A longtime member of the famously liberal Park Slope Food Coop says heâ€™s been discarded like so much wilted kale â€” accused of being an â€œangry black manâ€ by the store.
Reginald Ferguson, 49, a real estate agent from Carroll Gardens, says the store slapped him with an 18-month suspension â€” prohibiting him from shopping for the co-opâ€™s discounted groceries â€” following a dispute related to him playing music during his shifts there.
â€œThey wrap themselves up in democracy and cooperation,â€ he said. â€œThat hasnâ€™t happened to my black ass. Not in the least. Iâ€™m an owner-member as they call it. What happened to me?â€
Ferguson was a â€œsquad leaderâ€ during his stints working at the store, a requirement for members of the 17,000-strong cooperative, which has included A-listers such as Maggie Gyllenhaal and Adrian Grenier.
He said he managed workers on Saturdays for two hours and 45 minutes and always played a mix of rock, R&B, world music and salsa.
â€œIt can be a mundane type of gig,â€ said Ferguson, a member of the co-op for 20 years. â€œWe found that the music kept us going.â€
But the tunes hit a sour note with one shopper who complained about the volume, he said.
He then had a dispute in September 2017 with another member who came for a â€œmake-up shiftâ€ but, Ferguson says, didnâ€™t want to wait to sign in.
â€œWe went back and forth. He start whining, literally,â€ Ferguson said. The man promptly filed a complaint against him, he says.
Ferguson said he got a call a few weeks later from someone on the co-opâ€™s â€œDispute Resolution Committee,â€ who identified himself only as Curtis, and â€” citing the music and the disagreementâ€” summarily dismissed him as a squad leader.
When other members tried to stand up for Ferguson, the panel dodged them, according Malcolm Armstrong, another co-op shift leader who witnessed the disagreement.
â€œThey werenâ€™t interested,â€ said Armstrong. â€œIf they canâ€™t be fair about little things, how can they be so righteous about big things.â€
Clara Goetz, a retired social worker who belonged to Fergusonâ€™s squad, said he was treated unfairly.
â€œI believe that an organization that calls itself a cooperative and acts in fascist manner should not be calling themselves a cooperative,â€ she said.
When Ferguson continued to work as a squad leader as a form of protest, he landed before another co-op committee that found he was â€œuncooperative in his interpersonal conductâ€ and showed a â€œforceful angerâ€ and slapped him with the suspension, according to a co-op document.
Ferguson, who is also a member of the local Community Board, has now taken to protesting outside the store to demand a hearing.
â€œThey want to wear you down, but they picked the wrong person,â€ he said.
The co-opâ€™s general manager did not return a request for comment.