Sisters’ Camelot FAQ
The Sisters’ Camelot collective would like to offer some answers to some common questions in regards to the current impasse with canvassers who have gone on strike.
1.Q: Is Sisters’ Camelot anti-union?
A: No, we are not anti-union. In this situation we prefer to find a solution that does not compromise the values of collective organizing, but we recognize the right of the canvassers to organize themselves as workers.
2.Q: What does Sisters’ Camelot do?
A: We operate a mobile organic food share, where every week we pick up thousands of pounds of overstock organic produce in our bus and share it in low income neighborhoods around the Twin Cities. We also have a community kitchen bus which serves free hot meals three times a week around the Twin Cities, and we have a community garden where we provide educational opportunities and fresh herbs and produce for community meals. Our values include a commitment to community autonomy, equality, economic and social justice, and sustainability.
3.Q: What is a collective?
A: A collective, or worker cooperative, is a kind of structure that individuals use to organize themselves that is non-hierarchical and often uses consensus-based decision-making. In the context of Sisters’ Camelot, it is how we organize ourselves as workers (both paid and unpaid) to ensure that all members can have the opportunity to be involved in the decision-making process. Like Sisters’ Camelot, most collectives have some sort of process for membership because it is important to establish the accountability and commitment of people who have decision-making power. For more info on collectives or worker cooperatives, please see http://www.go.coop/kinds-co-ops/worker.
4.Q: I heard Sisters’ Camelot is a “closed collective.” Is this true?
A: No. The collective is open. Any person can go through the process to become a collective member. The process is as follows:
1. Collective members must complete at least eight volunteer hours OR canvass 12 paid canvass shifts per calendar month. [The 12 shifts option was added in response to the concerns of the canvassers.]
2. Collective members must participate at least once each year (beginning on the date of collective membership) in each current program area.
3. Collective members must attend and participate in all Sisters’ Camelot weekly meetings.
4. Collective members holding contracts must record all hours worked or volunteered and submit a weekly time card.
Applicants must fulfill these requirements for three months before their membership can be consensed upon by fellow workers in the collective.
5.Q: What kind of people make up the collective?
A: All workers in the collective volunteer their time to participate in the collective process and “managing” of the organization. Most of the collective members also hold other positions in the organization for which they do receive small stipends. Over the years, there has been a wide range of volunteers, canvassers, community members, and independently contracted workers taking part in the collective.
6.Q: Do collective members get paid to be a part of the collective?
7.Q: Is it true that the collective has no experience with canvassing for Sisters’ Camelot?
A: No. The current collective has over 10 years cumulative canvassing experience for Sisters’ Camelot.
8.Q: Is the collective accessible to canvassers?
A: Yes, the collective is open to canvassers and, in fact, four of the six current collective members came to Sisters’ Camelot through the canvass. However, having heard that some current canvassers felt the collective wasn’t accessible enough, we have made a significant change to the collective membership requirements to address this. (See question 4 above.)
9.Q: What is the difference between a traditional boss/employee relationship and that of the collective/contract worker relationship in this situation?
A: The IWW defines a manager as one who has the ability to hire or fire another individual. Managers, by this definition, are excluded from being members of the IWW.
Canvassers at Sisters’ Camelot are currently independent contractors that are not hired or fired by an individual, but by a group of people who engage in a form of workplace democracy called ‘consensus based decision-making,’ which some say is more egalitarian than majority voting and and which is certainly more egalitarian than a command structure of bosses. This arrangement allows the organization as a whole to function in alignment with principles of workplace democracy shared by many IWW members. No one at Sisters’ Camelot was or is under the thumb of a fat-cat executive. People generally work here because they feel it is important to uphold the mission of the organization. If someone makes major mistakes that put the organization and/or its mission at risk, the collective has the right, via consensus, to let them go.
Sisters’ Camelot is an organization run by a collective body. The collective is comprised of workers who decided to take on the additional responsibility of collective decision-making. The collective members, through a consensus-based process, retain the ability to decide who will be allowed to join the collective body based on a list of criteria that, in the case of Sisters’ Camelot, is open and transparent to workers and public alike.
Once a worker meets the criteria, they have the ability to petition the collective to be considered to become a member. The collective members then have the ability to come to a consensus on whether or not the worker meets the criteria necessary to accept the responsibility of membership. They can be accepted if they have the collective’s best interest at heart, and also be denied if they are seen to be counter-productive to the organization. (See question 10 below.) In a boss-employee relationship, even when workers have won some protections through their union or through independent worker struggle, these criteria and these decisions are made on a boss’ whim with little to no democratic process. Also, a major difference is that any worker has a right to attend any collective meeting and have direct input into the organization and any decision which affects their work, whether they choose to join the collective or not.
It is essential to any worker collective or co-op to vet its members in order to harbor members that work in the organization’s best interest, and to protect the organization from potentially harmful persons and/or actions. This process has roots back to the earlier radical union days of vetting new union members to make sure they were not inviting in thieves, infiltrators or thugs.
10.Q: Doesn’t the collective just refuse membership to anyone they don’t like?
A: No. We believe in the right of free association, and so we do reserve the ability to refuse membership if circumstances mean we can’t work in a healthy manner with someone. We take this refusal very seriously, and see it as a measure to be used sparingly. Over the course of Camelot’s existence, we have asked only a handful of individuals to leave, and haven’t actually refused collective membership to anyone who had met all the requirements–ever.
11.Q: What is consensus?
A: Consensus decision-making is based on cooperative intent, with a commitment from everyone in the group to reaching the best possible resolution for everyone involved. Unlike a majority vote, consensus does not seek to cast aside one viewpoint for another, but rather to develop suitable options while taking all voices into account and addressing all concerns before a decision is reached. Many different models of consensus process exist, and few groups use exactly the same process as any other, but all have the consent of all those who choose to participate as their goal.
12.Q: Do collective members rely upon Sisters’ Camelot for their livelihood as much as canvassers?
A:Yes, like canvassers, collective members who hold independently contracted positions do rely on the income from that position. Most of the positions come with a range of time commitments. Sisters’ Camelot has no salaried or hourly staff.
13.Q: How does the collective address grievances?
A: Anyone can bring a problem to the weekly collective meeting and put something on the agenda to be discussed; likewise, they can raise a grievance to a collective member to take to the meeting for them. This process is not flawless. Sometimes it’s hard to attend a meeting at 10 am if someone has another job or commitment at that time. Sometimes if an issue is sensitive enough, someone might not feel comfortable bringing it up at a meeting that anyone could attend. And sometimes, because we are all human and criticism can be hard to hear, the reception may not be as open and supportive as we’d wish. We are glad that the canvassers have highlighted that our collective process for addressing grievances is lacking, and we want to develop a process with them that is acceptable for all workers and is in line with our collective values.
14.Q: Is the collective refusing to negotiate?
A: No. We have already offered a good faith measure by significantly expanding the ways someone can become a collective member and put out an open ended offer to begin negotiations. (For more info, please see our statement from March 6th.)
15.Q: Has Sisters’ Camelot stopped or reduced programming during the strike?
A: Aside from suspending canvass operations, not yet. We are working hard to prevent it, but we are regretfully preparing to scale back programs if necessary.
16.Q: Does Sisters’ Camelot currently have any additional manner of fundraising?
A: We receive donations thru the mail or online from individuals and groups.
17.Q: Is Sisters’ Camelot planning an alternate canvass to replace the striking workers?
A: The collective has made no move towards establishing an alternative canvass.
18.Q: Has a collective member been left out of the consensus process?
A: One collective member told the collective on Friday, March 1st, that he was going on strike with the canvassers. In doing so, he removed himself from the consensus decision-making process concerning the union and the collective. Consensus process is dependent upon all parties choosing to participate in it in good faith. None of us gets to hold up the process of consensus by refusing to engage in it; if we did, tools meant to foster mutual respectful consideration and compromise would become tools of coercion.
19.Q. Why did you fire a canvasser after the strike had begun? If there was cause to terminate him, why hadn’t you done it before?
A: The first time a contract was ended with Shuge Outerspace Mississippi, it was both because he had stolen pay from fellow Camelot workers at least twice, and because canvassers took it upon themselves to have a meeting to discuss problems with canvass morale and function. They came to full consensus that there had been a huge breach of trust and that his lack of responsibility led them to have no confidence in his ability as a canvass director. In July 2011 he signed a contract to canvass with Sisters’ Camelot through a canvass director (who was not a collective member) without the knowledge of the collective. When this was brought to our attention, we wanted to take immediate action but our consensus process broke down; one person blocked the termination of that contract and consensus could not be reached. Our own internal shortcomings in practicing consensus and mutual care created a situation where we have been non-consensually subjected to Shuge’s presence ever since his return. He made no attempt to account for his past actions, and his return against the consent of many Camelot workers has created an unhealthy work environment for many. We should have dealt with this issue sooner, and deeply regret that we didn’t.
When the canvassers articulated such strong desires for more control over their work environment, which would ultimately affect every worker at Sisters’ Camelot, the current collective went through days of deep discussion about what we could do to address their demands. Through this process of internal discussion, our understanding of the atmosphere of division Shuge has brought to our workplace crystallized. It became clear to us that his involvement in the organization needed to come to an end in order for us to be able to move forward, both internally and in dialogue with the canvassers. In response, we have recognized our past errors. We are strengthening our consensus process, and furthering our accountability to one another and the organization.
20.Q: Would the financial demands of the canvassers “sink” Sisters’ Camelot?
A: Based on the budget from 2012, a base pay raise of 5% would have pushed the organization into a deficit of -$8,784.67. A double bonus at four shifts worked within a week would have had the potential to bring that deficit to -$21,028.57. Of course, many other factors are in play, but this gives you a sense of the small margin at which we operate.