No Institution Left Unregulated: Obama’s War on Food Co-ops

I’ve never been part of a food co-op and that is probably because my politics are right of center. Somehow I have always thought of food co-ops as a product of the left. Perhaps I am wrong but that has been my impression.

But I also realized they were unique among Left-leaning endeavors. Unlike minimum wage law or soda size restrictions, food co-ops are a private creation in the marketplace that are not driven by coercion. They are sustained by the voluntary cooperation of their members.

So naturally the government has to kill them. As far as bureaucrats and politicians are concerned, they might as well be Uber.

Associated Press reports, “Will work for food? Co-op programs end amid labor-law fears.” Their story features the co-0p Honest Weight in Albany, NY.

Early co-ops foreshadowed the wider public’s interest in local, wholesome food and then benefited once the wave hit. Honest Weight began in a cramped side-street store and is now a bright, modern market that rings up about $25 million annually in sales. It is among more than 200 co-ops nationwide that have combined sales of over $1.8 billion, according to a trade group.

Honest Weight’s former board president mentioned the inefficiency of having roughly 1,200 working members cover shifts in explaining a board vote this fall to discontinue the program on the store’s floor. Board members rescinded that vote after being told they overstepped their authority. But the initial uproar led to a shake-up of the board that cost the president his position.

The larger issue weighing on the board at Honest Weight and other co-ops is the fear that labor officials could classify their working members as employees rather than volunteers, leaving them open to charges they are violating minimum-wage rules. A small number of co-ops nationwide have settled complaints over the decades instead of testing that interpretation, according to longtime observers.

At Honest Weight, Horwitz believes there’s no real evidence of a threat until labor officials go after co-ops. His belief is: Why change now?

But Honest Weight representatives who met with state labor officials this month said they were told that “the potential risks of being found out of legal compliance were high.”

“The time to make a change is now, before we have a complaint filed against us,” said board member Deborah Dennis. “And I don’t think our membership is there yet. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

It’s not clear how many food co-ops still maintain their programs, though the list gets shorter each year.

Don’t be fooled by the reference to “state officials.” They are getting their standard from the Feds. That’s why this is a nationwide problem.

And notice that this is a consequence of minimum wage law. By interfering in a voluntary institution, the government destroys it. Once the food co-ops turn into ordinary grocery stores, they will lose their appeal. Ordinary grocery stores will drive them out of business. I wouldn’t be surprise if that was the government’s goal.