The final two weeks of the Lincoln Electric members’ uprising. On one hand, the conflict was all but finished when 35 petitions with 608 signatures had been turned over on November 7. On the other hand, with the call for a special meeting, and the meeting scheduled for December 10, the conflict had a measurable timeline, and one group was going to win.
My own private calculations were that if the special meeting had only 300 members attending – still a large turnout – management would win. 400 members turning out would be close, but the win would go to CREAM. From our perspective, everything came down to turnout . . . an early December storm could keep turnout down, and attending a meeting takes more effort than signing a petition. Nobody knew what was going to happen – and it was a big issue in the Tobacco Valley, but less so among the Flathead County LEC members.
On November 28, a CREAM ad read:
“Did you know that
Lincoln Electric has over 2100 members – yet at the last annual meeting, March 12, 1988, these were the election winners totals:
James Hutchens – 73 votes
Billie Gossett – 78 votes
Dave Curtiss – 76 votes
Dale Hudson – 76 votes
Duke Baney – 77 votes
Less than 4% of the co-op’s membership is represented! Wonder why we’ve called for a special members meeting?
Concerned REA Members”
Saturday, December 10, was set for the special meeting – starting at 1:00 pm. In the Mountain Ear, I described an anonymous phone call – the article isn’t important, but the incident showed that emotions were running strong. Remember, while all this was going on, I was in a metal frame to deal with the broken back.
Eureka’s Town cop – Jerry Schmuck – greeted me in town: “What are you doing in town unarmed?” I assured him that I could put a 1911 on my belt, and went on my way.
The Miller Memorandum
The subject of Monk Miller’s retirement/consultant deal has been represented as the answer to an orderly transition of power, or a sweetheart contract and ‘golden parachute.’
CREAM would like to clear up the air on this by printing Lincoln Electric’s unreleased August 17, 1988 MEMORANDUM IN REGARD TO THE STATUS OF MELVIN MILLER
After June 11, 1989 when Mr. Miller plans to retire as Manager but remain for two years there after as a consultant.
IT IS UNDERSTOOD AND AGREED:
- That Mr. Miller will remain in the Eureka area for a period of two years from and after July 11, 1989.
- During that period of two years, Mr. Miller will be available for consultation, information and advise in regard to the cooperative at all reasonable times, but will have no managerial responsibilities or duties to the cooperative.
- Mr. Miller’s appointments for consultation and advise will be arranged by the manager either for the managers own benefit or for the information of the Board; provided that, in the event the consultation is in regard to job performance and services of the manager such consultation may be set up by the president of the board.
- During the two year period, Mr. Miller will receive his regular salary as fixed on June 11, 1989 with Lincoln Electric Cooperative, Inc. and InterBel Telephone Cooperative, Inc. each being responsible for one year’s salary.
- That it is specifically understood and agreed that Mr. Miller will not in any way assume or be responsible for any managerial responsibilities or duties and will not in any way, except for advise, interfere with the management of the cooperative.
As you know, the Manager’s wages are $50,000 plus benefits. The Concerned REA Members feel that, with this copy of the memorandum to go by, you can decide for yourself whether this agreement was in the best interests of the cooperative or in the best interests of Mr. Miller.
The December 12 issue of the Mountain Ear summed up the December 10 Special meeting:
Electric Trustees Ousted
The Lincoln Electric special members meeting is now history. With about 550 members voting, the old board of trustees was voted out by a landslide 2:1 margin.
Let that say it all. The time for rhetoric is gone, and now comes the time of reality – when the new board of trustees must tackle the problem of restoring the cooperative to what the members want.
On the first ballot CREAM endorsed candidates Bill Donsbach Jr., Billie Gossett, Phyllis Hansberry, Jan Comstock, and Duke Baney easily won the ‘long’ positions (expiring in March of 1990). On the second ballot, Bill Raver, Hazel Stoken, John Hossack and Joe Jankovsky were swept into the ‘short’ positions. In a final runoff, Gib Burke was returned to his ‘short’ position.
In an organizational meeting after the election, Duke Baney was elected president of the board, with John Hossack serving as vice-president and Bill Raver being selected to serve as the board’s secretary. The new board chose to call their first meeting Tuesday, December 13, at the REA building.
Craig Eaton, chairman of the Concerned REA members acknowledged that his organization’s success was tempered with the unpleasantness of watching his father lose in his bid for re-election. After the election, he commented, “Now we’re all on the same side again.” Two days earlier, the co-op manager Melvin Miller had said about the same thing, “When this is over, we’ll all be members of the co-op.”
The Lincoln Electric members’ revolt was over.
The members’ revolt was a divisive time. The Monday after the special meeting, I had 31 people ask “When are we going after the telephone co-op?” It wasn’t time to continue the strife, it was time to get folks back onto the same side.
The same thing that made the cooperatives easy for management to run made the members’ revolt possible – that first generation of REA members worked to get electricity. After 40 years, it was hard to get member involvement – and the trustees trusted management. The problem with the cooperative, the problem with our schools, is that, so long as things are done kind of right, the constituents don’t get angry and throw the boards out. On the other hand, when too many things go too far wrong, the voters can, and will show up. With 550 voting, the results were never in question.
Management had divided the LEC employees – the linemen had unionized because of mistreatment. The December 26 Mountain Ear headlined “Board Hears of Unequal Treatment.” It was about an attempt to get equal treatment for other retired and retiring employees.
Could it happen again? Hegel said that history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, the second time as farce (I know, Karl Marx said it too, but Karl said it second). Times have changed – the cooperative management and trustees no longer view themselves as powerful enough to eliminate Kootenai Falls. The folks there accept that smaller role. The cooperative has grown into a mature bureaucracy – run primarily for the benefit of its employees, and the secondary purpose is providing electricity to the members.
Jerry Pournelle wrote: “Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy states that in any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people”:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.”