Sac Co-Op Members Sue to Get Vote On Human Rights Initiative

Two Co-op Members have taken legal action to get the Board of Directors of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op to put two member initiatives on the upcoming Co-op ballot. Attorneys from the National Lawyers Guild helped the Initiative sponsors file the action.

Download the petition. (large file)

"The National Lawyers Guild believes people should have the right to speak about all issues. We brought this action to educate the Co-op Membership about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and question why the Board won't allow the Co-op Membership to decide this issue for itself," said Petitioners' attorney, Sharon Adams.

The initiatives were submitted to the Co-op Board earlier this year with more than the required number of signatures to put them on the ballot. The Board has thus far refused to put them on the ballots, which are scheduled to be mailed August 20.

"We have followed the Co-op Bylaws to the letter but the Board is refusing to follow them," said Maggie Coulter, who sponsored the Human Rights Initiative, filed in January. "This action is not against the Co-op, it is directed at the Board. We are hoping that the Board will respond by doing what they Bylaws tell it to do: put these initiatives on the ballot and let the Co-op members vote on them."

The Human Rights initiative would allow Co-op members to vote on whether they want to support Palestinian human rights by having the Co-op stop carrying Israeli products until Israel stops violating those rights. Many members have strong views on this issue, acknowledges Coulter, but it is not for the Board to decide, it is up to Members.

The Co-op Bylaws state that a proposed action must be placed before a vote of the members if 100 members sign petitions requesting it, explained Coulter. Over 250 co-op members signed petitions to put the Human Rights Initiative on the ballot. In April, the Board refused to put it on the ballot and then dismissed a grievance filed by proponents. Over 170 signed the Restore Co-op Democracy initiative; on June 7, the Board refused to put that initiative on the ballot as well. A grievance has been filed but the Board has not acknowledged or responded to it.

"The Board has been sending out emails and even mailed a letter to members with Co-op funds attacking the initiatives and their proponents," explained Coulter who has been a member of the Co-op since the mid 1990s. "This is part of their ongoing campaign against these legitimate measures. The Bylaws forbid them from using Co-op money to campaign. We urge Co-op members and people in the community to get the facts about these initiatives and the Board's actions by going to our website, www.coopdemocracy.org."

"There is a growing movement in the United States to support Palestinian human rights as Israel continues expanding West Bank settlements and imprisoning the people of Gaza," said Carlos Villarreal, Executive Director of the National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter. "In this context, it is shameful that the Board of Directors of the Co-op would seek to thwart one aspect of that movement by refusing to allow a Human Rights Initiative proposed by Co-op members on the ballot for a vote by the Co-op Membership."