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Trouble Brewing at the Coop

SHOPPING:

By Mark C. Frazier

The Harvard Cooperative Society has been through bad times in its 90 years, but the last two weeks were among the worst. Five separate problems bubbled up, and signs indicated more will follow.

The first problem appeared when a former director of the Harvard Coop. Donald Steele, filed a suit against the Society which alleges that last spring's election for the Board of Directors is invalid. He claimed that a shift in elections from October to May "effectively disenfranchises" freshman voters because the elected representatives do not take office until the following fall.

Steele said yesterday he had further evidence that the election was invalid, because the Coop "failed to process" student ballots from the Episcopal Theological Seminary and allegedly ignored required checks on the academic status of student voters. The Coop has so far parried Steele's lawsuit to a standstill, but declined comment on the latest charges.

The next controversy arose over 1971 changes in the Coop pension and life insurance programs. Under the changes, the ceiling for life insurance coverage shot up from $20,000 to $60,000 and beyond for a number of highly paid executives.

Simultaneously under the new plan employees with 20 years experience are forced to wait until the age of 65, rather than 45, to begin collecting full pension benefits.

At the moment the pension and life insurance story was breaking, officials of an international retail employees union announced they had received enough signatures to call for an employee vote on unionizing the Coop.

Coop lawyers last week requested and received postponement of hearings on the election until November 6 worrying union officials that the Coop may draw out the proceedings as long as possible in an attempt to let attrition play on union strength.

The union also announced, and the Coop general manager confirmed, an ongoing National Labor Relations Board probe into alleged Coop "harassment" of pro-union employees.

Last Wednesday, Steele levelled further charges against the Coop, claiming that the store's general manger abused a highly competent accounts payable manager, John Roberts. Steele said that Roberts was squeezed out of his position to make room for a less competent replacement after Davis initiated a study of the department, which criticized alleged mismanagement by Roberts.

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