Update: The workers won shuttle pay! However …
Thanks to everyone who signed the petition and showed up at board meetings. What have we learned? That we owners have been absent for too long. Public pressure caused management to do a 180 on this issue.
However, this victory came with major strings attached: among other things, all three shuttle drivers are losing their jobs (management calls it “reassignment”). Get the full story here.
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We don’t have enough parking
Since 2014, River Valley Co-op has required that daytime employees who drive to work park at a distant off-site lot in Hatfield. Why? Because there’s not enough parking at the store for both shoppers and workers. But management won’t pay for the time spent traveling from the satellite lot to the store on the co-op’s shuttle van, even though common sense tells us that it’s not optional. Employees who drive to work have no reasonable public parking or transportation options — a fact that management refuses to acknowledge.
As a result, full-time hourly workers are losing almost two weeks of pay every year. That’s a big deal given that the $11.25 base starting wage at RVC qualifies workers for food stamps.
If you think our workers should be paid for all their time, please sign the petition.
No shuttle, no store
It’s clear that the shuttle is required for the ongoing survival of the store. There’s no other reasonable way for workers to get there. It’s no coincidence that well over 90 percent of people who shop at the co-op drive there.
- The offsite employee parking lot in Hatfield is 1.5 miles away, on a state highway with no sidewalks
- The nearest long-term public parking is in downtown Northampton (Walmart’s private lot is not an option)
- RVC’s main work shifts run from 5 a.m. until 11:30 p.m., but public transportation serves the store only between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., and only once an hour
- Further, that public transportation does not run at all on Sunday, nor on the four holidays the store stays open
Should workers be penalized for the store’s success?
If you’re an owner-member or a regular shopper, you know parking is at a premium. When it was decided to locate the store in an abandoned quarry, we could all see there was no room for expansion, and parking would inevitably become an issue.
Indeed, in 2014, management decided that staff could no longer park in the store lot. Yet the vast majority of RVC’s 150 employees use their car to get to and from work. So the store secured employee parking in Hatfield and runs a shuttle van to and from, twice an hour, between 6 a.m. and 11:30 p.m. Most daytime hourly workers have little choice but to ride the shuttle.
Rather than acknowledge the situation as a cost of doing business at this particular site, management terms the shuttle a “courtesy” to workers and calls the time “commuting.”
If you agree that shuttle time is a cost of doing business at our chosen location, please sign the petition.
The law looks pretty simple, doesn’t it?
We don’t need a law to tell us the right thing to do here, but there is a relevant regulation, Code of Massachusetts Regulations 454, 27.04, pertaining to work-related travel time:
(4) (c) If an employer requires an employee to report to a location other than the work site or to report to a specified location to take transportation, compensable work time begins at the reporting time and includes subsequent travel to and from the work site.
This would seem to apply to situations just like our co-op’s. Yet management steadfastly argues that shuttling is “commuting time” and further is not “required.” Now that you know the details, do you think that’s an honest portrayal of the situation?
It should be noted that, in response to an inquiry from the union, the state attorney general’s office declined to rule on the matter either way. This means it left open the option of filing a class action lawsuit (an action that the union’s lawyers have considered).
Will you support compensation for shuttle time?
To support fair compensation for the vast majority of RVC wage earners who have no real choice but to extend their workday by taking the shuttle, please sign the petition.
What owner-members are saying
From the comment box at the customer service desk
“I think it’s BS that workers aren’t compensated for their time on the shuttle.” — C.L.
“I support the staff’s efforts to be paid for their shuttle time. They should not be penalized because the co-op has outgrown its parking lot.” — S.G.
“If employees are required to park offsite, they should be compensated for their time.” — M.J.
“This does not seem ethical. Please pay our employees for this time.” — J.F.
What about the union contract?
It’s true that workers’ shuttle time is written into the union contract as unpaid. But as owners, we can tell management that we expect it to correct, not capitalize on, any unfair working conditions written into the contract. Keep in mind that the state regulation on travel time was not known to workers at the time the contract was negotiated or voted on, and that the contract can be opened at any time if both parties agree to do so.
Exactly how our management entered into an unfair contract with our workers is open to question. But here are some of the circumstances surrounding the 2015 contract:
- The only official notification of the vote on the contract was a nondescript notice posted on the employee break room bulletin board on the afternoon of Friday, November 28, the day after Thanksgiving — two-and-a-half days’ notice. As a result, only 30 percent of workers managed to cast their vote.
- When they arrived to vote on Monday, December 2, they found that there was no contract ready for them to read. Instead, the union offered a brief PowerPoint presentation. As part of the presentation, staff learned that the store was offering a financial inducement to ratify the absent contract — but only if it was ratified by the end of the week.
- Despite this rush to have the contract ratified, it was not finalized and signed by the union and management, or available for workers to read, until February 25th, 2016, almost three months after the vote.
- When questioned in that interim about the delay, the human resources manager explained to at least one worker that “some of the language” still had to be worked out.
Is there any precedent for paid shuttle time?
Yes. Management itself set the precedent with its response to a grievance filed in 2014 on the shuttle. It agreed to a $100 payment to each employee, an outcome that was accepted with the understanding that the issue would be top priority during the next contract negotiation. Keep in mind, that $100 in effect was to cover two years of shuttle time. If payment for that time were calculated based on our workers’ average hourly rate, it would amount to well over $1,000. The workers were willing to accept a fraction of this amount because they expected the issue to be negotiated in good faith.
However, the 2015 contract negotiations resulted in the store agreeing only to “free parking.” Of course, parking had always been free.
What about mediation?
If we agree that shuttle time is work time, there is nothing to mediate: work time must be compensated.
But even if mediation were appropriate, do our workers have any reason to trust that management would undertake it in good faith? Consider that workers have felt the need to file numerous grievances (in accordance with contracted processes) against management. Even worse, during one six-month period, the union filed four charges of unfair labor practice against management with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB); three NLRB investigations are still open. You may have read about this in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. One union representative has characterized this level of violations as “egregious.”
Photo: Thank you, Alden Jewell