On Tuesday, Aug. 29, the Seward Co-op Board of Directors voted unanimously to remove Workday Minnesota editor and now former Seward board director Filiberto Nolasco Gomez from the board.
Nolasco Gomez’s removal came after Seward Co-op’s lengthy union negotiations and just days before the union ratification vote. Board President Mary Alice Smalls gave a statement on behalf of the board in front of the co-op owners and employees who were in attendance. In contrast with previous meetings, it was moved to the Sabathani Community Center due to the heightened interest and anticipated overflow crowd.
The primary grievance that Smalls reiterated in the statement was Nolasco Gomez’s apparent conflict of interest as editor of Workday Minnesota. Over the past few months, Nolasco Gomez has produced and overseen pieces relating to Seward Co-op, its board and the union negotiations. Smalls stated that the board had tried on numerous occasions to mend the relationship with Nolasco Gomez, but that he has been unwilling to engage in the board’s mediation attempts.
“The board certainly acknowledges and supports the rights of Seward staff to organize, and for journalists and other members of the community to discuss, debate, and express opinions about the unionizing effort and the co-op. The fiduciary duty of a board director, however, dictates that you wear one hat or the other — but not both simultaneously, except when explicitly authorized by a board decision,” Smalls said.
Although at the meeting, in response to an audience member inquiry, Smalls said her statement would not be made public, it has since been published on the Seward website. The full statement can be found here, along with the Seward Co-op Board of Directors FAQ for the month of August.
After Smalls’ statement, Nolasco Gomez was given the opportunity to respond to the accusations. Nolasco Gomez took to task what he perceives as the board’s inattention to the struggles of workers and the allocation of time and resources that was instead used to accuse and incriminate him.
“I have a constitutional right as a journalist to produce content based on what we are as a publication with certain ideas around how to avoid conflict of interest that this board doesn’t get to define. What’s really alarming to me is the silencing of perspective and silencing of dissent, and that’s really common with this board,” Nolasco Gomez continued.
Not everyone agreed with the board’s decision to remove Nolasco Gomez. One audience member commented that, “This action is going to brand the board as anti-union and anti-worker, and the members of this co-op, I believe, are overwhelmingly in support of unions and workers being treated fairly.” The board responded that they are neutral in regards to the unionizing efforts.
Another co-op owner commented that if board members are elected by member owners, member owners should therefore have a say in their removal from the board.
Responding to the co-op owners’ concerns, Seward Board Treasurer Joe Reiman claimed that the board has, “been held completely hostage” by Nolasco Gomez, and that, “we need to find a way to come together in a more productive way than false accusations [and] aggressive illegitimate attacks.”
Nolasco Gomez has felt that the board’s behavior and use of language in their handling of the situation that lead to his removal to be contentious and manipulative. In an email Nolasco Gomez sent the board in late June he asserted that he did not “lose sight of the fact that your actions as a board criminalize me because I am a defiant man of color.” He went on to write, “The way I have been criminalized through discursive exaggerations lead me to conclude that the underlying agenda at hand is to remove me as a board member.”
As the conversation about Nolasco Gomez’s removal came to an end, Seward Board Vice President Migdalia Loyola suggested a motion that would prevent directors who have been removed from the board from running in subsequent elections.