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Employees at 'socialist paradise' grocery co-op move to unionize alleging unfair labor practices

Bosses are none too happy

James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images

The Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn, which has existed since 1973, was designed to be a "socialist paradise," according to the New York Post. A former member even once described it as "something between an earthy-crunchy health food haven and a Soviet-style re-education camp."

But now its employees are demanding the right to unionize after they realized working there resulted in an oppressive working environment — not the Karl Marx-inspired utopia they envisioned.

What are the details?

Members of the co-op volunteer between 2-3 hours of work each month in exchange of "low-cost, environmentally friendly fare," the Post reported. Typical grocery savings for each member is between 20 and 40 percent.

However, because of the co-op's size, amassing a membership of about 17,000 people, the socialist grocery store employs 75 full-time workers. It is those employees who, in a recent filing with the National Labor Relations Board, allege unfair working practices.

The complaint, which the Post obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, was filed by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a massive retail union that boasts more than 60,000 members.

Employees — who spoke anonymously over fear of retribution from their bosses — told the Post they're requesting better scheduling, increased staffing, greater transparency from management, and perceivably, improved compensation.

How has management responded?

Tight-lipped employees revealed their supervisors are furious over the collective bargaining effort. The NLRB complaint alleges that one boss even threatened the employees with pink slips should the unionization efforts fail.

That boss reportedly told employees they "should have a backup plan."

However, management released a rather diplomatic statement Monday, which said:

The General Coordinators, the management team of the Park Slope Food Coop, recognize the right of any group of people to form legal associations to meet their collective needs and support their mutual benefit. This includes the right of Coop employees to choose to organize or join a union in the workplace.

The decision to associate, or not, is up to each employee. The Coop's General Coordinators, Coop Member-Owners, and the Board of Directors do not have a role in the decision to unionize.

The General Coordinators will work to ensure that the decision to unionize is an employee decision and that staff can participate in all efforts to organize. Following Coop principles, we would like to see that any decision by our staff will be made democratically.
One last thing…
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