After an often bitter struggle to form a union at the Willy Street Co-op, employees at the member-owned grocery store's west-side location in Middleton have narrowly rejected union representation.
According to the National Labor Relations Board, which administered the Feb. 10 election, 89% of eligible workers participated. Fifty voted against joining the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 1473; 43 were in favor. One ballot was ruled invalid and eight, not included in the final tally, were challenged by the union but are not expected to change the results.
There was no voteat the flagship store on Williamson Street. UFCW Local 1473 did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But Willy Street West employee Andrew Sernatinger, who helped organize the union drive, told Labor Radio that employee turnover may have contributed to the election results, and the organizing team is still figuring out what to do next.
"Ultimately, we're really proud of the organizing that we did," said Sernatinger. "I think if we had an election in September, I'm confident we would have won. People were just tired and wanted this thing to be over."
In December, the UFCW abruptly canceled a union election that included employees from both Willy Street Co-op retail stores as well as the off-site kitchen. The UFCW accused the co-op's management team of violating federal labor laws and the neutrality agreement negotiated between management and the union. These complaints are still being investigated.
Following the canceled vote, the union successfully petitioned the NLRB to sanction another election on Feb. 10 just for workers at the co-op's west-side store. Support for unionization was widely believed to be stronger at Willy Street West, where the organizing drive originated.
Willy Street Co-op communications director Brendon Smith says the effort to unionize has caused co-op management to "look closely at everything."
"Our employees make the co-op work for owners," says Smith in a written response. "It's part of our culture to listen closely and care. There is, however, always room for improvement, and that is what we're taking out of this experience."