About Co-op Members for Fairness | History
Co-op Members for Fairness formed during a lengthy Co-op workers’ strike in Saskatoon/Treaty 6 Territory in the winter of 2018-2019, a strike that was called to resist management’s introduction of a “two-tier wage grid” (a significant wage cut to be imposed on all new Co-op hires). We, as members, felt that Co-op’s position to keep itself “in the black” and “sustainable” on the backs of its lowest paid workers was an egregious violation of universally accepted cooperative principles. Meetings were organized which became the first member town halls, where hundreds of members reported that the Saskatoon Co-op Board was unresponsive to attempts to reach them to express concerns. Thus we began as a community-labour solidarity group that joined picket lines with Co-op workers, attempted to use the power we have as members of Co-op to pressure Saskatoon Co-op’s to get them to negotiate with the workers union (UFCW 1400) and change Co-op’s bargaining position (removing the “two-tier wage grid” proposal).
To force Co-op to relent on its plans, we requested a special meeting be called for the purposes of removing the current board of directors and replacing them with a new Board of Directors. Holding a special meeting required 300 Saskatoon Co-op members (which would be achieved with this petition, we collected hundreds more).
In theory, the current board of directors would have 20 days to issue notice for a special meeting (the notice period for a special meeting is between 10 and 50 days as determined by the board of directors), and at the special meeting the directors of the Co-op could be removed from office with a 2/3rds majority vote of the members present at the meeting, with the possibility of electing new members from the floor. However, though the signatures were collected, Co-op refused to call the special meeting, and when brought before court, the judge decided that Co-op had the discretion to do so.
Meanwhile, Town Halls remained well-attended as the strike wore on, with updates relating more outrageous news (that Co-op was stonewalling UFCW1400’s negotiating team, all the while relating in the media that it was the union that was being obstructionist).
Members and workers at the Town Halls voted to give themselves a name (Co-op Members for Fairness), and conduct a three-pronged campaign:
- continue with picket line solidarity with workers and other forms of public support of Co-op workers’ and position.
- write reform resolutions that would be submitted for debate at the 2019 AGM.
- supporting a field of candidates we would promote.
We did this while locating, organizing, and mobilizing Co-op’s progressive membership, who were still reporting that attempts to communicate with the board were being stonewalled.
When the strike ended on April 18, 2019, after 6 months (with a narrow majority supporting acceptance of returning to work and the new contract), with some successes, but falling short of its original goals (taking the “two-tier wage grid” off the table), Co-op Members for Fairness picked up where the strike left off, but bringing member pressure to bear on the Board.
After a successful campaign of locating and nominating candidates to be “endorsed” by Co-op Members for Fairness, and signing up new Co-op members, we helped mobilize a large turnout to get the vote out to the 2019 AGM. At the AGM on June 20, 2019, we succeeded in getting two candidates who our assembly endorsed, elected to the Saskatoon Co-op Board: Erika Ritchie and Carroll Chubb. Our third candidate, Ashlee Hicks, was only narrowly edged out by an incumbent board member.
Our work continues until we have a Co-op that is actually democratic, responsive to its membership, fair and respectful of its workers, with an inclusive, involved membership — all of the ways that Co-op is supposed to be “doing business differently.”
Do you have corrections, context, additions or links to add to this history? Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to suggest them!
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