At food co-ops, having a grievance can be a rare occurrence. It may not ever happen. But for those who have ever felt the sting of a grievance, preparation is key. That’s why many experts recommend having policies in place—just in case. In 2009 CDSConsulting Co-op member Carolee Colter assembled a task force combining board, manager and employee perspectives to create a cooperative model grievance procedure for food co-ops to help them prepare for dealing with a grievance.
At Open Harvest in Lincoln, Neb., Kelsi Swanson was a new general manager when an employee filed a grievance against one of the management team’s members. This was the only grievance ever filed in the co-op’s 36-year history. She said they’d had an existing grievance policy, but it was outdated. As she went through the grievance process in December 2010, she learned the co-op needed new forms, rules for filing, a confidentiality code, and clarity around how employees can file.
She used the model procedure created by the task force as well as other co-op policies to help her craft one for Open Harvest. “I felt like it taught me a lot right away,” she said. Not only that, Swanson said, a grievance can present challenges for internal and external public relations. A clear-cut grievance procedure can also help with giving people a process for maintaining confidentiality, to keep rumors from circulating.
Swanson said that she knows her co-op, and others, like to go above and beyond for their staff to keep them satisfied. Yet, a grievance is always a possibility. “It’s always a what-if. You can’t predetermine whether it will happen, but it is of huge importance for the rights of employees to have an avenue for complaints.”
At Bloomingfoods Market & Deli in Bloomington, Ind., they had recently adopted the cooperative model grievance procedure, when an employee filed a grievance. The employee had let general manager George Huntington know after it was settled that he believed the procedure the co-op followed was “excellent” and that it followed good communication process. “I am glad we had the grievance policy template to use as a resource. We didn’t expect to have to need it right away, and then to have the all parties feel like the process was handled fairly was an even greater bonus,” said Huntington.
Cooperative Grocer article, A Cooperative Grievance Procedure
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