In the midst of an attempt to unionize, five employees of Gainesville grocery store Citizens Co-op were laid off Monday.
Now, the co-op’s board of directors is considering shutting down shop in light of the disagreements between workers and management.
“Events of recent weeks have brought us to the point where the Board of Directors had considered ending the operations of Citizens Co-op,” the board wrote in an email to the store’s members.
Emails dismissing the employees were sent at about 7:45 a.m., citing a breach of employment policies as the reason for their firing. The five fired were part of seven employees seeking to establish a union to protect their job security.
They used the store’s membership list to email materials about the drive to unionize on March 11, an act that was considered “theft and misuse of company email database system,” according to the letters of dismissal. Also cited was the refusal of the fired employees to cooperate with an internal investigation of the policy breach.
The fired employees, along with about 25 Gainesville residents, protested outside the co-op Monday afternoon with signs that read phrases like: “Co-operation not corporation” and, “Save the Co-op.”
One was Kelsey Naylor, who worked at the co-op for about eight months and was fired Monday.
She said the board informed the employees they could be fired at any time for any reason during a member meeting in February.
Naylor said employees began to feel their jobs were at risk when two long-term workers were laid off for various reasons after the meeting, and the rest were told that the co-op was not a democracy by board of directors chair Lucian Kragiel.
“We were terrified,” Naylor said. “We didn’t want to say anything.”
Adding to the employees’ worries about the store’s management was the lack of worker representation on the board.
A representative usually sits on the board, but the past two months have seen two of those representatives dismissed with no word of a replacement.
However, the board’s email said the two laid-off employees were offered other opportunities after their original positions were cut due to restructuring.
“Although it has been stated repeatedly that the board has fired workers, we have not done that, nor do we wish to be in that role,” the email read.
Sylvia Arnold, another of the fired employees, said the protests will continue until they get their jobs back.
“Hey, we have a lot of free time on our hands now,” she said.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/25/2014 under the headline "Co-op fires employees trying to unionize"]
Ex-employees and Gainesville residents protested outside Citizens Co-op, seen here in a file photo, Monday afternoon. The store is located at 435 S. Main St.