An update on an ongoing strike at a nonprofit 'mobile foodshelf' in the Twin Cities.
As I previously blogged, canvassers who work for a local nonprofit 'mobile foodshelf' in Minneapolis affiliated with the IWW and went out on strike on March 1st.
Here is their 2-week update
MINNEAPOLIS, MN– The atmosphere at Sisters’ Camelot, a mobile food shelf and kitchen bus based in Seward, has grown increasingly tense as a labor dispute between the newly-formed canvassers’ union and the collective management enters its second week. Sisters’ Camelot is a non-profit organization that delivers thousands of pounds of organic produce to low-income neighborhoods every week. It is collectively run by a group of seven individuals, each of whom have paid positions managing specific aspects of the organization. Their wages and the money for programming comes from the canvass crew, who raise nearly all the funds that allows Sisters’ Camelot to operate. However, canvassers have long felt that their work is not respected by the collective.
“I have been told by several collective members that the fundraising canvassers do is not as important or as valuable to the organization as the food distribution.” said Bobby Becker, collective member and canvass director at Sisters’ Camelot.
Canvassers began organizing over three months ago and contacted the labor union Industrial Workers of the World in December, after three canvassers were demoted from managerial positions and replaced by two collective members with less experience. This was not a disciplinary action, but the enactment of a new policy that only collective members could hold such positions.
“It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” said Shuge Mississippi, canvasser. “We’ve had complaints against the collective for years, complaints they were unwilling to seriously address. We decided it was time to take action.”
On February 25 the canvassers went public as an IWW-affiliated union when they marched into a collective meeting and read a statement of intent. A negotiation meeting was planned for March 1, but on that day the collective refused to negotiate any demands and the union went on strike.
Communication continued between the union and the collective and another meeting was scheduled for March 4. The canvassers opened with a statement reiterating their desire to negotiate and promised to end the strike as soon as negotiations proceeded in good faith. The collective responded with two prepared statements: the first offered one canvasser a position on the collective, the second announced the firing of their co-worker Shuge Mississippi.
“[The collective members] recognize that negotiations cannot proceed in good faith until Shuge leaves…. We stand ready to return to negotiations in good faith whenever canvassers are ready to move forward.” read part of their statement. Canvasser Luke Welke expressed his “disgust that the collective could ask us to betray someone in our union who we work with every day and still believe that they are negotiating in good faith.”
The canvassers’ union would not proceed without their co-worker and walked out of the meeting. The situation is currently at a stalemate.
“I really hope this can be resolved soon.” said canvasser Maria Wesserle. “I love Sisters’ Camelot and want to get back to working for them. The collective needs to step back, realize their mistake, and rehire our fellow worker.”
The campaign at Sisters’ Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.
They have also released the following statement of support, which you can personally sign onto, by emailing the address listed at the end of the statement:
A STATEMENT OF SUPPORT FOR STRIKING CANVASS WORKERS
We the undersigned, members of the Twin Cities community, write to state our support for the striking canvass workers at Sisters’ Camelot; and in order to hold the organization’s decision-making collective accountable to the community, we urge them to do what is right and negotiate with the union. We recognize that the canvassers have Sisters’ Camelot’s best interest in mind and support their decision to unionize; workers everywhere have the right to organize their workplace. Doing so is not an attack on the collective, the organization or its mission. As a community, we are aware that the canvassers of Sisters’ Camelot must be recognized as an organized union. We feel this recognition is vital to progressive change for Sisters’ Camelot.
We support and encourage an open negotiation in good faith between the collective and the Canvassers Union. We insist that all personal matters be put aside; as a community of onlookers, we are aware of the personal issues involved and can see that is it having a negative impact on the organization’s mission. By refusing to negotiate with the canvass union and then firing a union worker, it has become clear that the collective management of Sisters’ Camelot are not allowing the organization to move forward. We recognize that canvassers are the medium which Sisters’ Camelot uses to communicate with the wider world and cannot see a future for Sisters’ Camelot without them.
We recognize that Sisters’ Camelot’s programming represents a spirit of unconditional compassion and acceptance to the community in which it serves; it represents community outreach and support; it represents forward-thinking activism that decreases waste and hunger. An organization like this is scarce, and we are aware it cannot be created or destroyed overnight. As a community, we stand behind the Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union and feel that the demands and actions of the canvassers are in the spirit of Sisters’ Camelot’s mission and values. We wish to stand together, and ask that Sisters’ Camelot continues living up to these values by negotiating, compromising, re-hiring and re-evaluating what a community truly means.
As a community, we urge the following action:
1) Re-hiring the fired union worker: these actions have no place in the resolution of a labor dispute.
2) Negotiate in good faith with the canvassers of Sisters’ Camelot: so that they can end the strike and continue supporting its mission of “feeding the hungry and inspiring the world.”
We sign this document, as a community, to re-iterate that we too stand by Sisters’ Camelot and its mission statement and hope to see it thrive for years to come.
To add your name to the list of supporters, email [email protected] with the name you would like to be listed as. Please include any title you’d like to see alongside your name; and if you’re not from the Twin Cities, please let us know where you’re from. Thank you!
For the latest updates on the strike, visit:
To donate to the strike fund, visit: