Hot Air

Grocery Grumbling

Wood czarina Nancy R. Hiller gets itchy just thinking about the whole Bloomingfoods/union contretemps going on.

Natch, which of us aren’t torn in this little tug of war? The majority of the citizenry of the People’s Republic of Bloomington are union partisans — yet everybody who’s anybody is hot for Bloomingfoods, the five-store co-op’s founders, its management, and its boardfolk.

Bloomingfoods Union Rally

Rally For B’foods Union Last week

In any case, Hiller got her hands on a list of benefits B’foods offers its galley slaves. The bennies look good, I’ll have to say. Shoot, they even offer free professional counseling which employees are eligible for the minute they start working. Dang, mang, I’d have saved tens of thousands of dollars in shrink fees had I worked for B-foods in my late 20s through early 40s.

Anyway, as soon as I get some free time, I’m going to grill some insiders about their grievances. A very friendly inside source has provided me a list of names and phone numbers of people who just may offer some insight into why at least some B-foods workers are ready to man the barricades.

Until then, read about Bloomingfoods’ employee benefits here, courtesy of our town’s most adept juggler of hammer and saw, the fab Ms. Hiller.


The two most effective political messages in American history were Lyndon B. Johnson’s fabled mushroom cloud TV ad in 1964 and George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton spots.

Mushroom Cloud Ad

Don’t Get Burned By Goldwater

I was too young to remember the mushroom cloud commercial, being eight at the time, but I remember Willie Horton well — I was 32 in 1988. Willie Horton was almost perfect in its simplicity and impact. Lee Atwater and company concocted the archetypical bogeyman: a scary, grotesque, really dark-skinned black man, a rapist/murderer sprung from prison by a lily-livered, pointy-headed Democratic governor. And you wanted that milquetoast Dem to be your president?


The Face Of Fear

As Atwater, Bush’s storied political strategist, said early on, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’ running mate.”

His strategy was no less craven than that of adman Tony Schwartz, who created the mushroom cloud commercial (which, BTW, ran only once.) But craven in politics and other public pastimes works. Barry Goldwater was effectively painted forever as a nuke-slinging madman, Mike Dukakis a patsy for criminals, welfare queens, and — worst of all — black people.

The secret to success in public discourse is to scare the bejesus out of people.

Just as soon as GHWB trounced Dukakis in the ’88 beauty contest, it struck me that what separated the Democrats from the Republicans was the latters’ gleeful willingness to scare the populace and the formers’ hesitancy to do so (at least in the years post-1964.)

I immediately thought of the environment — you know, the air we breathe and the water we drink? All the environmental movement needed to do was start making the citizenry of this holy land wet its pants about pollution and, next thing you’d know, we’d start doing a thing or two about it. After all, the Reagan Administration had been as careful a steward of the environment as an eight-year-old husbanding his bag of Halloween candy.

Cut to almost two decades later: Al Gore et al came out with An Inconvenient Truth. Wouldn’t you know it, that Oscar®-winning doc got millions of us shuddering over the possibility that the likes of New York City and Miami Beach might soon be under water.


The Documentary Film Spawned A Book

We on the crunchy end of the political spectrum finally had our Willie Horton.

Don’t get me wrong, I dug An Inconv. Truth the most. Still, as I watched the picture, I had the feeling that certain suppositions in it were less than sure-fire bets. Nevertheless, the scare job was for a good cause, not for painting an entire race of American citizens as murderers and rapists.

Now comes a think piece by Charles C. Mann in September’s The Atlantic mag. He posits that the environmental gang is overreaching with its oft-times overblown rhetoric. Mann is a science writer who penned, among other works, the highly-lauded 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus.

Mann feels the scare tactics of environmentalists are working against their own aims. He cites for support, for instance, French philosopher Pascal Bruckner, who insists that many climate worriers are apocalyptic fanatics:

A best-selling, telegenic public intellectual (a species that hardly exists in this country), Bruckner is mainly going after what he calls “ecologism,” of which McKibbenites are exemplars. At base, he says, ecologism seeks not to save nature but to purify humankind through self-flaggelating asceticism.

To Bruckner, ecologism is both ethnocentric and counterproductive.

McKibbenites, of course, are fans of high-profile ecologist Bill McKibben.

Mann is right about some of the overblown rhetoric: One anti-Keystone Pipeline activist says if the thing is built “civilization would be at risk.” Mann’s conclusion is such operatic verbiage marginalizes environmentalists.

Mann is wrong, though, about the scare tactics. He may know a lot about science — and Bruckner may know a lot about philosophy — but neither knows the American people.


You had to know this would happen: many parents in Middlesex County, New Jersey, are far more teed off about the cancellation of the remainder of the Sayreville War Memorial High School football season than they are about the digital/anal raping/hazing ritual that caused the cancellation in the first place.

Just to keep you up to date, seven Sayreville HS football players have been arrested for their alleged near-daily hazing of team freshmen. Acc’d’g to the cops, the seven would trap freshmen in the locker room, turn out the lights, and proceed to digitally penetrate the poor kids’ anuses for fun and laughs.


Number One

The Foam Finger Takes On A Whole New Meaning

Anyway, some student victims told their parents about the ritual and the parents called the police. Seems open and shut, no?

No. Because of the scandal, the school’s principal cancelled the rest of its football season. And many parents are steamed about having to face life without high school football.

Anally raping an adolescent is one thing, I suppose, but canceling a football season? Now that’s an outrage.

Football. America’s game.


19 thoughts on “Hot Air

  1. David Paglis "Patience ... is avirtue which is very apt to be fatigued by exercise." says:

    Good one today matey. I’ll bet $10 to your favorite political campaign that the pro-union marchers want more money. Wikipedia has good info about the Willie Horton situation. I’m with the R’s on that one. The ads for Illinois Gov. are pretty good, especially the D’s. They are clever and cutting. Good job by the principal. The leaders of the team had a duty to stop the bullying.

  2. nrhiller says:

    Mike, I wish you would curb your tendency toward dramatic characterization. I am no czarina of anything; nor am I “our town’s most adept juggler of hammer and saw.” I think you are letting your pencil go to your head, a bit.

    The current situation concerning Bloomingfoods is far more complex and nuanced than the prevailing discourse, especially on Facebook, acknowledges. It is not the “contretemps” that has me deeply distressed, but the black-and-white, us-versus-them, if-you’re-not-with-us-you’re-against-us nature of the discourse surrounding and inflaming it.

    I did not post the link to the Glossary of Benefits as a claim that Bloomingfoods is a great place to work, and it is rather irresponsible of you to have attributed that motivation to me in your blurb publicizing this edition of The Electron Pencil. I have never been employed by Bloomingfoods, and I do not actually know whether it’s a great place to work—though I daresay I, at least, would find it a more desirable place to work, especially in a staff position, than certain branches of, say, Marsh, and I can also say that the list of benefits is vastly more generous than I have received in any job I’ve ever held. Rather, as I stated clearly, I posted the link as a rare bit of substance in a debate that has seen precious little substance. Are the benefits actually provided to employees as set forth in this glossary? I don’t know. I do know that some people have found this not to be the case. But the fact that the co-op publishes this information–I did not have to hunt for it; it was right there, freely available, on the website–suggests that management at least intends to take good care of its employees and is liable to be called on any failure to do so. That in itself is significant.

    Your representation of the situation as a “Bloomingfoods/union contretemps” is your characterization, not mine. I see this in richer terms: Bloomingfoods, like pretty much every business or institution that has ever existed, is being asked to review its own performance by people who have reason to believe that it has not been doing an adequate job of putting its stated values into practice. All organizations need periodic review, need to reinterpret their policies and goals in the light of changing circumstances. To draw a potentially useful parallel, this is why we have Biblical and Constitutional scholars. The move to unionize has brought increased attention to a situation that has been a long time in the making, and one that’s independent of the question whether or not to unionize. I, too, have inside information—from multiple sources–and I know of employees who are simultaneously unhappy with things and opposed to unionizing. The situation goes well beyond dualism.

    This is a potentially fruitful moment that can end well for everyone, but only if we bring our skills as researchers, charitable interpreters, and thinkers who are capable of nuance out of the classroom and into this high-stakes, real-life situation that affects hundreds of individuals’ livelihoods. The innuendo, suspicion, spread of misinformation, and vilifying of key individuals must stop.

    • glabwrites says:

      You offer an interesting take on my rather innocuous presentation of a document you publicized. You did us all quite a service by alerting us to its existence. Thanks. OTOH, if you wish me to curb my “dramatic characterization(s),” you may as well ask me stop stop writing the Pencil. Just between you and me: It ain’t gonna happen.

      • nrhiller says:

        “Dang mang,” as you would say; none of your appreciative readers, among whom I count myself, wants you to stop writing the Pencil. I’m not aware of the generally accepted guidelines for what you call the Hot Air genre, and I may well be out of line in considering it important to avoid playing fast and loose with others’ statements, posts, and identities. I write in friendship, not anger.

  3. Joy Shayne Laughter says:

    Bravo, Nancy Hiller.

  4. Maryll Jones says:

    These benefits are a joke. There are hardly any full time employees because they don’t want to pay out benefits. Also, things like the 401k. hahahhahahahhaaha. There is ZERO employer contribution. Zero. They deliberately keep people’s hours below 36 so they don’t have to consider them full time. The full time positions are highly coveted but are filled with long-timers for the most part.

  5. George Bull says:

    Mike: As has been pointed out, the benefits noted are almost exclusively for full time employees, but I would guess that something like 75% of all Bloomingfoods employees are part-time workers-(it would be good to know exact numbers)-who do not have any of these benefits-and even as the public face of the co-op- are being paid less than a living wage.

    Because Bloomingfoods has received grant subsidies from the city in the past, it would seem at first glance that the co-op would be obligated to pay-at minimum-Bloomingtons’ living wage of $12.06 to all workers, as outlined in the 2006 Living Wage Ordinance, but that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    (I wonder if an unintended consequence of the LWO has been to push employers receiving grants or other subsidies in the direction of part-time workers, to avoid paying the ordained wage. It would be interesting to look back at all recipients of city subsidies to see the percentages of their workers receiving Bloomington’s living wage, and the percentages that are working part-time for these employers.)

    Inevitably, labor discussions are about the sharing of power and wealth. While I am sure that Bloomingfood’s ‘Admin’ employers are generally content with their lot, the dissatisfaction in the general workforce has been brewing for a long time, and as it expands, it casts an unflattering light on the good works of the co-op. That much (or even some) of the general workforce feels a lack of respect from their employer is disheartening to it’s members.

    Perhaps there are unrealistic expectations about what our co-op really is–but as long as Bloomingfoods calls itself a co-op, the onus is on it to show respect to it’s workforce that the public sees every day, and to treat them fairly in all respects.

    I would very much like to see Bloomingfoods make their annual financial statement available online to all, as many co-ops around the country have done. It would be a good initial step in allaying any community questions of propriety. Further, a transparent discussion with the community and the press about average non-administrative employee wages and benefits would be helpful, and give the community some insight into the essence of this ongoing discussion.

    • nrhiller says:

      George, you make some excellent points. Exact, verifiable numbers of full- to part-time employees are on their way (I’m on that case), along with living wage and other information.

  6. nrhiller says:

    As of today, Bloomingfoods has 308 employees, 138 of whom—just over 45%–are full-time. The percentage of full- to part-time employees is usually around 50:50 and varies due to a number of factors, among them the desire of many–though certainly not all–employees to work part-time, and the need to be fiscally responsible. Much more information related to these percentages will be discussed at the Annual Meeting, but for now, please note that the percentage of employees classified as “full-time,” and therefore eligible for health insurance benefits, will increase dramatically in January as a result of ACA legislation.
    For those interested in comparisons, Bloomingfoods already does significantly better in terms of starting wages and percentage of full- versus part-time employees than, for example, Milwaukee’s Outpost Natural Foods Co-op (apparently considered one of the best places to work in Milwaukee, as of 2012), approximately 90% of whose employees are members of United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) Local 1473. According to a press release dated May 5, 2014, THEIR “goal [was] to bring full-time positions to a livable wage within two years and increase the number of full-time union employees from 38% to 50% over the next several years.”
    While many of us may quibble with how “livable wage” is defined, Bloomingfoods pays according to the same standard as that used by Outpost; it was worked out through collaboration by a number of co-ops and allows for geographical variations. See for more information. And please, if you are planning to attend the Annual Meeting, contact Emily Winters by email in advance to say so, since the venue, like all indoor venues, has limited capacity.

  7. Shayne Laughter says:

    What about City Council Chambers as a venue? 2 levels, lots of seats, good acoustics.

    • nrhiller says:

      Shayne, you should suggest this to someone at Bloomingfoods if you’d like. I suspect it’s already too late to change the venue of tomorrow’s meeting, since I expect Bloomingfoods rents the space from WonderLab well in advance and is committed by contract. I think the capacity is something like 75. If more people show up, not having notified Bloomingfoods in advance of their intention to be there, I trust we will come up with a way to convey the business meeting activity to those outside.

      • Maryll says:

        Sign on the east side store door said capacity of 300 and to RSVP.

      • nrhiller says:

        Thanks, Maryll. This is a big relief.

      • Maryll Jones says:

        I hope I didn’t read it wrong but the “300” number sat with me thinking that was good because they’ll need the space.

  8. Shayne Laughter says:

    BTW, great work, Nancy. Thank you.

    • Maryll says:

      The meeting location is already decided. I believe it’s wonderlab with a 300 person capacity. If I’m not mistaken, that’s bigger than the chambers.

  9. George Bull says:

    Nancy, thanks for interjecting some facts into the ongoing discussion. I was clearly wrong in my guess about the numbers of part-time help, and while it is still a majority at Bfoods, there is not the disparity that I suspected. I am curious-were these numbers easily or publicly accessible? Shared information is invariably enlightening.

    While we are comparing co-ops respective virtues, it is worthwhile looking at City Market/Onion River Co-op in Vermont. Their annual financial statement (available online) shows annual fiscal sales of $36 million last year, a 9% increase from the previous year-a successful and expanding enterprise. Listed in the employee benefits section of their website is the information that they pay 100% of health insurance premiums for full-time workers, and 75% of premiums for part-time workers, as well as providing 20 paid time off days for workers beginning employment. Yes, they have employee representation-by UE-United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers (go figure) who according to their website negotiated a 2.5% minimum wage for 2014 fiscal year, and a 3.2% increase for the following year. Interestingly, (at least to me) they found it necessary to agree on contractual language that promises that “management create a respectful, accountable, and responsive work environment.”

    It is worth noting that these employees are not “eligible for coverage” should they choose to pay premiums-their premiums are paid by the co-operative, in full for full-time workers.

    There is another issue raised by benefit discussions: should a profitable employer pay for healthcare benefits for it’s workforce, as City Market has chosen to do, or should they expect-as you referenced the ACA-for subsidies to be provided from a national plan to provide healthcare for all employees? I suspect that discussion could continue for a very long time-but that issue applies to all employers, not just Bfoods.

  10. nrhiller says:

    George, the figures are not readily accessible, primarily because the number of employees changes pretty constantly, in part due to changing market conditions and other circumstances within and without the business that affect finances. A few different people have told me that there are target percentages of full- and part-time employees, as there are in other grocery stores. The figures I obtained are current as of yesterday. As I understand, George will be paying significant attention to this subject at the Annual Meeting. I’m looking forward to learning more.

    I know nothing about subsidies provided through or as a result of the ACA. I know only of expenses! (Sorry. I speak as someone who is self-employed and whose husband, too, is self-employed.) For those employees who do have health insurance provided by Bloomingfoods, the coverage is 100%…though that percentage may change come January 1, due to the great increase in providing coverage for many more employees–those who work between 30 and 36 hours a week and are not currently eligible for this benefit.

    The information about the Onion River Co-op in Vermont is very interesting. Thanks for digging that up.

    On another subject, I would really love to meet you. We have friends in common, along with certain experiences. (Mike, forgive this bit of personal communication.)

  11. BFF says:

    I, for one, love the mythomane of this blogger. It’s the brand of the EP. Get over it or yourself.

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