The controversial dismissal of several Citizens Co-op employees last year led to an almost yearlong labor dispute, but a much-anticipated settlement is now on the horizon.
An agreement to rehire four of the five workers who were fired last year has been reached between the co-op’s new board of directors and the Gainesville Industrial Workers of the World — the union representing the employees — said Thomas Hawkins, board chairman.
The tentative agreement would rehire four of the five workers, pay them a collective $10,000 and recognize Gainesville Industrial Workers of the World as their union.
The National Labor Relations Board must approve the terms by March 16 or the labor complaint will appear in court.
Hawkins said he is confident the deadline will be met.
The agreement would end a dispute that began in March 2013 when seven co-op employees improperly used the store’s email database to send out a message about unionizing.
Five of the workers refused to cooperate with an internal investigation and were consequently fired. The dismissed workers then filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the co-op of firing them for wanting to unionize.
Hawkins said there was a drop-off in sales when the controversy happened. But new manager Kim Drummond is giving the store a fresh start.
Drummond said she has focused on reducing expenses — including changes to payroll, working with vendors for special pricing and increasing productivity — and keeping workers happy.
“There is less overlap in shifts. We all work very productively,” Drummond said, adding that she shortened store hours to reflect the times when most people shop.
The Co-op is averaging about $60,000 per month compared to $100,000 before the controversy.
“I feel really good about the settlement,” Drummond said. “I think that it’s a positive thing and will help us move forward.”
Alex Osherow, 20, is a vegan and appreciates the unique plant-based products the co-op offers.
“Unless I see a drop in quality or service, it really shouldn’t affect the consumer,” the UF advertising junior said regarding the dispute.
Because he hasn’t seen negative impacts on either, he’s remained a loyal customer.
“We’re focusing on providing local, great organic food to the Gainesville community,” Hawkins said. “That’s the next step — to refocus all of our efforts on that.”
The store, located at 435 S. Main St., is now open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 1/26/2015 under the headline “Citizens Co-op union rehires workers, controversy resolved"]
Carla Vianna is a 22-year-old Alligator staff writer and journalism senior. She's looking for a one-way ticket to New York City.