From July 5 to August 5, SCAA members can vote on the proposed merger of the SCAA and SCAE into a single global specialty coffee association. What this unified organization will look like exactly is a post-vote project, and the ball is rolling toward a merged organization. In May, the SCAE’s members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the union.
The vote had been scheduled to begin June 27 but was delayed in response to the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union. In a short email to members announcing the delay, the SCAA said, “(O)ut of an abundance of caution the SCAA Board has decided to delay the opening of our elections by a week to allow for close examination of the details of our agreement, and be certain that our members can make a fully informed vote.”
A merger would, in many ways, finish the union between two strongly connected organizations. World Coffee Events, which runs all the global coffee championships and Re:Co, was started in 2010 and is jointly managed by SCAA and SCAE. Soon after WCE launched, the first steps began toward a formal union.
While the the two organizations perform very similar tasks in their respective territories, they aren’t clones of one another, so a merger isn’t as simple as combining membership databases and flipping a coin for executive positions. The SCAE is based in London, but its thirty-three national chapters (which include South Korea and Singapore) are hugely important in the organization’s workings within individual countries. That chapter model will remain, but how it will work in the unified organization (will the US have one chapter, will there be fifty chapters?) is not laid out in the documents provided on the SCAA’s unification information website.
The boards and executives of the two organizations have been heavily in favor the of the merger. At the end of the email announcing the vote delay, for instance, the SCAA wrote, “We remain enthusiastic about unifying with SCAE, and SCAA leaders are working closely with our counterparts in Europe.” That enthusiasm has been constant in the SCAA’s informational materials and programs.
Until the end of June, there were few signs of any organized opposition to the merger. On June 30, Donald Schoenholt, a founding member of the SCAA and Roasters Guild, issued a letter from a group of ten past SCAA presidents calling themselves the Concerned SCAA Presidents Committee. The letter argues, among other points, that a global coffee organization does not serve American members of the SCAA and it offers no back-out plan. The letter also bemoans what it describes as a lack of information. It argues, “Your leaders are taking you down this path too fast without giving you the chance to digest information that was presented too late to be properly vetted.”
Update: After the vote began, Grady Saunders, owner of Heritage Coffee in Juneau and a past president of the SCAA, emailed Fresh Cup to voice his own concerns. He wrote: “Please vote NO to merging into a world conglomerate, and vote to continue to be an association that represents its roots, its members, our uniqueness, our geographic diversity, our small businesses, and just as importantly the world of coffee we already have and are building together with other organization’s doing the same for their individual members around the world.”
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Along with the merger website, SCAA leadership has done a series of webinars. In them, SCAA executive director Ric Rhinehart and board vice president Tracy Ging have argued that the unified organization would better serve its members by combing resources, unifying standards and education programs, and reducing costs for those who are members of both associations.
In one webinar, Rhinehart said they expect all staff of the two organizations to remain. How exactly that will work wasn’t laid out. There will be more positions to fill, though. The combined organization would create five “member value centers,” covering education, events, research, sustainability, and advocacy/leadership. No details for those were available on the unification website.
Among the biggest changes is who will get to influence the new organization. Barista Guild and Roasters Guild members, along with individual members of the SCAA, would become voting members. The guilds will also be included on the expanded board. Currently, only company members get to vote.
On May 23, the SCAE’s membership voted in favor of the merger. In that vote, 51 percent of members voted and of them 86 percent voted for the merger.
Voting for the unification begins July 5 and continues through August 5. You are qualified to vote if you are a member in these categories: producers/exporters, importers/green brokers, roaster wholesalers, roaster retailers, retailers, and allied services. If your membership is through the Roasters Guild or the Barista Guild, you don’t have a vote. On June 27, the SCAA sent a message to the primary contact listed in the membership database. If you haven’t seen that email, it’s worth checking if it was sent to an unattended address.
A link in the email will take you to the ballot. If the primary contact email is dead, wrong, or kicks back to the SCAA in any way, they’ll mail a paper ballot. If you opted out of SCAA emails, you’ll also get a ballot in the mail.
—Cory Eldridge is Fresh Cup’s editor.