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Weaver Street employees ask board to reconsider

By Kirk Ross
Staff Writer

About two dozen employees and owners of Weaver Street Market showed up at a board of directors meeting Tuesday night to debate a plan to move the cooperative’s food preparation operations to Hillsborough.

Laurel Goldstein presented a petition signed by roughly 100 employees asking that the board call a halt to the plan, saying it would threaten both the quality of the food and the work environment.

The petition reads in part: “Our work is artisan work and it is work that we attempt to do with pride and creativity every day, recognizing that making food for others is an intimate and honorable profession. We care greatly about what we do and we care about this co-op. It is our hands that make the food produced by Weaver Street Market authentic.”

Goldstein said the move, which would consolidate food production at a proposed FoodHouse in Hillsborough, might meet two-thirds of a “triple bottom line” by improving the profitability and, through innovations, the environmental efforts of the co-op, Goldstein said. But “from the standpoint of a lot of workers,” she said, “it does not meet the social bottom line.”

Goldstein and others said they were worried that earlier hours, transportation difficulties faced by some workers and more mechanization will affect quality.

“A lot of us feel replaceable,” Claudia Lopez, a longtime kitchen worker, told the board.

Not all workers attending the meeting in the auditorium of Carrboro Elementary School thought the move was a bad idea.

Several employees at the cooperative’s Southern Village store, which recently expanded, said their success depends on being able to have enough bakery goods on hand to meet rising demand.

Marilyn Butler, a co-founder of the co-op and a manager at Southern Village, said the new facility is needed because some weeks her store only gets 25 percent of the prepared foods it needs to fill demand. The organization, she said, has weathered change before.

“It’s easy to see your time at Weaver Street [Market] as the ‘real’ Weaver Street,” she said. Change at the co-op, she said, has “never been easy, quiet or without disagreement.”

Some of those worried about the move said it brings into question whether the company is staying true to its ideals as a cooperative.

“Is it really a co-op?” asked baker Bruno Sorrentino. He and others asked the board to spell out how large Weaver Street Market intends to get.

General manager Ruffin Slater said plans to expand to a third store in Hillsborough have long been on the books. As far as other expansion, Slater said in an interview Thursday that while something may happen farther down the road, there are no plans for a fourth store.

“There’s nothing currently in the works,” he said.

At the end of the discussion, meeting moderator Andy Sachs of the Dispute Settlement Center asked board members if they had any initial response.

Board secretary James Morgan took Sorrentino’s question head on. The fact that the board was there to listen and help work through the questions in the open, he said, is evidence that Weaver Street is still a co-op. He said the board is trying to increase transparency in the way it operates.

Board member Tam Fetters said the meeting offered an important lesson.

“Our failing, as I’m seeing here,” she said, “is that we did not have this meeting earlier.”

Slater said Wednesday the board will take up the subject again soon.

“The board is going to have a special meeting in the next two weeks to process feedback and figure out how to respond,” he said

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  1. Laurel

    I don’t know if this is the appropriate venue for this comment, and if it’s not, I sincerely apologise, however, I think it needs to be said. There wasn’t an opportunity for anyone to respond to what Marilyn said in her speech at the Tuesday meeting, as she had the final comment on the list, and we were already overtime.

    But I do not think, and I feel that I speak for many of the employees who attended the meeting, many of whom I have spoken with since, that Marilyn’s comment about the “Real Weaver St.” properly represent the concerns of the workers. In fact, her characterisation of our concerns as maintaining the real Weaver St. lends to a portrayal of our position as reactionary and sentimental. It is neither of these.

    As far as I understand it, and certainly my own point of view, is that the workers who are opposed to the production facility are not so opposed because we are desparately clinging to some essence of what Weaver St. is. We are opposed to the production facility because we want to save our jobs; we want to save our (in many cases) car-less way of life (or for those who may have cars, a way of life that does not involve driving to work); we don’t want to have to go in to work at 2am or get off work at 2am with a half hour commute on either end of it; we want to save our quality of life; we want to maintain a quality handmade product, which will likely be jeopardised by the move to a larger facility with larger equipment.

    We oppose the production facility, but not because we are afraid of change, afraid of losing the essence of Weaver St, however that is even to be understood. We are not opposing change. We are opposing what we see as a decision that was made perhaps without considering all its consequences. And now we are simply asking that these plans be put on hold to take a closer look at the consequences that may have initially been overlooked.

  2. Daniel Amoni

    **“Is it really a co-op?” asked baker Bruno Sorrentino

    Board secretary James Morgan took Sorrentino’s question head on.**

    Nice coverage Kirk, but I would hardly call James’ response “head on”. James, as can be seen on OrangePolitics.org, is very sensitive about the accusation that WSM is not a real co-op. Many people make that accusation, but their criticisms vary, based their conception of a co-op. James has a conception of one, and it differs from Bruno’s.

    What I heard from Bruno was that WSM did not include workers in the decision-making about an issue that impacts their lives heavily. James did not address that; he instead stood by WSM’s conception of a co-op. Hardly a direct response to Bruno’s and many others’ concerns.