Restoring democracy at the People’s Food Co-op

By Take Back The Co-op – PFC

We think it’s time for the members who own the People’s Food Co-op (PFC) to reassert democratic control over the institution to ensure it stays true to its mission.

That’s why we’ve formed Take Back The Co-op – PFC, joining similar movements across the country. We are attempting to organize members around three simple demands. Those demands are:

1. Monthly membership meetings.

2. Monthly reports from the board and management on the state of the co-op.

3. Allow all members to run for board positions, including employees.

Why do we believe this is necessary?

Despite claiming “Democratic Member Control” as the second in their list of eight principles, the highest voter turnout for co-op board elections over the past five years has been just 10.6%.

PFC bylaws call for only one annual meeting of the members for discussion and input by the community. Outside of this opportunity, member-owners only recourse to exercise their democratic control is to approach the board, which meets monthly but is only required to meet quarterly.

Member democratic participation in the past few years has amounted to a yearly vote on board members, and the occasional vote on bylaw changes on that same ballot. The board is set up to be the representative body to exercise member control. In a co-op of over 10,000 members, some form of representative deliberation naturally must be used.

PFC’s board has adopted a set of governance principles that puts a brick wall up between the board and the store operations. Policy Governance, also known as the Carver Model, is the system that the co-op board has largely modeled their policies after. 

Policy Governance directs the board to set only proscriptive (or prohibitive) policies limiting the practices of management, leaving the board out of any policy writing that directly sets rules or direct action that the store should take. This model cuts the board off from all operations decisions, and sets the board up to play the role of boss to the store General Manager (GM). The board is in charge of the annual review of GM performance and determining GM compensation.

The lack of member participation, and a governance model that keeps the board at arm’s length from the day-to-day operations of the co-op combine to create a democratic deficit for member-owners. We hope to correct that deficit through our three simple and pragmatic demands that we hope can put members back in the driving seat.

Once members begin meeting and engaging with their co-op, other possible changes, including a review of the co-op’s relationship with consulting firms, can be openly explored and discussed in order for the co-op as a whole to make informed decisions.
If you want to get involved, check out our facebook page here, or email us at takebackthepfc@gmail.com.

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