Penn State Alum Leads Workers in Bringing “Cooperative” Back to Food Front Co-op

Penn State Alum Leads Workers in Bringing “Cooperative” Back to Food Front Co-op

Food Front Cooperative Grocery workers with Penn State alum Joyce Sinakhone (right).

LER alum Joyce Sinakhone is helping Food Front Co-op, a neighborhood grocery store in Portland, Ore., connect the community with producers of regionally grown fresh food. With more than 10,000 member-owners, democratic governance is a stated foundational value of the co-op. But during a critical time in the store’s infancy, it was a value workers felt they lacked.

Sharp criticism about an autocratic management began leading to what Sinakhone called “widespread fear that speaking out leads only to reprisal or dismissal.” With a Masters in HRER from Penn State, and as a United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) organizer and Organizing Institute (OI) alum, Sinakhone took up the challenge to help the co-op workers win a voice in the workplace. She related that she had previously been fired herself for trying to organize teachers at a language school where she taught in Japan. (A union there helped her win back her job).

Sinakhone was once an activist with Student Works at Penn State (SWAPS). She describes the training as a crash course in organizing, with intense role-playing exercises designed to illicit a spectrum of emotions, from getting a door slammed in your face to having the union-yes breakthrough with a worker.

After an overwhelming favorable vote, close to 100 Food Front Co-op workers are now new members of UFCW Local 555.  They now enjoy a democratic voice at the workplace through their union. Sinakhone has also found a home at UFCW and is exhilarated by her first win as a new organizer.