LINK to May 21, 2015: Statement from the Board of Directors
Recently a change.org petition created by a group called the Wheatsville Staff Solidarity Collective expressed the frustration many people feel when trying to make ends meet, especially now and especially in Austin. In short, the petition calls for Wheatsville to pay staff members a living wage.
First, we whole-heartedly regret that some staff members felt that their voices were not being heard and/or that the co-op was not responding fast enough to concerns that our entry level wages were too low. So, we wanted to take this opportunity to offer insight into the co-op's position and the action plan we have in place to address this very serious issue.
In March we received the results of our recent third party anonymous staff survey - taken by all (100%) eligible staff members that have passed the 3-month trial period. The results were discussed openly in department meetings over the course of a month and what we overwhelmingly learned was:
1. In general, our staff members are very happy working at the co-op, rating Wheatsville 4.23 out of 5 on the staff survey question “I would recommend Wheatsville as a good place to work.”
2. HR practices also received high ratings on the most recent staff survey receiving a rating of 4.20 out of 5.
3. Our benefits package is generous and staff report being extremely satisfied with the benefit offerings at the co-op, receiving 4.25 out of 5 on the survey.
4. There was a feeling of dissatisfaction with pay. The question “I am paid fairly for the work I do relative to similar opportunities in Austin” received one of the lowest scores on the survey with a score of 3.42 out of 5.
Our consultant and survey administrator, who has over 30 years experience with cooperatives, summarized our survey this way:
HOW DID THE CO-OP DO? Out of the 74 questions on the survey that asked for agreement or disagreement, 40 (55%), scored 4.00 or more, 30 (42%) between 3.50 and 3.99, and two questions scored below 3.50, with the lowest score at 3.42. Right on the face of it, Wheatsville employees appear to be satisfied with most aspects of their employment.
Two questions showed high standard deviation while 24 showed low standard deviation, indicating very few areas of significant disagreement among staff and many areas of commonly shared perceptions.
The Co-op Comparison Table shows the results for 53 questions that were used in 221 surveys of other retail natural food co-ops. This table shows the median (the point at which half the scores are above, half below), Wheatsville scores for 2015 and the difference between those and the median for the other 221 surveys. Wheatsville employees rated most (44 out of 53) questions close to the median for the other co-ops, eight questions significantly above the median (by 20 points or more), and one question significantly below the median.
We took the information gathered in the anonymous staff survey and started looking at what our current state of compensation looked like.
• According to the MIT wage index which Wheatsville uses as a guide, the living wage for one adult in Austin was determined to be $9.43/hour during this time. The average staff wage for hourly workers at Wheatsville is currently $11.99 and the average wage including ALL staff members is $13.35. Currently we have 187 staff that are over $11 per hour and 81 staff that are under $11 per hour. We recognize that the MIT wage index was updated just this week on 5/16/15 and now shows a livable wage for a single adult in Austin as $10.90.
• Wheatsville far exceeded the Affordable Care Act’s minimum requirements for healthcare benefits and the co-op continually absorbs cost increases to keep benefits affordable for staff members. The plan that we offer to staff is on par with the Platinum plan option benefits offered through ACA with Wheatsville covering between 70%-78% of the cost for employees and their families.
• The co-op proactively seeks out staff opinions through our staff survey and is required to submit annual, third party-certified reports to the Board of Directors regarding our HR practices and compliance. Survey scores have always been discussed with staff and HR practices have been found to be in compliance with Board Policies regarding the treatment of our staff members.
After further research and discussion during the month of April, the co-op decided to do the following in order to create short-term relief and plan for future changes:
• Increase entry level wages from $9 - $10 per hour to $9.50-$10 per hour.
• Ensure that every staff member that passes the 3 month trial period make at least $10 per hour or more.
• Apply above wage changes (which affected 20 out of 264 staff members) on 5/11/15.
• Continue practice of pay reviews and increases at 3 months, 9 months and 15 months, rolling over to annual reviews every 12 months thereafter.
• Invite staff to an open wage presentation meeting week of May 25th to outline our most recent compensation data and research.
• Assemble a voluntary staff Wage Review Committee to review compensation guidelines and make recommendations for changes.
We understand that anything less than immediate action can be difficult when it comes to compensation. As an independent business in Austin, we are constantly juggling the costs of doing business in an increasingly competitive environment, with the rising cost of living in a city that is seeing an unprecedented rise in population.
Third party independent research shows that overall Wheatsville has acted in good faith to both discover and correct staff issues as they have arisen over the past several years. We take serious issue with anonymous letters and allegations made in the recent petition started by an unknown number of people within or outside of our co-op. Much of the anger and upset stems from misunderstandings, incomplete information, distortions and fabrications. We hope that this more detailed information helps to begin to dispel some of the rumors and innuendo.
Over the years Wheatsville has become a better employer, creating a work environment of appreciation and caring through identifying sore points and frustration among staff and setting out to resolve them as best we can. As with any workplace we’re not always able to satisfy everyone on every issue. However, we do our best to improve as many areas of dissatisfaction as we can while preserving what staff love about working at our co-op.
I am glad to take this opportunity to reaffirm our commitment to engage in meaningful honest discussion cooperatively and act ethically and in good faith on behalf of our staff, members and community.
Wheatsville Food Co-op
Chief Executive Grocer