Co-op and CANDO spar over proposed benefits agreement
Supporters say that the new Seward Co-Op Friendship Store soon to open at 38th Street and 3rdAvenue South can help solve the “food desert” problem in the Central and Bryant neighborhoods. However, it appears a “rift” has developed between the store and the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO) over a proposed agreement.
CANDO officials had hoped for a community benefits agreement (CBA) with Seward Co-Op that, among other things, called for 70 percent of the store jobs go to Blacks and Latinos by December 31, 2016. The MSR received a copy of the draft proposal as well as a copy of a July 8 letter sent to the CANDO board that was signed by Seward Board President Leah Janus and Vice-President Joe Biemann.
“The CBA that CANDO drafted is unacceptable to the co-op,” the letter stated, adding that it was drafted without Seward’s leadership team. “We hope that you join the conversation to create a Mutual Benefit Agreement (MBA) that we intend to convene after the Friendship store opens.”
CANDO Executive Director Henry Jimenez and Board Secretary Tina Burnside recently sat down with the MSR to explain their position on the matter. “No, we did not include them in the drafting of the CBA,” admitted Burnside.
“The reason why we did not is because this was a community process…and what the community would like to see in a CBA,” Burnside said. Several Seward Co-Op owners, Central and Bryant residents, and CANDO members met and worked on the draft proposal, she added.
“We have been pretty open about this process. We have been having community meetings about having a CBA. We are door knocking. We are engaging with the community — we are communicating with folk,” stated Jimenez.
“I was more taken aback by [their] insistence [that they] are not going to negotiate any type of agreement until after the store opens,” continued Burnside. “It’s way too late after the store opens because all of the decisions have been made [and] all of the jobs have been filled. There’s nothing to be decided and no chance for the community to have input or any negotiations with them.”
After Jimenez became CANDO executive director in January, “One of the first things I did was connect with [Seward] General Manager Sean Doyle and began this dialogue. I felt the closer we got…the further away he would express interest in coming together.”
He said CANDO and Seward have been talking back and forth for almost two years. “I feel we have been strung along by the board.”
When asked if they believe an elitist attitude exists among Seward officials, Burnside said, “I would not say elitist, but if it was really being a partner, they would sit down with CANDO…and tell us exactly what they will do and won’t do, and where there can be some give and take.”
She added that she didn’t like how Seward officials conducted community meetings. “At those meetings, Seward would tell the community what they plan to do and then they would ask if there were any questions,” Burnside said.
The CBA draft “was a year-long process. It was not something that we came up with overnight,” said Burnside. “I don’t find any of the terms in the CBA to be unreasonable. We would like to know what exactly is unacceptable. Is it the entire CBA document in general? Specific terms?”
The MSR contacted both Janus and Biemann for comment but our messages were not returned. However, Seward Engagement and Diversity Manager LaDonna Redmond said in anMSR phone interview that she disagrees with the CANDO officials’ claims. “The idea that the co-op has not listened to the community or has not been available to the community is inaccurate,” she said.
According to Redmond, her organization’s door-knocking campaign this summer has been very beneficial. “We have not found one resident that has said they don’t want the store there or did not understand what was going on,” she continued. “Many of them haven’t even heard of a conflict [with] CANDO. We are not finding the folk that CANDO says they represent.
“I don’t know what the rift is” between Seward and CANDO,” stated Redmond, who joined the co-op in August, 2013. “We have been very transparent about the need to include the racial makeup of the staff. When I first started, I was [among] two or three African Americans. The co-op took on the criticism of that and have moved from 14 percent to 22 percent” people of color.
She said Seward’s goal is to have 40 percent people of color in its hiring pool, and they hope an August 15 career fair at Sabathani Center can provide “a fair opportunity for a job” to community folk.
Jimenez believes the new Seward store “could be a model [for how] others could work together — businesses working with the community. We are not asking them to become bankrupt.”
“We want to sit down at the table and negotiate and talk about these terms in the CBA. Everything is open to negotiation. But we can’t get them to the table to discuss them,” added Burnside.
Redmond insists Seward Co-Op “has been transparent and straightforward” since they proposed to build a store on 38th Street several years ago. “We’ve been very serious.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.