United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1189 filed a petition last week with the National Labor Relations Board for a union election for about 130 workers at  the Whole Food Co-op’s two Duluth stores. The secret ballot election could take place as early as the end of this month.

“All efforts to ask the Whole Foods board and man-agement to recognize the union, or at least stay neutral in the organizing was met with a ‘that’s against our belief sys-tem’ reply from them,” said UFCW organizer Abraham Wangnoo.

Worker/owners were stonewalled in bringing their concerns to the board and management at their August and September meetings and at the annual meeting Oct. 21. In early October the WFC Board promoted Hillside store manager Sarah Hannigan to be general manager. Calling her a “visionary leader” the board in a joint statement said she alone is responsible for personnel decisions, including the union organizing effort. “The board and management has been saying for decades to workers to just give them a chance,” said Wangnoo. “But workers are losing faith.” He said at least two loyal managers have recently been fired as Whole Foods continues to become more of a corporate store. They have joined the National Co+op Grocers Association, and had trainings from their consulting division, CDS, on how to handle personnel.

But a strong group of workers interested in organizing has received continuing support from co-workers as their concerns are not addressed by management or the board. Last fall the board finally agreed to hold listening sessions at their monthly meetings but it does not act on anything they hear unless it’s with a joint statement. “Workers have become even more frustrated with their jobs, with short staffing, poor training, and an inability to discuss their issues,” said Wangnoo. “We feel good about going to election with a majority of support of the workers.” Workers had asked UFCW for their help in pursuing collective bargaining last April. UFCW 1189 has organized two similar co-ops in the Twin Cities.

Duluth WFC workers have leafletted the stores and annual meeting to show their concern to management and the 10,000 member/owners. At the annual meeting in her first public duties as general manager, Hannigan asked WFC workers to stand and be recognized as the “real stars of your co-op” and said “our respect of our employees will continue under my care.” She said the co-op had experienced 16% growth in the previous year.

That 46th anniversary meeting ended in a shouting chaos among workers, members, and the board at the DECC as the board refused to give workers any additional time to air their concerns so that they could make door prize drawings, which took three times longer than the discussion. President Jean Sramek in opening remarks had stated, “Let’s have fun tonight.”

Workers and members who support the organizing have been wearing buttons that state they support the union and the Co-op. The WFC 2016 Annual Report showed 7.2% growth as they approached 10,000 member/owners with $17,915,236 in sales, and $14,695,521 in total assets.

WFC opened their brand new flagship Denfeld store March 16, 2016. It was built with union labor but the board would not sign a project labor agreement for the construction fearing it might lead to their workers wanting to unionize. It took only a month for board and management tactics for that to happen after the new store opened.

The WFC board is comprised of members who would undoubtedly consider themselves pillars of Duluth’s progressive community. They include President Jean Sramek, Treasurer Wayne Pulford, Secretary Mickey Pearson, Jamie Harvie, Brad Nelson, MaryAnn Bernard, and Carol Andrews. They can be contacted via email using their first initial and last name @whole-foods.coop. The board meets fourth Mondays at 5:30 p.m. Their phone number is 218-728-0884.

None of the board members were up for election last year. In 2017 Pulford, Harvie, and Bernard are up for election.