As negotiations between Citizens Co-op management and workers who want to unionize continue, a licensed mediator was called in Thursday afternoon to help both sides cooperate.
On the brick patio courtyard behind the grocery store, co-op board members as well as current and former employees sat in a ring around a long table.
Jeffrey Weisberg, a mediator with River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding in Gainesville, asked both parties what success would look like for them, and he asked them to identify the core issues at play in the situation.
Each of the fired employees present at the meeting emphasized that they want to see the co-op succeed.
Right now, management and workers just don’t see eye to eye on how to accomplish that.
Lisa McNett, the store general manager who made the recent decision to fire the five workers, was unclear about whether she would be willing to rehire them and acknowledge the union.
For now, she said she’s looking for an apology regarding unauthorized emails sent from the co-op account to its members.
She asked the group for “acknowledgment that perhaps it wasn’t the wisest decision,” and for clarification about some accusations made in the emails about bad business practices.
“I feel this week I’ve been under personal attack, and I don’t know how to move beyond that,” McNett said.
She said she was referring to a flier employees have been passing out that urges customers to confront McNett directly.
She also cited more than 150 online forms related to customer business accounts that she said got deleted through an employee email login.
“I don’t understand how any of that is in the best interest of the co-op they are supposedly trying to save,” she said.
She said the criticism seemed to come out of the blue.
Since she was hired as store manager in February, she would check in with employees and ask if everything was OK.
She always got positive feedback — until she was handed a demand letter from the unionized employees on March 11.
The same morning, the first unauthorized email was sent out.
Sylvia Arnold, a spokeswoman for the union who was recently fired, said “I think both sides have not been honest.”
Overall, workers and management agreed that they want to help the co-op grow in healthy ways, and they have that goal in common.
“I enjoyed the job, the place, many parts of the culture it cultivated,” Arnold said. “I don’t want it to end.”
An emergency meeting for co-op members has been set for Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, located at 433 S. Main St., according to the group’s Facebook page.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/28/2014 under the headline "Fired co-op workers, management try mediation meeting"]