Canvass Union Exposes Illegal Activity at Sisters’ Camelot

The labor dispute at Sisters’ Camelot took a new turn this week, as serious negligence and illegal activity by the Sisters’ Camelot managing collective was uncovered by the IWW Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union. On April 10 two canvass union members conducted a routine search on the Minnesota Secretary of State and Attorney General’s websites to access publicly available legal documents. To their surprise, Sisters’ Camelot was not listed on either website, and they placed a call to both departments inquiring why. What they discovered was shocking: Sisters’ Camelot is not listed on these websites because it is not considered a legitimate organization by the state of Minnesota.

Due to the collective’s failure to submit annual filings, the MN Secretary of State dissolved Sisters’ Camelot’s existence as a nonprofit corporation in 2005, and the MN Attorney General’s office revoked Sisters’ Camelot’s ability to legally solicit funds in December 2011. The canvass workers realized the sensitive nature of this information and sought legal advice from a nonprofit attorney on April 12. They were informed that every solicitation of funds made by Sisters’ Camelot since December 2011 was illegal and could carry a fine of up to $25,000 per violation. In that time period, tens of thousands of illegal solicitations were made by unknowing canvassers.

The Attorney General intervened in Sisters’ Camelot twice before: in 2002, the organization was audited and placed on probation for one year; in 2010, it was suspended from soliciting funds for negligence in their annual filing. This latest conflict with the Attorney General is not only the third strike, but is significantly more serious because it has been unaddressed for over a year and carries the possibility of exorbitant fines. Canvassers fear that this will lead to the shutting down of Sisters’ Camelot.

“It has become abundantly clear that the collective has mismanaged Sisters’ Camelot to the point of endangering the organization’s very existence, putting the vital food distribution service at risk,” said Alex Forsey, striking IWW canvasser.

But this is only the beginning of the collective’s mismanagement of the organization. Since October 2012 the collective has withheld rightfully owed pay from the canvassers by concealing donations made online. This violates contractual obligations, which state that canvassers earn a percentage of funds raised from all donors they solicited, regardless of how those donors choose to give. The managing collective has also thus far failed to issue W-9 tax forms to canvassers, making it nearly impossible for them to file their 2012 taxes. Law requires W-9 tax forms to be issued by January 31.

“I am outraged by the shocking negligence and wage theft perpetrated by the collective,” said Tiffany Wicklund, IWW canvasser. “I work very hard at Sisters’ Camelot and deserve all of my income. Further, the services provided by Sisters’ Camelot help keep me and my family food secure, and the collective is endangering that service.”

Finally, the current board of directors did not constitute itself legally. The board of directors is required by law to meet annually to elect a new board (or re-elect itself) and grant power to the executive director, or in this case the collective. The last legally legitimate board of directors went years without this required meeting. In response, this managing collective spontaneously elected some of its own members as the new board of directors; but they failed to notify the previous board, as legally required. Therefore, the power exercised by the current board and managing collective may be found by the Attorney General to be illegitimate.

In light of all this, the IWW Sisters’ Camelot Canvass Union is calling for the immediate resignation of the collective in order to save the organization and its mission. “We feel it is time the managing collective is finally held accountable for what we have discovered to be years of negligence, mismanagement, and lawbreaking. Their actions have put an incredible organization at risk,” said former collective member and current IWW canvasser Bobby Becker.

The canvassers feel an ideal outcome would be for the Attorney General to grant power to the last legal board, who can elect a new board to rectify the current legal impasse and ensure the continuance of Sisters’ Camelot’s mission to “feed the hungry and inspire the world.”

“We are exposing this information and calling for the collective’s resignation so that new, caring, and responsible community members can step forward and be elected as a new board of directors to run Sisters’ Camelot through a time of rebuilding,” said IWW canvasser Maria Wesserle.

“I cannot believe that this situation with the Attorney General has been hanging over our heads this whole time, without our knowing.” said Shuge Mississippi, IWW canvasser. “If nothing else, I am glad that our union drive has uncovered this information, so that we have a chance of saving Sisters’ Camelot.”

The campaign at Sisters Camelot represents a new step for Food and Retail Workers United, an organizing committee of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union. Gaining prominence in recent years for organizing Starbucks and Jimmy Johns workers, the IWW is a global union founded over a century ago for all working people.