HANOVER — The Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society Board has extended its July 23 meeting an hour to accommodate public comment on co-op employment practices, following the firing of two longtime employees and speculation they were trying to form a union.
The meeting is planned to start at 4:30 p.m., an hour earlier than usual, said board president Margaret Drye on Friday. The meeting has also been moved from co-op offices to the Richard W. Black Community Center in Hanover to accommodate the expected crowd.
The meeting was extended after members of the Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society met Thursday at the Black community center to discuss their concerns about the firing of the two workers. The members are circulating a petition that asks the board to reinstate the employees and review the co-op’s employment policy.
John Boutin and Dan King had both worked for the co-op for more than 10 years before they were fired recently.
The former employees have said they were not given a reason for being fired. Co-op members have speculated the men were fired for attempting to organize a union.
“We did not terminate them due to any alleged activity around unions,” Terry Appleby, general manager of the Co-op, said Friday. “We don’t know anyone that is organizing a union, and we support the right of our workers to organize if they choose to do that. We haven’t stood in their way and we will not stand in their way.”
Under state law the co-op does not have to give a reason for termination.
“They were fired under the co-op’s ability to terminate at will so it was accurate that they were not given at that time reasons for their terminations,” Appleby said.
Drye said the board stands by the co-op’s management decision to fire the employees.
“In response to allegations that this was motivated by an anti-union sentiment, those allegations are completely untrue,” Drye said. “The manager made a reasonable interpretation of the policy, and that’s what we ask him to do. There are a number of options. He made a reasonable interpretation.”
However, because of the outcry from some members the board plans to reexamine co-op policy to ensure it reflects the spirit of the co-op, she said.
The co-op has about 30,000 members — 20,000 of which are residents of the Upper Valley region — and food stores in Hanover, Lebanon, and White River Junction, Vt. The co-op is the largest locally owned grocery retailer in the Twin States.