Co-Op Programs End Amid Labor-Law Fears

Food cooperative programs that allow members to scoop rice, sort organic vegetables and ring up sales in return for grocery discounts are fading fast amid a changing marketplace and fears of violating labor laws.

The member labor or volunteer programs are intertwined with the do-it-yourself idealism that launched a wave of co-ops in the '70s. But they have become rare. At Albany's Honest Weight Food Co-Op, an effort to drop its volunteer program has riled members, illustrating its cherished place in co-op culture.

Supporters say the involvement of member-owners differentiates co-ops in an age where even strip-mall supermarkets sell locally grown arugula.

"It changes people's relationship with the store," said Nate Horwitz, a 28-year member who became board president last month. "Where people work together, you have a very different feeling in the store. You have a very different loyalty to the store."

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