What It Takes to Get Kicked Out of the Park Slope Coop

Is it really that easy to get booted from the Park Slope Food Coop?

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Adrian Grenier, let's call him the anti-Gosling, has drawn our attention to the dealings of the always intriguing Park Slope Food Coop yet again. You see, he's been kicked out, or so it's been reported, for failing to work his required shifts. (Members must generally work shifts of 2 hours and 45 minutes every 4 weeks). But is it that easy to get kicked out of the Food Coop—or was there something more going on here? We asked for clarification from the Coop itself, but were declined comment, with Coop General Coordinator Ann Herpel saying, "Our internal disciplinary process is just that -- internal. We don't understand how this is newsworthy or of interest to non-Coop members."

One PSFC member, Allison Pennell, revealed to The Atlantic Wire, "You don't get kicked out for missing shifts, you get suspended. Some people are in the hole for 25 shifts and either quit for a year to get amnesty [something you can do once in a Coop lifetime] or work their way out of the hole by doing makeups." Makeups can be obtained by doing such things as attending General Meetings, like the well-attended-and-publicized recent one to discuss whether or not to vote to boycott products from Israel. (The vote was a no.) The problem is, when one shift is missed, two makeups are required to make it up, a rule instituted back in the '70s because no one was showing up for shifts and the Coop had to shut down briefly.

In January Pennell wrote a piece for Park Slope Food Coop's newsletter the Linewaiters Gazette on the subject of keeping up with Coop shifts, explaining, "In fact, at any given time, a quarter of all Coop members owe make-ups and after the holidays, there are 4,416 slackers among us who owe between one and four shifts, myself included." Pennell continued, "the most shifts owed medal of distinction is held by a couple who owed in the high twenties but were too busy to be interviewed at the time of publication and wondered if they could do it next time." To such members in default, Pennell offered solutions like the following: Have a baby (you get a year off from shift duty); take a leave of absence; call and tell your squad leader, who may cut you a break; and of course, "death and maiming also qualify for work exemption."

However, most people are not so in the hole that they can't simply make up the shifts. "Out of 16,000 plus members," wrote Pennell, "Only nine currently owe more than 10 make-ups and less than 300 owe between five and nine make-ups, according to Membership Coordinator Ellen Weinstat, the Coop’s longtime tracker of make-up artists."

As for the Grenier situation, Pennell emailed The Atlantic Wire:  "A member actually told me back in January that she'd just seen [Grenier] up in the office trying to reason with the staff and not getting very far, apparently. He claimed he had put in for a leave of absence to do filming in CA and they said he never did and was therefore on the hook for a gazillion makeups. She didn't hang around to find out how it was resolved."

One thing is clear: Getting kicked out is harder than it looks. It's not about missing just a shift, or even many (nor about having a nanny cover your shift). We were told, "You get kicked out only if you've been brought before a disciplinary tribunal (if you can believe it). I had to cover one last year where a woman had been such a monumental pain in the ass that the staffers en masse finally got her kicked out for a year.... According to the 'trial' testimony, she used to return stuff all the time, stuff like cooked chickens that she said were too tough. And she used to curse people out a lot, too, apparently. Only extreme cases like that lead to disciplinary action." Pennell wrote of that situation in 2010 in the Gazette, explaining, "While most incidents require no more than than a few hours to resolve, the Disciplinary Committee had clocked 60-plus hours on this investigation alone."

How exactly does a disciplinary tribunal work? Per Pennell, in that particular case:
A jury of nine randomly selected members chosen by lot from a 15-person group weighed the evidence presented for 15 minutes before returning a verdict. Their conclusion: The member had indeed broken Coop rules against extremely uncooperative behavior. The three-person Hearing Officer Committee then convened in private to decide on an appropriate punishment. While the Disciplinary Committee was asking for permanent expulsion, the Hearing Officer Committee opted instead for a one-year suspension. The member's return is predicated on issuing a letter of apology to PSFC coordinators.

Another of those extreme cases that necessitates disciplinary action and likely expulsion is theft. Some $250,000 in theft yearly has been cited at recent meetings, and there are arrests when people are caught. That's a shame greater than that of being suspended for not keeping up with shifts, but there's still deep shame of being booted, which Alana Joblin Ain wrote about in The New York Times in 2009:

“You’re suspended,” the entrance worker at the Park Slope Food Coop announced as I swiped my membership card. Some entrance workers speak softly, but not this one. Worse, there were a dozen other shoppers within earshot.

Flushed, defeated and taken aback — I knew I owed the co-op some work, but I didn’t know I had been blacklisted — I slunk around the corner for a takeout burrito. But no amount of mushrooms and spinach could diminish my shame and guilt.

Joblin Ain's piece, while hilarious, also proves two things: 1) We are all oddly fascinated by the Park Slope Food Coop and all of its intricacies and rules and regulations, despite what its management would like us to believe; 2) Adrian Grenier is probably hiding in a takeout burrito place somewhere right now, weeping into his not-even-organic rice and bean combo, penning his heartful apology note to PSFC coordinators. Or maybe, he just moved on to another Coop. (Welcome to the news cycle, Greene Hill Food Coop!)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.