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Flex Your Owner Muscle: Join a Committee!

Have you ever wondered how things are accomplished at the Co-op or how certain decisions are made? Have you contemplated running for the Board but want to learn more about what you would be getting into before committing? If so, I recommend you consider joining a committee. Committees are a great way to get involved with the Co-op, learn more about how it functions, and exercise your Owner rights and responsibilities.

Committees 101
A committee is a small group of people assembled by the Board of Directors or the General Manager (GM) in order to assist the Board or the GM in accomplishing their work. The full Board of Directors retains legal and moral authority, so committees cannot make major decisions on their own. The smaller size and less formal nature of committees make them an excellent tool for accomplishing certain tasks such as detail-oriented planning and research, writing and editing, event planning, and drafting a proposal for the whole Board or GM to review.

The types of issues and tasks a co-op’s committees take on evolve over time in response to new opportunities and challenges. For example, start-up co-ops typically have committees dedicated to marketing, owner recruitment, capitalization, and policy development, whereas large established co-ops are more likely to have committees dedicated to expansion, new opportunities, or reviewing existing systems or policies.

Committees at Willy Street Co-op
At Willy Street Co-op, we use two main types of committees: standing and ad hoc. Standing committees are intended to exist in perpetuity whereas ad hoc committees are created to address a specific task or event and are dissolved once that task has been completed. Willy Street Co-op committees are further defined as either Board committees (initiated by the Board) or GM committees (initiated by the GM).

Our standing Board committees include Finance, Policy, Audit, GM Evaluation and Contract, and Board Development. The Finance Committee assists the Board in providing oversight to the financial operations of the Co-op. The Policy Committee is dedicated to reviewing the Co-op’s current policies and, at the Board’s request, drafting language for new policies. The Audit Committee is formed annually to work with the Co-op’s Director of Finance on the financial audit, follow up on recommendations for changes, and ensure that the full results are presented to the Finance Committee and Board of Directors. The GM Evaluation and Contract Committee reviews and carries out the GM evaluation and contract negotiation process. The Board Development Committee exists to assist the Board in board member recruitment, new member orientation, community outreach, and Board education.

The Board currently has one ad hoc committee: the Intersectionality Committee. This committee was recently established to assist the Board in examining current policies using lenses of diversity, inclusion, equity, and accessibility. The Committee will be responsible for educating Board membersabout these subjects, and proposing new intersectionality-based analyses and policies to address more inclusive, just, and equitable goals. Check out the November 2014 Reader for more information on the Intersectionality Committee.

Standing GM committees include the Local Vendor Loan Fund Committee and the Community Reinvestment Fund Committee. The Vendor Loan Fund Committee reviews, considers and approves/rejects loan requests and monitors the performance and quality of the loan portfolio. The Community Reinvestment Fund is one of the main vehicles the Co-op uses to give back to the community. When Owners abandon their equity, it goes into the fund and is given back to the community through small grants to projects in the areas of food, nutrition, cooperative education, and social change. This committee is responsible for the application review process and ultimately decides who receives funding each year.

How to get involved
Committees vary, but most Board and GM committees include Owners at large. Committee members typically hold one or two year terms and receive a 15 percent discount for the duration of their service on the committee. If you are interested in learning more about how to apply to join a committee, please contact Dan Marten (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 608-251-0884 ext. 738) and he will direct you to the appropriate committee chair.

Unionization efforts at Willy Street Co-op
At the October 2014 Board meeting, the Board was asked to respond to a request from union organizers at Willy Street Co-op to approve a card check agreement. In response to this request, the Board organized an education session on November 11th to help us better understand our role in the unionization process and the pros and cons of the different mechanisms staff can use to make a decision regarding unionization. After the education session, the Board met in executive session to discuss how to move forward. We decided that it was not in our purview to make a decision regarding the card check agreement as the Board’s job is generally confined to establishing topmost policies, leaving implementation and subsidiary policy development to the General Manager. While we chose to entrust this decision to our General Manager, we mandated that the process through which staff are enabled to make a decision regarding unionization is executed in a timely manner; allows for respectful, fair, and dignified conditions; and aligns with the Board’s commitment to neutrality on the issue of unionization. We also emphasized the importance of continuing the collaborative working relationship that has been forged between the Board, union representatives, and management. Above all, the Board respects the right of staff to unionize, and the decision whether or not to do so ultimately lies in their hands.

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