Wedge Co-op workers vote to unionize

The organic produce slingers want a greater say in how the south Minneapolis is run.

The organic produce slingers want a greater say in how the south Minneapolis is run.

If Woody Guthrie is playing on repeat at the Wedge Community Co-op today there’s a good reason. On Monday workers at the south Minneapolis grocery store voted to unionize.

At least three times over the last seven years co-op employees discussed forming a union, says Abraham Wangnoo, organizing director the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1189. But Monday’s 76-31 vote ended the current campaign, which began last December.

“The employees that came in to watch the count were all very excited,” Wangnoo says. “It was a very one-sided victory.”

The latest push was triggered by the successful union bid of workers at the Wedge’s Co-op Partners Warehouse in 2012 and the increasingly “corporate culture” in contemporary co-ops, he says. Workers felt they had less sway in decision making and the day-to-day operations of the bustling Lyndale Avenue grocer.

“Traditionally workers in co-ops are very involved and as their voice was no longer present on boards and they didn’t have the ability to be on boards, they wanted the ability to speak up,” Wangnoo says.

As the warehouse workers went through the bargaining process, the Wedge hired what union organizers branded a “union-busting” law firm. However, the board later canned the firm and called the hiring a mistake. Though Wangnoo was not involved with the warehouse workers’ negotiations, he says management has mostly been fair this time around, noting that they allowed the UFCW Local 1189 onsite to meet with employees early in the process.

Marjorie Hegstrom, president of the Wedge’s board of directors, says the board was officially neutral on employees unionizing. Throughout the process, which proved smoother and less divisive than the last time around, Hegstrom says she never got the sense that employees were disgruntled or wanted to shove fists full of kale down management’s throat. Rather, they wanted a more structured way to be involved.

“It isn’t that there are people who hate the Wedge and are here trying to fight against somebody else inside the Wedge,” Hegstrom says. “It’s all people who care greatly about the business.”

As a union drive at the Wedge Table — the co-op’s Eat Street café and market — continues Wangnoo hopes management handles the efforts there similarly.

While the results of Monday’s vote are being certified, the union plans to float a survey among the 130-plus co-op workers to gauge their priorities for upcoming bargaining talks, including potential wage increases.

“That’s obviously going to be a priority for some people,” Wangnoo says. “Hopefully we can have some pretty good survey results to determine what the issues are and what is most important to a majority of people there.”