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South Lamar Store News

Statement from the Board of Directors

On May 13, 2015, the Wheatsville Board of Directors received an open letter from the Wheatsville Staff Solidarity Collective.  In the letter, the Collective expressed frustration over Wheatsville’s current wage structure.  The Board is deeply concerned about the well-being of employees and conducts yearly monitoring of staff treatment. We were alerted to staff dissatisfaction around pay by Dan Gillotte in March and received a plan in April for addressing the challenging issue of paying better and maintaining  Wheatsville’s financial stability. 

We will continue to explore the concerns raised in the spirit of cooperation and in line with Policy Governance.  As stewards of this great cooperative, the Board's role is to define policies and monitor operational outcomes that are consistent with cooperative values and principles.  We take very seriously Wheatsville’s Mission of creating a self-reliant, self-empowering community of people that will grow and promote a transformation of society toward cooperation, justice, and non-exploitation.

In cooperation,
Wheatsville Food Co-op Board of Directors

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Co-op Staff Wages & Compensation

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.

Dan Gillotte
Wheatsville Food Co-op
Chief Executive Grocer

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Staff Satisfaction & Compensation

Open Letter to Wheatsville Staff, Members and Shoppers:

Wheatsville’s management and Board of Directors take wage issues and overall staff satisfaction very seriously and proactively check in with staff to make sure the co-op is meeting our employees’ needs. The management team became aware of wage dissatisfaction a few months ago through a regularly scheduled third party staff satisfaction survey.

We care deeply about our staff and their happiness, and leadership has been working on an action plan to address and remedy this challenging and important issue since receiving that feedback. We started rolling out the plan this month and look forward to continue working with our staff members to reach a resolution.

We’ve also recently become aware of a petition seeking to pay a living wage at Wheatsville, as well as some letters expressing grievances against some of Wheatsville’s employment practices. While we do our best to be transparent and available, we apologize that we missed the mark and disappointed some staff members.

We believe that our cooperative runs best with openness and honesty, and we are committed to improving staff satisfaction around compensation at Wheatsville.

Sincerely,

Dan Gillotte
Wheatsville Food Co-op
Chief Executive Grocer

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A Big Dream Come True: Celebrating Wheatsville’s 39th Birthday

Back in the mid-70s our founders had a vision for a cooperative grocery store.

Our first location at 29th and Lamar, during the original set up in spring 1976.

A place where they and their friends would get together and get the good food they couldn’t get anywhere else at the time. They envisioned a storefront of some kind somewhere near UT, probably, something small and affordable, I imagine. They likely figured we’d sell bulk food for cheap, probably some tofu and produce and maybe a few other odds and ends (ZigZags and wine anyone?). It would be a cooperative owned by its users and it would change Austin and, they dreamed, maybe the world.

Our check-out in 1976. The sign on the wall reads, “The future will be what the people struggle to make it.” The rolling papers are next to the scale

Miraculously, unlike a lot of ideas in this world, the people who dreamed up Wheatsville actually did the work to create this place and up we sprang at our first location 29th and Lamar on March 16, 1976!

As we busted at the seams and grew our sales and struggled to make our nascent systems work and figure out the crazy grocery business, some of our founders thought about our next step. There was more we could do if we just had more space and a more prominent location—we could do such great things for our community!

So our founders gathered up resources (many people invested money, time and energy) to move us up to 3101 Guadalupe and we became a “real” neighborhood grocery serving a much larger group of people for the next several years. (I made that all seem pretty easy, but I know it was HARD WORK!)

Our Grand Opening Party at 3101 Guadalupe in 1981.

We grew slowly through some good times and some not so good times and In 2005 we started to again think about what kind of future we wanted for our co-op. Would we finally open that second store people wanted in South Austin since the 80s? Spoiler alert: Yes, we would, but first we had to take care of Home Base. We were bursting at the seams at a facility that hadn’t really changed much since we moved in decades earlier and the wear and tear was taking its toll on staff AND shoppers and we weren’t reaching all the people we could have if we were just a little more welcoming and open and easy to shop at. Plus it was pretty hard to work here, maybe we could fix that, too. 165 of our owners invested $715,000 and our staff set about planning an expansion and renovation of Guadalupe that was executed in 2008-2009.

 With the renovated store completed a long time owner told me (with tears of joy in her eyes) that, “We finally have the co-op we always dreamed of!”

The super success of the renovated store allowed us to again dream our future and the board and owners and management started to articulate the groundwork of what would become Wheatsville’s BIG Direction, our path to having more positive impact in our world. We imagined that additional locations would best help us meet our end goals of More Local/ Organic/ Sustainable Food, More Co-op economy & More Happy People.

And now, as we celebrate our 39th Birthday (our second with 2 stores!) we can see what dreaming of the future and imagining a better world can get us. And we can see the impact of our BIG Direction on our communities.

At the beginning we were here because of our founding owners (some of whom still shop here) and today we’re here because of all of you! We are literally nothing without our amazing owners!

Thanks and Happy Birthday to US!

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Recruiting Local

Wheatsville is always looking for amazing staff to help us stock, cook, merchandise and sell all of our great products. As the Recruiting and Development Coordinator at the co-op, I have the fun job of reaching out to our community to talk about Wheatsville employment opportunities.

This February we visited the Career Expo hosted by Huston-Tillotson College. I was happy to meet many capable, confident candidates that were excited to learn about the grocery industry and what makes Wheatsville special as a cooperative business.  Some people had questions about whether we offer part-time employment that will fit into their school schedule. (We do!) .

People were most excited about our benefits. (They’re awesome!) Health, dental, vision, and life  insurance, bike to work reimbursement program, 401 K Plan, 15% discount on purchases, positive work culture, and so much more. Wheatsville will be attending more events with Huston-Tillotson, as well as with UT in the upcoming months.

I am also very proud of our other community partnerships with Austin Clubhouse, Marbridge Foundation, and Texas School for the Deaf (just to name a few!)  Do you know a friendly, cheerful, customer service superstar who is looking for a fun and engaging workplace? Let them know they can apply in person at either of our locations or online at www.Wheatsville.coop.

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Eden Foods Decision

The results of our annual election are in and as of January 1st, 2015, Wheatsville Food Co-op will no longer sell any Eden Foods products or use them in our recipes. The issue of whether or not to remove Eden Foods products was decided by a democratic vote as outlined in our bylaws. Below is the final verified vote tally from our Annual Election.

We know that some of our customers have been enjoying Eden Foods products for years and will be disappointed to learn that we will no longer stock that brand. As a cooperatively owned retail grocery, we abide by the rules mutually agreed upon in our bylaws and the collective decision reached by our owners.  We appreciate the effort and time it took members of the co-op to bring this issue to a vote and are very proud of the cooperative and democratic process used to make the final decision.

We have included a recap outline of the petition process that led to this decision and have included answers to frequently asked questions below.



Summary of the Issue

Eden Foods is one of the oldest natural and organic food companies in North America and has been an industry leader in maintaining organic standards, directly supporting North American family farms, and providing Non-GMO assurance on all products. The brand’s line of BPA-free canned beans, condiments, soymilk and pastas has been carried at Wheatsville Food Co-op since the 80’s.

On March 20, 2013, Eden Foods filed suit against the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, which administers the Affordable Care Act, for the right to opt out of contraceptive coverage for its employees.  Eden Foods objects to a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires companies, if they choose to offer health insurance to their employees, to include coverage of a wide array of contraceptive choices.

Here’s an excerpt from Eden Foods’ statement on the issue:
We believe in a woman's right to decide, and have access to, all aspects of their health care and reproductive management. This lawsuit does not block, or intend to block, anyone's access to health care or reproductive management. This lawsuit is about protecting religious freedom and stopping the government from forcing citizens to violate their conscience. We object to the HHS [Health & Human Services] mandate and its government overreach.

Wheatsville’s Response

In response to Eden’s stance, some customers inquired if the co-op would stop selling Eden Foods products. As a cooperative grocery, Wheatsville doesn't stop selling product in response to any political issues. The co-op serves a very diverse customer base and there are individuals on both sides of any issue. We believe that we can best serve our community by continuing to focus on providing healthy foods.

The co-op encourages customers to vote, on this and other issues, with their dollars by supporting those companies they like and believe in.  When (for any reason) products don’t sell, the co-op stops carrying them.

If the products in question, such as Eden Foods, continue to sell and see no significant decrease in support, the decision on whether or not to stop selling the product must be made through the petition process. This process is outlined in our bylaws as a way for owners to address issues like these in an open and democratic manner.

Petition and Election

By August 1st, 2014 Wheatsville members had gathered the necessary 500 owner signatures to submit the petition to the Board of  Directors. The required signatures were received and verified and so the issue was put to a vote in our recent election.

The co-op presented both sides of the issue and asked  owners whether or not the co-op should stop selling Eden Foods products.

After all the votes were verified and tabulated, the final vote was in favor of removing Eden Foods products from the co-op.


FAQ

  • When will Eden Foods stop being available?
    The co-op will sell down current stock and not place any reorders. The co-op will stop purchasing Eden Foods products for sale or use in recipes by 1/1/15.

  • Can a shopper still place special orders for the product?
    No. The co-op will no longer place special orders for Eden Foods products.

  • Will the co-op still cook with Eden products?
    No. The co-op will not use Eden Foods for ingredients in any of our housemade products.

  • Will the co-op have replacement products available?
    The co-op has identified all the items that would be affected by the vote and have made accommodations to find comparable replacements as available.

  • Can Eden Foods ever come back?
    The brand may come back to the co-op by the same process that took it off. A member petition would have to filed and endorsed by 500+ owners. The issue would then be put back on the general election ballot for a vote.

  • Have any other similar petitions been passed by owner election?
    Back in the 1980’s a petition was launched to not stock any wellness or bodycare products that were tested on animals. The petition passed and we can now say that we have a 100% cruelty-free wellness department.
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