There is merit and supporting evidence behind 13 of the 16 unfair labor practices listed in a November complaint against the Ashland Food Co-op, labor relations officials said Thursday.

There is merit and supporting evidence behind 13 of the 16 unfair labor practices listed in a November complaint against the Ashland Food Co-op, labor relations officials said Thursday.

A nearly five-month-long investigation conducted by the National Labor Relations Board has determined that the co-op's management staff "interfered with, restrained and coerced its employees" who were in favor of unionizing the store. The federal board has not filed a charge against the store, however.

The NLRB is giving the co-op's management staff and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union Local 555 an opportunity to settle the dispute before filing a formal complaint against the co-op, said Anne Pomerantz, acting regional director for the NLRB in Seattle.

"They will have until the end of the month before we would likely file a complaint," Pomerantz said.

The three unfair labor practices that were dismissed were allegations that the co-op's management "filed notice of a legal claim to remove, or otherwise caused the removal of, a lawful recording of a public meeting of the employer concerning protected activity," "threatened criminal action against an employee who linked to a pro-union internet site" and was "instituting an open door policy in response to an organizing campaign."

"We're happy to have those dismissed," said Annie Hoy, outreach manager for the co-op. "We responded to great detail in every allegation."

Because the case is still open with the NLRB, it is possible for additional complaints to be dropped from or added to the complaint, said Pomerantz.

Telephone messages left for representatives from UCFW were not returned Thursday.

If the NLRB decides to issues a formal complaint, the case will be transferred to an administrative law judge within the agency for a written decision, Pomerantz said.

If the co-op's management settles the ULP charge before the end of March, there will likely be a months-long waiting period before the NLRB would allow employees to vote on whether or not to unionize the store, said Pomerantz.

"There need's to be a stagnant period," she said. "Time for things to settle."

Most of about a dozen shoppers interviewed outside the co-op said they haven't noticed much of a change within the store or its employees throughout the course of the unionization effort, which began in April 2011.

"I've never seen this level of real caring anywhere "… the workers are coming for their hearts. I believe in the cooperative effort, what I feel is a high integrity organization," said Jerilee Newby of Ashland, who said she shops frequently at the store.

"It makes sense," she said, about some of the employees wishing to hold a vote for establishing a union to represent the entire workforce. "Unions have had positive impacts in the past."

A petition by UFCW for an election to unionize the store was filed on behalf of the pro-union employees at the co-op with the NLRB last November, but is on hold by the agency.

Jeff Straub, 67, of Ashland, a regular at the co-op, said workers should carefully consider whether they want to unionize.

"Sometimes a union can damage a good thing," Straub said. "Not saying that this one would do that, but I've seen it happen on more than one occasion."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.