Monday, May 5, 2008

Union view on Voting Proceedure by Sam Weinstein

Letter from:
Sam Weinstein, Assistant to the National President, Utility Workers Union of America

I was quite surprised when I heard about the voting rules for boycotts at Rainbow. The requirement that you have to get a two thirds majority, not among those voting, but among those eligible to vote, seems to me incredibly restrictive, making it virtually impossible to ever achieve a high enough vote to create or join a boycott. I suspect it would have been difficult to achieve even in the case of South Africa under the apartheid regime. I have been a trade union official for the Utility Workers Union for more than 25 years and have never seen such voting restrictions in the context of trade unions.

When you analyze these voting requirements, you can see how they function to actually subvert democracy and the will of the majority, rather than protecting minorities on critical issues. In most elections in my experience it is unusual to have more than 70% of the eligible voters voting. That is because there are always some who don’t care or can’t make up their mind, or others who are unavailable, either because they are sick or on vacation or some similar reason. If even we were to raise that percentage to three quarters (75%), we find that at least 89% of those voting must vote in favor of the boycott for the resolution to pass. Thus barely 10% of the eligible voters, actually voting against the resolution, can frustrate the will of an overwhelming majority. Rainbow’s voting rule counting non-voters as no votes has little to do with ensuring that a decisive majority is in favor before a boycott is attempted.

National Labor Relations Board votes determining whether a union will win bargaining rights for 100% of the employees at a particular company only require a vote of 50% plus one of those voting, not of those eligible. If this bare majority wins, in most cases all employees will be required to pay union dues and can no longer cut personal deals. Like the Rainbow vote, this vote is usually conducted on site at the workplace.

When voting for a strike where 100% solidarity is a necessity in order to win the strike, the bylaws of many local unions do not even require a two thirds majority of those voting to call for the strike. I have never seen a strike vote that counted those who did not vote even though everybody understands that if the vote passes, you will be out on strike without a paycheck whether or not you bothered to vote and whether or not you voted for it.

I have only seen such voting requirements on rare occasions in the context of stock votes in corporations where I have had the pleasure of frustrating the will of management with a relatively tiny minority by adding the share votes of those I was campaigning with to the share votes of those who did not bother to return their proxies.

Response to Rainbow Board May 2007

Open letter to Rainbow Grocery Workers May 2007

The Board of Rainbow Grocery Cooperative in San Francisco recently posted a letter on its website in response to an open letter to Rainbow which was signed by more than 50 Rainbow shoppers and circulated by R.BIG (RainbowBig We appreciate Rainbow’s response to the request in our letter that Rainbow Grocery reconsider a boycott of Israeli goods. We look forward to further discussion on this very important topic and begin here with our reaction to some of Rainbow’s statements in the letter. Concerning a boycott of Israeli goods, the Rainbow Board contends there is a ”policy” in place by which boycotts can be adopted by the store. Rainbow describes this policy as one where worker-owners would have the opportunity to engage in dialogue and that any decisions on a boycott are made in a democratic fashion.

We of RBIG find this mention of a democratic process interesting in light of what we have heard about Rainbow’s boycott implementation policy. We would like to know if the information we have about the current policy is correct. As we understand it, prior to the first attempt in 2003 by workers to start a boycott of Israeli goods, a simple majority poll of Rainbow workers was all that was required to start a boycott. We understand that was the procedure in place for all previous Rainbow boycotts (i.e., General Electric boycott, the farm workers’ grape boycott and the boycott of South African goods).

However, when talk of a boycott of Israeli goods began at Rainbow in 2003, a new procedure was put in place requiring a two-thirds majority to pass. Also, under this procedure, a non-vote’ is to be counted as a NO vote if workers do not show up to vote. The rather astonishing part about both these aspects of the procedure is that very rarely in the workplace world is a 67% majority required to pass on any action and the votes of non-attendees assumed to be negative. We enclose a letter from a trade unionist who commented on this procedure: "I have been a trade union official for the Utility Workers Union for more than 25 years and have never seen such voting restrictions in the context of trade unions”.

Rainbow Board’s letter also states, “When Rainbow discussed a boycott of Israeli products in 2003, it received a significant amount of attention from all sides of the issue -- most of it negative”. What does this mean? Does it mean that most of the attention was against the boycott, or does it mean that any attention to the issue of a boycott was negative or that any controversy on the issue of a boycott was negative?

As we perceived it, the reaction in the community in 2003 to the possibility of a Rainbow boycott was of an enormous outpouring of pro-boycott sentiment. And now, as there is renewed talk of a boycott of Israeli goods at Rainbow, we are hearing from a very large number of people who are pro-boycott. Their sentiments echo the growing movement of many organizations and individuals worldwide calling for sanctions of Israel; boycott of Israeli goods, Israeli sports, Israeli professors, etc.; and divestment from corporations that significantly support Israel. These organizations include the US Green Party, the National Lawyers Guild, Harvest Food Coop, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the National Union of Journalists in Britain, the US Presbyterian Church, the World Council of Churches, Stanford students, European Jews for a Just Peace and many more.

The apartheid nature of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people is being increasingly exposed and challenged by this movement which includes many Jewish people from all over the world. Rainbow has always been a community conscious organization and one that we assume would be willing to consider its customers’ input when the idea of a boycott is brought up. As loyal and long-time customers of Rainbow, we are hoping our initiative concerning boycotting Israeli goods will be the beginning of such input and debate between Rainbow shoppers and workers. That would truly represent a democratic process for everyone involved.

Signed by: RBIG