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Co-op bylaw amendment stirs debate

A proposed amendment to the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op bylaws is being seen by some as a necessary procedure to ensure equality, while others see it as an attempt to take the members’ voice away on certain issues.

All 12,000 co-op members will have the chance to vote on the amendment, which must pass with at least a two-thirds majority in the next election cycle, scheduled for late summer or fall, said Board Member and Policy Committee chairwoman Michelle Reynolds.

According to Reynolds, the amendment proposed at the June 7 board meeting is a procedural process designed to ensure that the co-op has written anti-discrimination policies in its bylaws after a restructuring of its policies for more efficiency started last May.

“We had to tweak our existing policies,” Reynolds said Thursday. “As a result, a lot of our nondiscrimination language went away. We wanted to create a place for it in the bylaws.”

She said such policies in bylaws are common in nonprofit organizations and co-ops across the country.

Those opposed to the change, which include a group that is currently seeking to ban Israeli products from being carried at the co-op, say the amendment will prevent boycotts of products based on national origin and political issues, as detailed in this article.

“It seems designed to try to create another obstacle to any kind of purchasing decisions based on any criteria as to policy and country of origin, which at worst would override anything like what the people were trying to do who were opposed to Israeli products,” said David Mandel, a co-op member since the mid-1980s.

Mandel is both Jewish and an Israeli citizen. He came to Sacramento a couple of months after immigrating to the United States in 1985. He is also a member of the Sacramento chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace and said he doesn’t necessarily support a blanket boycott of Israeli products, but supports boycotts of companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine.

Reynolds said it is possible that the amendment could block boycotts of products based on national origin, but that is not its intention. She said the amendment would have been introduced with or without the objections to Israeli products.

Last May, the board chose to adopt the Policy Governance system as its framework to increase efficiency in a move many similar organizations have taken, Reynolds said.

That framework left no place for the manner in which the nondiscrimination policies were previously written, prompting the current proposed amendment, she added.

Mandel said he thinks the amendment is unnecessary, since the organization’s existing bylaws as well as state and federal laws prohibit discrimination against membership or employment.

“It’s not necessary to any legitimate purpose,” he said. “I think the co-op board should have the ability to make purchasing decisions based on fair trade, environmental (issues) and politics. It should conceivably be able to decide against a certain country engaging in human rights violations.”

He added that, though he was not one of the initiators of the drive to ban Israeli products, he thinks it is a legitimate issue to consider, and he doesn’t want to see the co-op “tie its own hands” by preventing the discussion on an official level.

Reynolds said she feels the group trying to boycott Israeli products is “cherry-picking” the bylaws without looking at the whole set, comparing it to someone choosing only certain parts of the Bible or any other religious canon to follow.

To see a list of the co-op’s bylaws and policies, click here.

All board meetings – held at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every month – are open to the public. They are held at 1914 Alhambra Blvd., in the co-op’s Community Learning Center. The next one is scheduled for July 5.

The co-op is located at 1900 Alhambra Blvd.

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Darnell.

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