Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Not So Curious Case of the Corporate Smoking Gun: Musings on the Honest Weight Board's Letter to the Department of Labour

I was in high school when the Watergate scandal hit. I remember hearing about it when it happened and thinking that there was something fishy going on there there and hoping that the scandal would have a negative effect on the Nixon re-election campaign and a positive one on the campaign of George McGovern for president. It didn't. There was no smoking gun to connect Nixon to the break-in or the coverup. Fast forward to a year or so later when the smoking gun appeared. It was John Dean and Alexander Butterfield in their testimony before the Senate Select Committee and the forced release of the tapes which Nixon had made of his conversations by Judge John Sirica, and particularly the tape with the missing eighteen and a half minutes, that provided the smoking gun. Nixon, it was clear from the tapes, knew of the Watergate coverup and the payment of hush money to many of those involved.

I couldn't help thinking about Nixon and Watergate and American history as I read the Letter from Honest Weight Food Corporation's lawyers (Joanmarie Dowling and John Vero for DOWLINGLAWpllc) to the acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Labour dated 24 October 2015, a letter the powers that be at the Corporation did not want "member owners" to see, a letter that according to one Board member was a draft that Deb Daniels inadvertently sent before bringing it back to the Board for further approval. There are those pesky little things called freedom of information laws, however. The letter makes it clear that Honest Weight, Inc. is, to quote the letter, "undergoing a transition in its management, staffing, and governance structure" and that the Corporations powers that be have decided to "transition", presumably without one of those pesky semi-democratic elections I might add, "certain aspects of its business, particularly how certain members contribute to Honest Weight's operations".

The reason the powers that be presumably did not want "shareholders" to see this document becomes quite clear after reading it carefully. It transforms--it is written in the language of a fait accompli--what was once a counterculture community even more fully than it already is (thank you management, thank your Board, thank you Lynn Leukakis) into a corporation with a Board of Directors, a CFO, and lawyers on retainer, who are immune from the annoyances of even faux democracy. It also clearly reveals the intentions of the current powers that be, the Corps "new leadership", to transition "certain members" out of governance and presumably place "certain" other "members", those ensconced in the palace no doubt, to positions of corporate governance and power. It reveals, in other words, that what I speculated was a coup in an earlier blog written about a month ago on this site is accurate. There really is a coup going on at Honest Weight, a sentiment, by the way, confirmed to me a week later by a member of the Board. It is a coup, of course, aided and abetted by the National Cooperative (sic) Grocers Association and CDS Consulting the noticeably missing links in this epistle. Welcome to the real world of contemporary "coops". One wonders, by the way, if the "new leadership" at the Corporation the Letter references is the NCGA and CDS since the LT has been around for some time.

As my Dad, who worked in low level management for a division of the Dutch conglomerate Philips told me long ago, such corporations tend to insulate their powers that be from their own "mistakes" and any responsibility for the mistakes that they make. When these management "savants" do leave for greener pastures to work their management "magic", not, on others, they are rewarded, as my Father told me, with financial perks thanks to a kind of Alice in Wonderland illogical logic, that dominates corporations and Wall Street, an illogical logic that enriches them even further despite or perhaps because of their blunders. So your future corporate upper level bureaucrats, don't worry if your actions lead to million dollar overruns, don't worry if your actions don't bring the sales you expect and promised the shareholders. Don't worry because you will always be able to blame others for your mistakes, whether competitors who too are suffering and laying off staff or those pesky inefficient workers. Just think positively and repeat to yourself, I am Teflon. I am Teflon.

Let me close this blog by noting that I am no longer a member of Honest Weight. I saw too much of the Watergate in the membership side of the operation while I was a member and just couldn't stomach what was going on. Let me note that I am a staff member and I really enjoy working at Honest Weight. It is one of the best and most enjoyable jobs I have ever had and thanks to it I have met some great people. So let me, as a ex-member and employee throw my two pence worth into the arena: In my opinion the members of Honest Weight need to make a choice once and for all. They need to choose, preferably in an open and semi-democratic way, whether they want to be a cooperative organisation or a corporate organisation. What is clear is that you can't have both, have your cake and eat it too. So please chose. I may even renew my membership and take part in the choosing fearing that corporatisation means likely losing the sense of community and the sense of comradeship that HWFC still has as well as losing the sense of joy that comes with working in such a community as opposed to a corporation (which I have also had the unfortunate experience of working within).

I want to end this biog by returning to Watergate once again and quoting "Deep Throat", the source that helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein uncover the truth about Watergate. I want to urge members of Honest Weight to take Deep Throat's advice and "follow the money". For those of you who need a more recent reference take Jerry Maquire's advice and ask the powers that be at Honest Weight to show you the money.

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