bylaws and election code. “
What the Bylaws say:
Section 10.06 (below) of the Co-op’s Bylaws has no requirement about conformity to “bylaws, articles of incorporation and the cooperative principles”. This is a “threshold” that the Board added by amending the Election Code; it is a defacto amendment to the Bylaws which members were not allowed to vote on. Amending the Co-op Bylaws without a member vote is a violation of those Bylaws.
Section 10.06. Referendums and Initiatives
a) Any official act, either proposed or taken, at a membership meeting or a Board of Directors meeting, shall be submitted to a referendum or initiative of the Membership under the procedures outlined in the Election Code in any of the following situations:
1) A petition stating the action requested, signed by at least that number of Members which constitutes a quorum for the transaction of business as set forth in Section 7.05.a is received by the secretary of the Board.
2) The majority of the Members present and voting at a duly called regular or special Membership meeting deem it necessary.
3) The Board so directs.
b) The results of any referendum and/or initiative shall be binding on the Board and the Membership.
Co-op Board in an email 3-8-11: “The Board trusts each owner to make their own decision about what they buy at the Co-op — no matter what their political beliefs or background. That is a fundamental co-op principle, and the reason why the Board of Directors of co-operatives across the United States (most recently the Davis Food Co-op and the Port Townsend, Washington co-op) have rejected similar efforts as those proposed by BDS.”
What the Co-op does & the Difference between People and Products
The Co-op makes decisions all the time about what products it does and does not carry. For example, it does not carry products tested on animals, Coca-cola, cigarettes or endangered fish in its fresh meat/fish counter. It does carry a large variety of Fair Trade coffee, but no Yuban and only carries organic produce.
Consistent with Cooperative Principles, the Co-ops bylaws provide that members have the right to democratically set parameters for what the store carries. For example, Co-op members have the right, under the Bylaws, to put an initiative on the ballot to vote on whether the store should stop carrying all GMO products. The Co-op is to be open to members and shoppers regardless of their political beliefs or backgrounds – that is about people NOT products.
It is curious that the Board makes no mention of the Olympia, WA Co-op which removed Israeli products in July 2010 for human rights reasons. This thriving 2-store co-op adheres to the Cooperative principles, obviously interpreting those differently than the Sacramento Co-op.
Co-op Board in an email 3-8-11: “The Board has consulted extensively with our attorney, leaders of the cooperative movement in the United States, and other experts on cooperative law in reaching this conclusion. More than a dozen meetings have been held where owners have shared their views with the Board and its Policy Committee. It is unfortunate that despite these findings, a few individuals who do not agree with the outcome continue to personally attack the Board — which is elected by our owners — and misrepresent the actions that we have taken.”
What the Co-op has provided about its “extensive” consultations:
At the December 1 meeting where the Board eliminated the long standing Boycott Policy, it offered two written statements from its “extensive consultations with our attorney” and “leaders” of the Cooperative movement. No material from “experts on cooperative law” was provided. One statement was written about the Davis Co-op by cooperative consultant David Thompson and the other was a short letter from its attorney, Therese Tuttle.
Thompson makes the unsubstantiated claim that “There are thousands of cooperatives in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza” then goes on to say: “Should we turn our back on the important work those organizations are doing to bring people together.”
The International Cooperative Association Website has no listings under Palestine and two under Israel. The first is Co-op Israel, a click on this leads to the website of Blue Square- Israel LTD and the second listing is Kibbutz movement. Some if not most kibbutzes are built on land stolen from Palestinians. Most, if not all, are open only to people of one religion, so much for “bringing people together”.
The Human Rights Initiative does exempt any Israeli Co-ops that are trying to end systematic discrimination inside Israel by supporting the Palestinian’s call for boycotting and divestment to pressure Israel to respect human rights and international law.
Attorney, Therese Tuttle’s letter states: “Boycotting a nation discriminates on the basis of nationality – an action prohibited in the admission of members to the co-op—making its inclusion in the selection of boycott targets, suspect.”
This assertion that somehow boycotting products from a nation discriminates against individuals is refuted in thorough analysis by Attorney Gordon Kaupp who writes:
“Section 3.01 of the Bylaws permits “[a]ny Californian resident, irrespective of age, sex ,race, nationality, political opinion, sexual preference, handicap or marital status” to become a member of the Cooperative. The proposed boycott would only bar the sale of goods that originate from Israel or form illegal Israeli settlements. Section 3.10 relates to membership by individuals while the boycott relates to a decision not to carry products from a particular place. Nothing in the language of the proposed boycott would prevent an Israeli national from becoming a member of the Cooperative, so long as the individual meets the California resident requirements set forth in Section 3.01. To interpret Section 3.01 as being in conflict with Boycott Policy is either an intentional gloss on- or gross misrepresentation of – the meaning of the Bylaws and the Boycott policy. No one argues (nor could they) that Israelis would be prevented form becoming members of the Cooperative. Thus, the Boycott policy and the proposed boycott of Israeli goods in no way violate Section 3.01.”
Co-op Board in an email 3-8-11: Cooperatives are designed to bring people together for a common purpose, in our case, for the provision of natural foods. Our Board is fulfilling its responsibility and commitment to our co-op’s continuance for the benefit of all owners, not one faction.”
What is and who decides the Co-op’s purpose?
The common purpose of the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative purpose goes much beyond the provision of natural foods, extending to issues of community, sustainability, animal rights, concern about endangered species, and worker rights (as exemplified by the Fair Trade coffee).
The Bylaws of the Co-op give members the ability to determine what they want to add or take away from that common purpose. This is why Section 6.01 of the Bylaws states that “the control over the cooperative shall be vested in the membership.”
Preventing members from voting is pandering to one faction; allowing ALL members to have a say is not.
► More Board attempts at censorship and circumventing member democracy.
As of February 7, 2011, the Co-op board had received petitions with 219 member signatures (100 are required) to put the Human Rights Initiative for a vote of the full membership. On February 17, the Co-op Board sent the following email to the initiative’s proponents:
“Now that the Board has officially received your petition, your proposed measure is now bound by the SNFC Election Code. As such, you will only be able to present information on your proposed initiative at sanctioned events in which other members can provide an opposing viewpoint. According to the 2011 SNFC General Election Calendar, the appropriate forum to present your proposed initiative (if it is certified / found to be in alignment with the Election Code and Bylaws of the Coop) is Meet The Candidates Night. This will take place in the Quarterly Owner Meeting following the Board Meeting in August. As the sponsor of the proposed measure, you may wish to work with the signers of this petition to ensure that all campaign efforts fall within SNFC campaigning rules.”
There are at least two problems with the Board above message. First, there is no restriction in the Co-ops Bylaws or the Election Code that limits presentation of information about initiatives. Such a limitation would clearly obstruct the democratic process, information sharing and education that are fundamental cooperative principles.
Secondly, the Co-op Board has no authority under the Bylaws to prevent initiatives from going on the ballot based on their “alignment [or nonalignment] with the Election Code and Bylaws”.
Sadly for the Co-op, what the Board seems to be doing is trying to circumvent a direct check that members have on the Board’s power, specifically the ability of members to put referendums and initiatives before a vote of the full membership.
Section 6.01 of the Bylaws states: ”The control of the Cooperative shall be vested in the Membership” and the Bylaws contain mechanisms to ensure member control. Such mechanisms include, of course, elections but also member’s ability to recall Board members and to place measures before a vote of the full membership.
The Bylaws have one set of requirements for Bylaws Amendments and a clearly different set for Referendums and Initiatives. Bylaws Amendments have provision that provide for Board involvement as well as requiring many more signatures. In apparent contradiction of the Bylaws, the Board is attempting to improperly apply not only the Bylaws Amendment standards to Referendums & Initiatives, but also new “rules” to censor information and stifle member education and discussion.
► Co-op General Manager censors tablers addressing Palestinian Human Rights.
A week after the Co-op received petitions to put a Human Rights Initiative on the Co-op ballot, the Co-op’s General Manager, Paul Cultrera notified the proponents that they could no longer table in front of the Co-op. Although proponents had been tabling at the Co-op for seven months, without any written warning about problems, the GM based his decision on “infractions” that allegedly occurred on January 22 and 23. (See below.)
The initiative (see below) would allow Co-op members to vote on whether the Co-op should support Palestinian Human Rights by not carrying Israeli products. Prohibiting members from tabling appears to be a move to censor support for the initiative and for Palestinian human rights.
The timing also coincides with the recent decision of the Board to eliminate the Open Member Comment period at the beginning and end of the Board meetings. Open comments are no longer allowed; at the end of the meeting, members may briefly comment on agenda items only (this would be after any action taken by the Board on the item at the meeting.)
Cultrera cites two infractions:
- “Infraction 1: Having more than two people tabling on January 22. … Five or more people were observed tabling. The situation was disruptive enough that at one point one of our customers took it upon herself to call the police to report that the tablers were creating a safety hazard.”
Response: There were in fact a number of people who came around 1pm to sign the Human Rights initiative at the table. At no time were there 5 people tabling. There were only two assigned tablers, but there was confusion around the table because of the small crowd. At the request of Co-op staff, the tablers asked people to move to the sidewalk, which they did. Prior to this and also during tabling on January 23, there was no crowding at the table, which had the allowed two assigned tablers. This was not an issue at any of the previous 7 months of tabling.
- “Infraction 2: Approaching customers and employees in an aggressive and argumentative manner. …. We received complaints from customers about this unwelcome behavior on the part of tablers on both January 22 and 23. On January 22 one of our employees who was on her way into the store was approached by a tabler and told by him that she should be ashamed to work at the Co-op when she declined to listen to him.”
Response: Tablers take this accusation very seriously; they have done their own investigation and have not found any evidence that tablers for the Human Right Initiative made any such comments. Cultrera has been asked to investigate, including identifying the employee and the tabler. Tablers agree that this is unacceptable behavior but hearsay and unsubstantiated testimony should not be the basis for a punitive action. Tablers for the Human Rights Initiative approach people in a friendly way and leave people alone who indicate they do not want to talk. They do engage in discussions with those who want to engage in a civil manner. Tablers are aware people who disagree with them have complained about their being at the Co-op because they do not want this issue discussed. Suspending tabling for this reason is censorship and violates cooperative principles.
► Also in this section:
♦ Co-op Board contact information
♦ No more member comment
♦ December 20 Grievance
♦ Summary of December 7, 2010 Co-op Board meeting
♦ Summary of November 9, 2010 Co-op Board meeting
♦ Co-op Owners file grievance
♦ Co-op Board Suspends Boycott Policy; Censors information
♦ Statements in Support of Olympia WA Co-op decision to boycott Israeli products
♦ Human Rights Boycott Proposal to the Co-op
♦ Co-op Boycott Policy
♦ Co-op Member Survey Clarification
♦ Contact information for Co-op Board of Directors
♦ Contact information for Co-op Policy Committee
♦ Q & A about the Co-op Proposal
► Contact information for Co-op Board of Directors
Michelle Reynolds – email@example.com
Steve Maviglio- firstname.lastname@example.org
Alicia Dienst – email@example.com
Sonny Eboigbe – firstname.lastname@example.org
Robert Duncan – email@example.com
Georgianna Pfost – firstname.lastname@example.org
♦ No more member comment
At its first meeting of the new year on Jan 4, 2011, the Sac Co-op board voted to eliminate the open comment periods at regular Board meetings. These comment periods allowed members to directly address the Board with concerns or questions. During Board meetings, members are not allowed to address the Board unless they have an item on the agenda or a Board member asks them for information. At the end of Board meetings, members are allowed to briefly comment only on items discussed during the meeting. With the elimination of the open comment periods, member input is basically limited to Quarterly member meetings. This violates the Cooperative principles and the spirit of the Co-op’s Bylaws which state that the “control of the Cooperative shall be vested in the Membership.”
♦ December 20 Grievance
On December 20, 2010, thirty-one Co-op owners filed a grievance appealing the decision of the Co-op Board to eliminate the Boycott Policy (see Dec. 7, below). On Dec 28, Board president Steve Brancamp emailed these members that their grievance had been rejected. This decision was made outside of the regular Board meeting and the grievance was not allowed on the Jan 4 Board agenda as members had requested.
► Summary of December 7, 2010 Co-op Board meeting
During the Open Comment period, several members of the Israel Lobby group, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) spoke against the proposed human rights based boycott of Israeli goods and several owners spoke in favor of restoring the informational binder and/or the boycott. One of the anti-boycott speakers described an idyllic scene in an Israeli store in the West Bank where Jews and Muslims were supposedly mingling in harmony. A boycott supporter pointed out that this store was in a Israeli Jewish-only settlement in the West Bank — not only is this settlement illegally built on stolen Palestinian land, no Palestinians are allowed to live there.
During Old Business, the Board quickly dismissed a grievance filed in objection to a number of Board actions, including the Board’s: 1) suspending a boycott investigation in the middle of the process; 2) failing to operate with transparency; 3) failing to give boycott proponents equal space in the Co-op newsletter (a 500+ anti boycott piece was run while a Board-solicited 500-word piece submitted by proponents was not).
Although it had not specifically notified Co-op owners that it was considering eliminating the 7-Plus year old Boycott Policy, the Co-op Board passed an obviously pre-prepared resolution to do just that. Board member Michelle Reynolds made and read the resolution:
“After more than one dozen meetings with owners at both the Board and Policy Committee levels and receiving substantial correspondence and communication from owners, the Board of Directors sought independent review of its Boycott Policy. They included: David Thompson, former U.S. delegate to the International Cooperative Alliance, President of the Twin Pines Cooperative Association, co-op historian, and co-author of the current Cooperative Principles; Therese Tuttle, the state’s leading attorney specializing in cooperative law and a long-time cooperative farmer advocate; and Mark Goehring, Board Consultant, Cooperative Development Services. As a result of their opinions, the Board of Directors finds that the Boycott Policy, as revised in May 2008, is inconsistent with our Co-op’s Bylaws as well as the Cooperative Principles, and therefore moves to terminate the Boycott Policy.”
The Board made available a few copies of a letter from Attorney Therese Tuttle (text below). Tuttle was the same attorney who advised the Davis Co-op Board in their refusal to allow members to vote on an initiative which would have removed Israeli products for human rights reasons.
Clearly Tuttle’s opinion is just one interpretation of the Bylaws, which reflects the interpretation of the grievance filed by Barry Broad of the JCRC. The fallacy in Tuttle and Broad’s argument is that boycotting the products of a nation in no way discriminates against or prevents anyone from that nation in becoming a member or shopping at the Co-op — which is what the Bylaws are concerned with (see Bylaw excerpt below). Just as keeping out products tested on animals does not prohibit people, who own or work for companies that are tested on animals, from being owners or shopping at the Co-op.
During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, the Israel lobby representative Barry Broad made derisive remarks to at least one of the boycott proponents, a behavior he has engaged in during other Board meetings.
Despite being directed by the Board not to take photos, two members of the JCRC took pictures at the end of the meeting. When this was brought to the Board’s attention, they ask these individuals to delete the photos; it was then requested that the Board actually check and make sure the photos had been deleted. It is not clear whether this was done.
♦ Letter from Attorney Therese Tuttle
Tuttle & Van Konynenburg, L.L.P.
Attorneys at Law
914 Thirteenth Street
Modesto, California 95354
Telephone (209) 236-0163
Facsimile (209) 236-0172
December 1, 2010
Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative
1900 Alhambra Boulevard
Sacramento, CA 95816
Dear Board Members:
I have reviewed the Co-op’s boycott policy, last revised and approved in April 2003, for conformity with the Co-op’s Bylaws. The boycott policy states that a boycott is a policy decision made by the Board to refrain from carrying a given product or products “of a certain … nation,” because of the “social, political or environmental consequences of the way they are grown, obtained and/or marketed.”
In general, nations do not produce the products sold by the cooperative, rather they are produced by individuals or by companies owned and run by individual. This is why applying the “economic leverage” of a boycott is an effective way to change the means of production. Boycotting a nation to change the means of production does not target the actual producer, and discriminates in a way that conflicts with the goals of non-discrimination that are articulated the the Co-op’s Bylaws at Section 3.01.
One of the stated objectives of the Co-op is “promotion of the cooperative ideal.” The cooperative ideal is one of inclusion as expressed in the membership qualification requirements at Section 3.01 of the Bylaws. Once met, the qualification requirements open membership to any California resident, “irrespective of age, sex, race, nationality, political opinion, sexual preference handicap, or marital status …,” Boycotting a nation discriminates on the basis of nationality—an action prohibited in the admission of members to the co-op–making its inclusion the selection of boycott targets, suspect.
To make the boycott policy conform to the Bylaws’ cooperative ideal the word “nation” should be deleted from the policy. In addition, the Board should consider whether “political” consequences of production are appropriately part of the boycott policy given the prohibition again discrimination based on “political opinion” which is also listed in Section 3.01.
Please do not hesitate to call if I may answer any questions.
Very truly yours,
Therese C. Tuttle
♦ Excerpt from: Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op ByLaws: http://www.sacfoodcoop.com/images/board/SNFC_Bylaws_Sept_2010.pdf
ARTICLE III MEMBERSHIP
Section 3.01. Membership Qualifications
Any California resident, irrespective of age, sex, race, nationality, political opinion, sexual preference, handicap, or marital status, who meets membership requirements and is capable of using and enjoying the benefits of membership is eligible to become a Member of the Cooperative. Such person may become a Member of the Cooperative by: a) Complying with such uniform conditions as may be prescribed by the Board of Directors; b) Making full payment of any non-refundable membership fee as set forth in Section 2.04; and c) Making full payment for one (1) membership share upon joining and additional shares as required by the Board of Directors.
► November 9, 2010 Meeting Summary
The Co-op board would not allow any of the 30-40 Co-op owners who attended the November 9, 2010 Board meeting to speak during the scheduled public comment periods. Instead they allowed one spokesperson about 3 minutes to talk before they rejected the grievance asking the Co-op to restore the Boycott Policy and informational binder. (More details about the meeting below.)
The Board action means that the Co-op’s adopted Boycott Policy remains in suspension and owners and shoppers are not allowed access to the informational binder addressing the proposed boycott of Israeli products until Israel stops violating the rights of the Palestinian people. The Board took this action despite having been informed of recently released documents showing that the Israeli government is pursing a deliberate policy to keep the people of Gaza at near-starvation levels; at least half of whom are children under 18.
The grievance was filed by 31 member households on Oct 20. Since it suspended the Boycott Policy, the Board has received emails, phone calls and at least 136 letters asking that they reinstate the Boycott Policy and binder.
TAKE ACTION for Co-op democracy and against censorship
Contact the Co-op Board, emails below, and leave comment cards in the store. Demand that the Board:
1) Reinstate the Boycott Policy so that Co-op members can exercise their rights of member control under the Cooperative Principles, by challenging products they feel do not represent their environmental, social or ethical values. The Board’s desire to review the current policy should not be used as an excuse to stop the current boycott investigation.
2) Put the informational binder about the proposed boycott back at the front desk. The Board has provided NO justification for withholding and denying members this information. By removing the binder, the Board is not upholding the Cooperative Principles related to informing and educating members. It is the objective of the organization, which asked for the binder’s removal, to censor any criticism of the government for which that organization lobbies. Such censorship is contrary to Co-operative principles of democratic member control and autonomy.
3) Respect owners who attend Co-op Board meetings by giving them time to speak to the Board and by attentively listening to them.
November 9 Meeting details
Approximately 30 owners attended the Nov. 9 Co-op board meeting, intending to speak in favor of the grievance and of having the Board reinstate its Boycott Policy and restore the informational binder about the proposed human rights-based boycott of Israeli products.
Although the agenda indicated that there would be time on the agenda for public comment, Board President Steve Brancamp announced that comments would not be taken until the end of the Board meeting, around 7pm. When the Board meeting ended, Brancamp again postponed public comments until the end of the Quarterly Membership meeting that following the Board meeting, around 8:30pm.
The grievance was put at the end of the Board’s agenda and it was allocated 5 minutes. The Board president said that one spokesperson could speak for 2 minutes about the grievance. Supporters tried to get the Board to extend this time and allow for comments from others, but the Board refused. This meant that no one else was allowed to speak for or against the grievance
After the spokesperson talked and presented dozens of letters in support of re-instating the Boycott Policy and binder, the board briefly addressed the grievance and said it had no merit, see below. During this short presentation, one of the Board members was rolling her eyes in what appeared to some members of the audience to be rude and in obvious irritation at having to listen to a member address the grievance. The Board meeting ended shortly thereafter.
Having been denied twice the ability to address the Board in open comment, most owners then left. A few sat through another hour and a half and three did address the remaining Board members.
Owners who attended the meeting commented that the Board’s actions, including repeated postponement of the listener comments, the lack of specific explanations for Board decisions, and the extremely limited agenda time allocated for this clearly controversial matter, were a clear indication that the Board did not take the members or their concerns about this matter seriously.
Board’s Finding that the Grievance allegedly had no merit
The grievance stated: “since the educational period had not expired, it was premature for a vote on, or discussion of, the proposed boycott itself.”
The Board said that the 7-plus year old Boycott Policy had never been utilized; it was not a policy that they, as a Board, had created; and they wanted to review and revise it under their new system of policy governance in order to be in accordance with their cooperative principles.
It was pointed out to the Board that the current boycott proposal had been brought to them in June, yet they waited until October to suddenly decide to review the Boycott Policy in the middle of a boycott investigation. Such an action also disregarded and disrespected the owners who had followed the Policy in good faith. The Board stated that the boycott investigation was not under the Board’s purview until they received the appeal filed by Co-op Member Barry Broad as chair of the Jewish Community Relations Council, an affiliate of the Jewish Federation that is part of the Israel lobby.
The grievance stated: “There is no conflict whatsoever between the Co-op’s Boycott Policy or the proposed boycott and the Cooperative Principle, “Voluntary and Open Ownership: Co-ops are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services without gender, social, racial, political or, religious discrimination.”
The Board did not explain how the current Boycott Policy was discriminating against individuals. They said that they were still looking into the charges of discrimination made in Broad’s appeal and were going to consult attorneys.
When asked what they had done in the last month since the appeal was filed, General Manager Paul Cultrera said, “What’s the hurry with Israel? The issue will still be around.” One owner stated that people are being killed now, having their land taken now, that Israel is starving the people of Gaza now.
Comments at the end of the Member meeting
When public comments were finally allowed, about 8:30pm, one owner asked the Board if they couldn’t separate their review of the Boycott Policy from allowing owners and shoppers to have access to the informational binder. The Board and General Manager said if they did that, then any group could request that any product-related information could be posted. They specifically mentioned the Arizona anti-migration law and gay marriage.
One owner who sat through the entire meeting commented to the Board at the end that it was his first meeting and it seemed to him that the Board was not operating in a transparent or democratic manner.
Comments from JCRC Representatives
Barry Broad who is Chair of the JCRC, sat in the back of the room and made audible comments to those around him. He called one of the boycott supporters a “Nazi”. He also said that the domestic bath salts that were offered by boycott proponents were “Nazi salts”. When the person presenting the grievance said that documents have recently been released that Israel is intentionally starving the people of Gaza, Broad said: “Oh, my” in an obviously sarcastic manner.
The meeting did not start on time and then was start of the meeting was delayed for several minutes when the Board president ordered a woman from Cable Access to stop filming the meeting. She asked to see the written policy about this and, when pressed the Board president acknowledged what was in writing was that he had the authority to make decision about conducting the meeting. She left after security was called to escort her out. Since the board makes its own video tape of the meeting, it wasn’t clear what their object was to having it taped.
► Owners file Grievance with Co-op Board
On October 20, over 30 Co-op owner households submitted a grievance to the Co-op Board appealing the Board’s decision on October 5 to suspend its 7-plus-year old Boycott Policy and censor information available to members and shoppers about the proposed human rights-based boycott of Israeli products. The Board removed the informational binder about the boycott only 5 days after it was made available in the store; the binder was to have been posted for 90 days. (For details, click on Sac Co-op).
A statement of support from members of the Olympia Washington Food Co-op was read at the news conference prior to the delivery of the grievance.
The Board’s action was based on the false assumption that the Boycott Policy which allows discernment about products that the Co-op carries based on social, political and environmental considerations was in conflict with the cooperative principles which prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their gender, race, religion or social or political affiliations.
There is no conflict between the Boycott Policy and the Cooperative Principles. However, there is a conflict between the Board’s censoring information and disregarding owner concerns and the cooperative principles, including Democratic Member Control and Education, Training and Information (see the grievance for more details).
► Co-op Board Suspends Boycott Policy; Censors information
On Oct. 5, less than a week after the Co-op Board announced in the Co-op Reporter and the Sacramento News and Review that it would follow its Boycott Policy, the Co-op Board suspended that Policy and pulled the informational binder it had just placed in the store about the proposed human rights-based boycott of Israeli products.
On October 4, Barry Broad, Chair of the Sacramento Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) submitted an appeal to the Co-op Board. Part of the Israel lobby, the JCRC claims that the Co-op’s adopted Boycott Policy and the proposed human rights based-boycott of Israeli products violate Cooperative Principles.
Under the Co-op’s Boycott Policy, an informational binder had been made available in the store. The binder contained information supporting the boycott request, including a partial list of Israel’s violations of human rights and international law. Having issued a call to “Protect Israel by Defeating Local Boycott of Israeli Products, the JCRC clearly did not want anyone to learn about what Israel has done and is doing to the Palestinian people. For the time being, JCRC has convinced the Board to join them in this censorship.
The Co-op’s Boycott Policy, in place since at least 2003, states: “A boycott is a policy decision made by the Board not to carry some or all products of a certain manufacturer, supplier or nation, not because of the physical or nutritional characteristics of the products themselves, but rather because of the social, political or environmental consequences of the way they are grown, obtained and/or marketed. “
Without question, the Board accepted the JCRC muzzle and agreed that the 7-plus year old Boycott Policy suddenly now apparently violates the Cooperative Principle of “Voluntary and Open Ownership. Co-ops are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services without gender, social, racial, political or, religious discrimination.”
The core of JCRC’s argument is that “discriminating” against specific products is equivalent to discriminating against human beings. How this logic will affect other products the Co-op “discriminates” against is unknown.
In considering the JCRC request, the Board did not contact boycott proponents or any of the nearly 600 owners and shoppers from whom they had received petitions, letters and emails of support for the proposed boycott. During the meeting, they refused public comment or questions from those in attendance and made no attempt to substantiate their spontaneous (and faulty) interpretation of the Cooperative Principles.
Neither the Boycott Policy nor the proposed boycott call for discrimination against those who are owner or shoppers at the Co-op. The proposed boycott is consistent with all of the Cooperative Principles and in particular supports the principle calling for “Concern for Community. While focusing on owner needs, co-ops work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their owners.”
Note: Possibly to prevent owners from doing their own investigation of this matter, as of 10-6-10, the Co-op had apparently removed the Boycott Policy from its website.
► Support for Olympia Boycott Not Carrying Israeli Products
On July 15, 1010, the Olympia Washington Food Co-op Board of Directors voted to stop carrying Israeli products and divest from investments in Israeli companies based on Israel’s record of human rights abuses. Read statements of support from Olympia Co-op members.
► Human Rights Boycott Proposal to the Co-op
On June 16, 2010, three dozen Co-op owners formally requested that the Co-op stop carrying Israeli products until Israel stops violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people (see Proposal). In accordance with the Co-op’s official Boycott Policy, the owners initiated an investigation as the first step in implementing their request and they asked that the Policy Committee join in that investigation.
At its July 20 meeting, the Policy Committee members stated they did not support addressing the requested boycott under the Co-op’s official Boycott Policy. They noted a number of concerns which were subsequently addressed by boycott proponents in a July 22 letter.
During the months of June, July, and August, over 350 Co-op owners and shoppers signed petitions and letters and sent emails and letters to the Board. Several members attended Board and Policy Committee meetings asking that the Boycott Policy be followed.
At its August 17 meeting, the Policy Committee decided it would follow the Boycott Policy, including running an article to be written by the boycott proponents. The Committee then reneged on this and said instead it would run the article on its website and Facebook page. The article has been submitted to the Co-op for publication.
On September 16, the Co-op Policy Committee informed boycott proponents that it will post the educational information regarding the requested boycott of Israeli products, per the Co-op’s Boycott Policy, by September 24. The products should be labeled, information about the boycott is to be included in a binder available in the store and posted on the Co-op’s website and Facebook page. The Co-op Policy Committee announced it was postponing making the binder available until October 1, 2010.
As of mid-September, 2010, nearly 500 Co-op owners and shoppers had signed petitions and letters asking the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op to stop carrying Israeli products until Israel stops violating international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.
The Boycott Policy directs that the Co-op respond to boycott requests with a thorough investigation, providing information about the proposed boycott in a binder the front of the store, and posting brief summaries of the pertinent information in the store, in the newsletter, and/or near the affected products. This educational material must remain in place until the initial reasons for concern have been rectified or for three months, whichever comes first.
► Co-op Member Survey Clarification
In a September 16, 2010 article published by the Sacramento News and Review, there was an erroneous reference to a study done by the Co-op. Len Feldman was quoted as citing a “study in which 80 percent of SNFC owners surveyed opposed boycotts for political ends.”
After the Co-op Board was questioned about this study, on September 27, General Manager Paul Cultrera (email@example.com) provided information about long-range strategic planning done in 2000 that included an 82-question survey sent to Co-op members.
There was one item regarding whether the “Co-op should take a stand on political issues.” Responses were: 54% indicated that they disagreed with this statement; 23% were neutral; and 23% agreed with it.
Cultrera did not specify whether this was a random survey or if there were any questions asked about boycotts or whether the term “political” was defined. He has been asked for clarification about these points.
Contact information for the Co-op Policy Committee
Michelle Reynolds (chair & also a board member) firstname.lastname@example.org
Steve Brancamp (Board member) email@example.com
Steve Maviglio (Board member) firstname.lastname@example.org
Paige Lettington (former board member) email@example.com,
Barbara Mendenhall (former board member) firstname.lastname@example.org
Emails of both Board and Policy Committee
email@example.com,firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
* * *
Q & A about the Co-op Proposal
Q. What is the Co-op being asked to do?
A. The Co-op is being requested to stop carrying Israeli products until Israel stops violating international law and the rights of the Palestinian people.
Q. What products are affected?
A. The Co-op is currently selling several Dead Sea products, the ingredients for which come from Israel. These are: Masada Dead Sea Mineral Bath Salts, Ancient Secrets Dead Sea Mineral Baths, One with Nature soap, Dead Sea Warehouse Mud Mask, Bath Salts, and Salt Soap. It may be carrying other Israeli products as well. Before purchasing any product, consumers are advised to find out where that product comes from.
Q. What action is required now?
A. The Co-op’s official Boycott Policy, directs that: “Information about companies that are under investigation . . . and about current SNFC boycotts and proposed boycotts shall be available in a binder at the store’s information desk. … [The] Policy Committee shall direct the posting of brief summaries of the pertinent information on an appropriate notice board in the store, in the newsletter, and/or near the affected product(s) on the shelf (as appropriate). Such educational posting must remain in place until the initial reasons for concern have been rectified, or for three months, whichever comes first.”
The Policy Committee may continue the posting for another three months and it may or may not recommend that the Board vote to support a boycott.
Q. What if the Policy Committee & Board do not support a boycott?
A. Owners of the Co-op can submit an initiative to be voted on by all the members. The members will then decide if they want the Co-op to stop carrying these products. If the Board voted to support the boycott, opponents could also submit a referendum to be voted on by all members.