Saturday, October 31, 2015

And the Looney Just Keeps on Coming: Further Pop Kafkaist Adventures in Honest Weight Land

The Honest Weight Food Corporation has to be one of the looniest places I have ever encountered during my sixty years of life.

Exhibit A: Those opposed to the Board's decision to unilaterally end the member programme have gathered enough signatures to call a special member meeting to recall Board members and members of the Leadership Team. In response one of the members of the LT has apparently started her own petition to ask for time at the beginning of this meeting in order to explain the Board's side of the issue. Why is this so looney? Because the Board has held ten or eleven meetings over the last month to explain their side of the issue. How much more time do they need to explain why they issued a diktat to end the member programme at the Corporation?

Exhibit B: Some Board members claim that not only is the member programme illegal despite there have been on court decisions on this issue, but that the Corporation could be ordered to pay back wages to member workers bankrupting the Corporation again without any legal precedent. Why is this so looney? Because apparently a coop in New Mexico was ordered to do this by the Department of Labour but they choose not fight this in court making this issue an open one. Honesty one would think would requires that this information be disseminated to the Corporation's membership if they are expected to make an intelligent decision about whether or not to end the membership programme

Exhibit C: Some on the Board and members of the LT claim that an order forcing the Corporation to pay back wages to member workers would be devastating. And I suppose it would. But the Board and LT fail to point out their role in undermining the Corporations financial solvency. It was the mistakes of the Board and LT that led to a million dollar overrun on the cost of the new store. It was the LT and certain members of the Board who claimed that increased amounts of meat would solve our financial problems. It hasn't. It was the LT who uses coupons to bring customers into the store but there is no way of actually verifying that they are doing this. Who or what are the real threats to the Corporation?

Exhibit D: The petition by a member of the LT to present the Board's position at the special meeting is interesting in several ways. First, it reveals that the LT appears to support the Board's decision to end the membership programme. Second, it reveals the inability of the Board and the LT to put the honest in Honest Weight since, they fail to note that not every member of the Board supported the decision to end the membership programme and that the vote was a majority rule vote. Third, the Board members who support the ending of the member worker programme fail to note that there are other options that the Corporation can take rather than ending the member worker programme. For instance, the Corporation can return to what it used to be, namely a worker coop akin to Park Slope. The Corporation can, as one member suggests, create hundreds of committees on which the thousands of members can serve earning, in the process, store discounts. I would like to see every member get a discount of 34%, the once upon a time discount for working members at the Corporation.

Exhibit E: The Corporation's lawyers, who are paid by the LT, have apparently concluded that the Corporation's member worker programme is illegal. The LT and those members of the Board who support the ending of the member worker programme, however, fail to point out that not all lawyers nor every judge concurs with this decision, including lawyers at Park Slope in Brooklyn, and remember since there is no case law on this issue the question of whether the member programme is legal or not is an open one.

Exhibit F: If the Corporation's member worker programme is illegal why hasn't the federal or state Department of Labour come after Honest Weight since the Corporation has had a member programme for some fifty years or so and has been a corporation for years? Could it be that it isn't illegal? Could it be that they could care less about a small fish in a small pond and they have bigger fish to fry and always will?

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Topsy Turvy World of Honest Weight Food Corporation

Rumour has it that the Board of the Honest Weight Food Corporation, the Board that governs the Corporation in the name of the members has finally got around to asking for a ruling from the New York State Department of Labour on the legality of the member worker programme. Why they asked for a ruling from the state rather than from the federal Department of Labor is a mystery since federal labour law supersedes state law when it comes to labour law.

Assuming that the state issues a ruling a ruling does not mean that this is the end of the matter. The ruling from one state Department of Labour does not mean that other state departments of labour would follow suit and rule that member worker programmes at fauxops are illegal. Nor does the ruling from one Department of Labour mean that the federal Department of Labour would concur with the ruling of one state Department of Labour. Nor does it mean that this issue is now settled case law. The Corporation and the Board, if they wanted, could now challenge the ruling of the NY Department of Labour in state and then federal courts. That the Board or at least some members of the Board seem to have no interest in taking the issue to court should speak volumes about the commitment of the Board to cooperative principles and should suggest to members and interested observers that there is a faction at the Corporation whose goal for years has been to rid the Corporation of those pesky inefficient member workers and turn the Corporation into more of a Corporation than it already is.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Same Old Story, Same Old Song and Dance: The Honest Weight Blame Game

Every week it is the same old story. We members and staff of the Honest Weight Food Corporation get a email message from the ever increasing number of mid-level bureaucrats that populate the powers that bes sanctuary in the back of the store. It goes like this. Store sales up from the same time last year. Customer count up from the same time last year. Basket size up from the same time last year. Bureaucratic projections not met.

Another of the same old songs and dances at the Corporation is the blame game at Honest Weight Food Corporation. Who, the bureaucrats ask, is too blame for the store's inability to meet the projections of the back room bureaucrats?. For a year or so the villain of the bureaucratic and manichean passion play was Whole Foods which was about to open a store in the Capital Region. Now it appears to be, to paraphrase the man with a way with words, former Board President Bill Frye (Frye remains a member of the Board) and his words as they in a cameo role the Times-Union, staff and staff inefficiency. Other bureaucrats including Roman Kuchera, Leif Hartmark, and Deb Dennis, appear to share Fry's explanation for the wicked that Honest Weight's way comes.

So what is an "inefficient" worker to do? Forget that bureaucrats like Kuchera and Hartmark locked us into an awful loan so we could tear down an old building and build a brand new shiny new one? Forget the cost overruns on the new building thanks to bureaucratic mistakes? Forget that it is not only competition from Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Price Chopper's Market Bistro but also the ever expanding natural and organic food sections at Price Chopper, Shop 'n Save, and Hanaford? Forget that the powers that be issue coupons periodically in the Clipper and elsewhere but have no way to track them? Forget that in my experience a significant number of these coupons are being used by members? Forget that we never should have built a new store in the first place? Forget that the projections are too damn high? Forget that is the sense of community and informality that is the heart and soul of Honest Weight and one of the reasons that people shop at the Corporation? Hey inefficient workers, let's too put the blame on Mame, us. We have met the enemy and it is us.

This bureaucratic formulaic way is all rather reminiscent of the Koch Brothers and their political running dog lackey's like Scott Walker putting the blame on the unions for the decline of the American automobile industry when, in fact, they don't design the cars, bureaucrats do, they don't sell the cars, salesman do, they don't run GM and Ford, bureaucrats puffed up on their own genius do. Speaking of evil unions note that the Koch's and their anti-worker ilk don't praise the Japanese unions for their role in making Honda cars that sell globally. Welcome to the looney world of corporate bureaucrats. Beware, be very be ware, of the pied pipers of surreal pop Alice in Kafkaland demagoguery.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Meet The New Boss, Same as the Old Boss? The Debate Over Membership at Honest Weight Food Corporation

So, it has been an interesting several days at the Honest Weight Food Corporation. On Saturday an article on the future of Honest Weight's membership worker programme--non-working members get 2% off of purchases, monthly working members get 8% off of purchases, weekly working members get 24% though this last is frozen as a result of a proclamation by the Board--by reporter Tim O'Brien appeared in the Albany Times-Union.

A little historical backstory first. In the 1970s many if not most cooperatives that arose as part of the healthy food movement of the sixties counterculture were coops in which only members could buy and members could buy from the coop only if they worked. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s as America experienced a conservative or neoliberal revival and coops bureaucratised and professionalised, many if not most "cooperatives" increasingly opened their doors to non-working members and non-members. At the same time that this was happening, foods, like meat, sugar, and potato chips, foods that would not be found on the shelves of worker cooperatives in the early years. started to appear on "cooperative" store shelves. During these years the member worker programmes at coops, something that once upon a time was seen as central to their countercultural cooperative mission, disappeared at the same time as junk food appeared on the shelves of consumer coops. Today worker cooperatives like Park Slope in Brooklyn and coops with member workers like Bloomingfoods in Bloomington, Indiana, Green Star in Ithaca, New York, and Honest Weight are increasingly a rarity and an anomaly in the world of American cooperatives.

As journalist O'Brien's article points out there has been a smoldering debate on what to do about the membership worker programme at Honest Weight Food Corporation this year. As O'Brien notes the Honest Weight Board, the power center at the Corporation, and many of whom share an ideological culture with members of the Leadership Team, another power centre at Honest Weight, have increasingly questioned whether the membership programme can exist in the form that it exits today or whether it even should exist. What O'Brien's article fails to mention is that a minority of the Board apparently disagrees with the majority on whether the membership programme in its present form should be eliminated. Some members of the Board, the ruling clique of William Fry (no longer president of the Board but still a member of the Board), Roman Kuchera, Leif Hartmark, bureaucrats all raised in the neoliberal ideologies of growth and top down power, and their fellow travelers want to eliminate the member worker programme as it is presently constituted and replace it with god knows what.

So how are those Board members and their fellow travellers, including members of Honest Weight's management team trying to do this? Primarily through that tried and sadly oh so true rhetoric of fear. Some Board members and their allies claim that the member worker system is illegal according to American labour law. There are even hints that Honest Weight might be fined or forced to pay back wages if it doesn't eliminate the member worker programme as presently constituted. Four years ago this rhetoric of fear was tied to Whole Foods which was at the time planning to move into the Albany market. Whole Foods, rumour had it, had mounted campaigns in California and Texas against member worker coops claiming that they gave cooperatives an unfair labour advantage and they were about to launch one against Honest Weight so we had to consider eliminating the member programme.

I actually decided to do some empirical research on the validity of these claims. When I googled Whole Foods and Coops in various permutations to find any information on Whole Food's campaign against unfair cooperative member worker programmes I found nothing. I was able to confirm that La MontaƱita Cooperative in Albuquerque New Mexico was told by the Department of Labor to cease and desist its member worker programme but it never took the case to court so no case law emerged from this action. When I asked Board member Fry whether there was any empirical evidence in the form of case law that coop member worker programmes were illegal he said there wasn't but hastened to add that there was no case law declaring it legal either. Yes, dear readers, nothing plus nothing leaves nothing.

So what is a member worker coop to do? Give up without a fight and declare defeat as so many have already? Do the obvious thing and ask state and particularly federal labour departments for a ruling which when made could then be challenged in the courts? Take seriously Park Slope's claim that the discourse that the member worker programme is illegal and is a red herring or a Hitchcockian mcguffin? Or should we ask if their are any ulterior motives in those who propose to rid themselves of inefficient and gabbing workers? Ulterior motives such as Honest Weight relationship to a business association that has long opposed coops with member workers? Ulterior motives such as the member worker programme is cumbersome even in a bureaucracy like Honest Weight. Ulterior motives like the fact that cooperative forms just don't jibe with the top down bureaucratic and managerial ideologies or theologies that dominate the mental worlds of Honest Weight's ruling clique, American business school, and American culture at large these day? Stay tuned.

Postscript: I received a letter from the HWFC Board of Directors, love the bureaucratic ka-ching of that phrase, by the way, the very day the article in the Times-Union came out. The letter, this symphony of image reconstruction, was apparently composed by various members of the Board of Directors via the technological wonder of email.

Yet another postscript: When I got to work at the Corporation this evening, 24 October, I discovered a missive on the Board of Directors board indicating that the Board of Directors had unilaterally decided to eliminate member workers from the floor of the Corporation and from "administration" of the Corporation by 1 January. The Board of Directors, in other words, like the Bolsheviks some 100 years ago, is engaged in a very uncooperative coup whose purpose to take over all operations of the Corporation. Those elected Board members who voted to end the membership programme include banker William Frye, Roman Kuchera, bureaucrat Leif Hartmark, Deb Dennis, yes the same Deb Dennis who has no clue about the history of coops, appointed Board member John Serio, Erin Walsh, who seems to finally have actually taken a position, and Rossana Coto-Bates. Ned Depew opposed the diktat. Daniel Morrissey abstained. "Consensus" at Honest Weight Food Corporation, in other words, is fake consensus. Consensus at Honest Weight means majority rule not, as in Quaker meetings, a process where a decision cannot be made if one member is opposed to the proposal under discussion.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: You'll Always Get Me Cause I'm Part of a Union

I was asked in April and March of 2014 by a UUP, United University Professions, the faculty union at the SUNY system, representative for my feedback on what it is like to be an adjunct in the SUNY system. Now I have been asked to do it again because once again it is time for yet another round of worker-management negotiations in the SUNY system and thanks to UUP little has changed for adjuncts and some of that little change has been for the worse. Let me say note before I begin that I don’t think UUP is dedicated to doing much for adjuncts. It looks out for tenured factory and for this reason I think adjuncts should also join an adjunct union or leave UUP for the adjunct union.

So where to start?

1. Compensation: Given the amount of time we put into teaching, preparation, grading, and communicating with students our remuneration, even after the meagre pay rises, is far, far too low. Most of us, I suspect, work seven days a week several hours per day for pay that is probably below minimum wage when the actual time we put into our jobs is calculated into the equation.

2. I have worked since the 1980s in various capacities in the state university system, SUNY. I worked as a TA, then as an adjunct, them as an acquisitions editor with SUNY Press, and then as an adjunct again. I received credit toward my pension for this service, save from the last. I find it reprehensible that I am not receiving credit for my health insurance retirement for all my TA/GA service and for my SUNY Research Foundation Service. Though I am technically, I guess, not due this credit (thank you UUP and SUNY Big Boss Man) I find this all a convenient cop out, a typical SUNY sleight of hand. According to the union I have no recourse but to accept this treatment from our wonderful university system. Solidarity forever brothers and sisters?

3. Office space? Worse than in the movie. At least they had a degree of personal space. We history adjuncts had, in 2014 and 2015, one small thin room that we shared with all the adjuncts in English. It is not a place where one can really prepare for class or talk with students if other part-timers are in the room because of the noise. There is also an additional problem: one of the adjuncts seems to imagine that she is a full time faculty member and unreasonably expects the room to be her kingdom expecting others, but of course not herself, to be as quiet as a church mouse.

The faculty room in Communication while bigger and wider, still had the drawback of too many faculty doing too many things at once making in noisy. It didn’t, however, have unreasonable adjuncts who expected their room to be their own faire kingdom and us to be their serf like subjects. Still I moved my office to the library.

4. My courses have ranged from three to two to one and back again. I wish the numbers were more consistent.

5. Participation in faculty governance? I have never been informed of whether and how I can participate in faculty governance even if I wanted to. One of the reasons I prefer part-time work is because I have little if any interest in being a full-time faculty and having to involve my self in the bureaucracy that is an ever-increasing part of “college teaching”. Bureaucracy kills the spirit of liberal arts education as will the ever-increasing adoption of Taylor principles higher education (the moronic SPIs, increasing amounts of paperwork, teaching for the test, etc.). Unfortunately, part-timers are being called upon to do more and more of the bureaucratic stuff without additional compensation. Thank you UUP and SUNY Big Boss Man. Welcome to the modern world of higher education.

6. The notion that you can have students who have little background in the subjects they take write “perceptions” of faculty is one of the looniest ideas I have ever encountered. It is even more looney when it is remembered that these “indexes” are not linked to our syllabi, something that show that some of the claims by students on these forms are simply and empirically FALSE.

7. As to adjunct hiring and firing, I have worked at four SUNY schools as an adjunct since the 1990s. My observation is that favoritism often plays a major role in adjunct retention or dismissal and that economic and benefit need, a factor that should be taken into account among others, is simply ignored. Why should wives of full-time faculty be retained over someone for who the position is essential? While we part-timers are represented by UUP I don’t think that our concerns and interests get enough attention from UUP. In fact, I often think it would be better if adjuncts formed their own union or joined an already existing adjunct union to represent them because the concerns of part-timers and full-time tenured faculty don’t always converge if they converge at all.

8. Faculty activity reports as they are now constituted are problematic. Why? Because they are made to fit full-time faculty and not part-time faculty. I am not one of those adjuncts with hubbies who work full-time at other colleges and universities and work as an adjunct because they dream of one day becoming a full-time member and/or have time to fill. Instead, I work three jobs because, given the crap pay for adjuncts, that is the only way I can keep my head above water. This means I don’t have time to do community service let alone to write a slew of academic papers as I work seven days a week.

9. One of the things that is fortunate for those of us who adjunct here in New York is that us part-timers have the wonderful option of having benefits, health, pension, and 401K benefits. These benefits make the long hours work for poor pay endurable. However, these benefits can be taken from us at any time. I cannot teach unless I get the benefits. Benefits are one of the few things that make teaching for this meagre compensation rational and worthwhile and make driving from Albany to Oneonta and back worthwhile.

10. I was given several verbal “guarantees” of classes in one Department. One of the “guarantees” involved me moving to the Oneonta area. Thankfully I didn’t do this because the “guarantees” of classes simply evaporated into thin air within a week or two.

11. Recently I was told that I would have at least one class in the spring. I was informed recently that due to money issues and new provosts I would not have a class. I, to say the least, am skeptical of this information. One reason I am skeptical is because of the inconsistency of what the chair has told me over the years. Another is the fact that I need, as of spring 2016, two semesters to get my healthcare after retirement. Conspiracy theory time?

12. Here is another one of those little tricks of the bosses, the educational robber barons, the powers that be, that I so enjoy. I taught two classes at two different SUNY’s, Albany and IT Utica, one at each. Did I get benefits despite the fact that I taught two classes at two schools that are both SUNY’s, two schools that share the SUNY funding pool, and two schools that are represented by UUP? Of course not because apparently they are the same when the powers want them to be and entirely different when the powers that be want them to be.

I experienced another example of this is inconsistency in favour of the Big SUNY Boss Man recently. This term I taught three classes at Oneonta and two classes at Oneonta so I am eligible for health insurance at both. Does this mean that since the Big SUNY Big Boss Man treats working at two different SUNY's entirely differently when it comes to health care eligibility I get credit for both and thus only need one more semester of health care eligibility to get my health insurance after retirement? Of course not. To repeat myself, when SUNY wants to treat the two SUNY's as distinct, as when you only have one classes at two or more SUNY"s and cannot get health care because you work at two different SUNY's, they treat them as distinct. When you have enough classes to double your health care eligibility fun, however, they treat them as the same. Pathetic and pathetically obvious.

13. Lucky number 13 is probably my favourite of the UUP SUNY Big Boss Man adjunct scams. Backstory: I have over forty hours of sick time. I can use it toward my health care after retirement should I be able to adjunct two classes until I retire. If I can’t I lose it. Can I cash it out? Of course not since UUP agreed to give that up in the last negotiations with SUNY Big Boss Man. Can I use it? Of course not. For if I did I would be summarily fired for not doing my job. In sum this benefit that is not a benefit for adjuncts is made to fit only Mister and Ms Tenure Track and represents yet another instance of where UUP’s interests really lie.

14. I have severe asthma. I have severe back and muscle problems. I am about to go into the hospital for surgery to replace my hip in mid-December. Good old SUNY is thus cutting me off of health care just as I am about to have surgery.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: I Lost The Textbook

So I got an email recently from one of my students informing me that he or she had lost his textbook for the class in the library if memory serves. Then I get a second email a while later asking me what he or she should do about the assignment that is due soon. Since this assignment requires students to read the textbook I told him or her to do something I would have thought would have been obvious: buy another copy of the text. Apparently, in a college that looks increasingly like high school these days the obvious is no longer the obvious. Welcome to the brave new world of Alice in Wonderland. What's a teacher to do?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swam: In the Kingdom of Oops...

So I have been teaching college courses at two colleges since late August. It is now October and assignments are coming due. So I recently had two of my students tell me that they just discovered that they had been reading the wrong introductory textbook. This despite the fact that my syllabus has the textbooks for the class and their ISBN's clearly listed. Ironically, I have each student in the class affirm on my online learning system that they read and understood the textbook. Apparently such affirmations are premature. Since this is an introductory class and introductory textbooks are pretty much the same, it is not as big of a deal as it could be. Nevertheless...

Monday, October 5, 2015

Life in the Pissant Swamp: The Business of American Colleges and Universities is Business

I knew this would happen. I am within two semesters of getting my health care after retirement from the state of New York thanks to over ten years of service as a part-time university teacher. It didn't look good for me in August. I was told I was being offered one class by my current academic employer SUNY Oneonta. As a result I picked up two classes three days before classes began at SUNY Cobleskill in the hope that perhaps I could get some classes there too and assure that I would be able to continue working through fall of 2016 and, as a result, get the health insurance this less than healthy asthmatic needs.

But then things changed as they sometimes do for part-times. I was offered a Communication class and a Sociology class at Oneonta for the spring term. Last week, however, things changed again as is often the case for us poor and poorly paid part times. I got the news that my services are no longer wanted in the Communication Department. I was told it was all about money and new provosts.

I don't know whether that claim is true or not. I have long got mixed messages from Communication. There are certainly a bevy of other possible reasons I got the boot. Did I get the boot because Communication has recently been split into Communication and Mass Communication and Mass Comm has got permission to hire two new full-time faculty members neither of them me? There are other possible or additional reasons I may have got the boot. Did I get it because I commute from Albany and Mass Comm wants someone who is local? Did I get it because Mass Comm thought I couldn't teach outside of prime time class hours because I commuted? Did I get the boot because I didn't attend Department meetings? Did I get it because I am nearing getting my excellent health care after retirement and SUNY doesn't want to give it to me given the costs? SUNY is, after all, run by bureaucrats who are always looking for ways to cut costs when it comes to faculty, not, however, when it comes to administrative bureaucrats. The numbers of administrators have increased dramatically over the last number of years. Many of these bureaucrats, of course, can't think outside of the little management boxes they have been socialised into while those who should know better and do have critical thinking skills go along because they want to show the business oriented bureaucrats who run universities that they mean business and can slash jobs with the best of them.

So to sum up, it looks at this moment that I will not be teaching next term and that I won't, as a result, be able to get the health care I have tried and worked so hard to get after I retire as a consequence. Welcome to a world in which higher education has become a business, behaves like a business, is dependent upon increasing numbers of students to keep the business going, engages in grade inflation on a vast scale because students pay increasingly more of the bills, and in which introductory classes have increasingly come to look more and more like high school classes with their emphasis on teaching for the test and not on critical thinking. Praise Mammon.