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The Latest News from Wheatsville

Posts by Dan Gillotte

October Is Co-op Month

Every October, Co-op Month gives me a chance to reflect on our special institution – built by thousands of people over the years – and how we fit into the greater co-op world.
By pooling our resources together we create the better, kinder world that we want regardless of outside forces that have different agendas. Last year through your amazing generosity we raised over $155k to support non-profits and community groups here in Austin and have already raised over $100k this year! With over 22,000 Owners we are able to create impact with just pennies and nickels.

Co-op impact nation-wide is impressive too and helps make the world a better place. One recent example is the $150,000 donation made by National Co+op Grocers for the reconstruction of Puerto Rican cooperative businesses destroyed last year by Hurricane Maria. Not only is it a perfect example of Principle 6) Cooperation Among Cooperatives, but also illustrates how our success, support, and commitment locally affects people globally.

Our co-op keeps our shared values in mind as we operate our businesses. It’s a challenge to keep all the plates spinning by: 

  1.  being a financial value to you, our members and shoppers,
  2.  bringing fair prices to our farmers and producers
  3.  offering Livable Wages and Benefits to our front line staff while adjusting to the rising costs of doing business in Austin and
  4.  keeping in mind the various needs of all of our shoppers.

Our product selection spans the gamut from paleo to vegan, from gluten-free to allergen-free. For some, fair trade and organic is the primary decision driver, while for others it’s price. I think we do a pretty good job on this tight rope but because we’re YOUR co-op do want to hear when we’re stumbling. We take your feedback very seriously inside the greater context of all the co-op owners.

Please take a moment this October and soak in the goodness and special-ness of our local co-op and the co-ops of the world. Together we really do a lot of good and we can’t do it without you!

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Wheatsville Joins Climate Collaborative to Help Reverse Climate Change

Wheatsville Food Co-op has been a community leader in environmental stewardship since opening in 1976. As a neighborhood grocery we’ve worked hard to divert and recapture recyclable resources from the waste stream. This Earth Day we’re proud to announce that we’ve joined the Climate Collaborative along with co-ops across the country, National Co+op Grocers, and may other natural foods brands.

The Climate Collaborative is a project of OSC2 and Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA) to catalyze bold climate action among natural products companies. The Climate Collaborative brings manufacturers, retailers, brokers, distributors, and suppliers together to build existing climate solutions to scale and to find innovative, new ways to help reverse climate change.

Companies in the industry have made over 400 commitments to climate action to date—to integrate carbon farming into their supply chains, switch to renewable power, reduce the climate impacts of their packaging, remove deforestation from their supply chains, engage on climate policy, and more. These commitments demonstrate that acting on climate is an urgent priority for the natural products industry and highlights the growing trend of corporate leadership on climate change.

Monthly, we recycle 10 tons of cardboard at S. Lamar and 8 tons at Guadalupe. Compostable material recycling = 14 tons / month between both stores and recycling of plastic, glass, and paper = 7 tons per month. In addition, almost 2 tons of fresh edible food is being directed to fresh food banks within our community through Save the Food Coalition. All total, we are redirecting 80,000 POUNDS of materials out of the waste stream every single month.


While recycling is a big part of overall sustainability, we are also a Green Energy Partner. Just this past month, the EPA once again named our co-op among the 2018 Top 30 Retail Partners in its Green Power Partner program which uses the money we pay for utilities to build wind farms and help Austin reach its goal of goal of 55% renewable energy use by 2025.

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Happy 42nd Birthday Wheatsville!

Celebrate our 42nd birthday Fri, March 16, 12-6pm with BIRTHDAY CAKE at the top of each hour at BOTH STORES until it’s gone!


42: Life, the Universe, Wheatsville & You

by Dan Gillotte, Chief Executive Grocer

Wheatsville’s birthday is one of my favorite times of the year. I feel so lucky to have a chance each year to reflect on this special organization that I’ve been privileged to be a part of for the past 20 years.

Our birthday spurs me to recognize and thank our founders and all the great people who came before us. Those board members, managers, owners, employees and shoppers who have been with us since the beginning - or at least for a couple decades! The vision of a thriving food co-op was on the mind of our forebears in 1976 and every day, we try to live up to being the ethical, positive, community-owned business that they were trying to create together.

 These days, it seems more important than ever that co-ops exist to be a counter-balancing force to all of the selfish, negative, Wall Street driven activity that is so prevalent. Our ethical underpinnings and values allow us to embody our owners’ ideals of kindness, generosity and hospitality, caring for others, social responsibility and concern for community.

This year your co-op stood up for our common ideals of openness and a welcoming approach to all people. We worked hard to support Council Members Casar, Kitchen and Garza and Mayor Pro Tem Tovo’s efforts to require that all employees in the city of Austin had access to earned sick pay (as our staff have had for decades). We’ve also continued our commitment to pay all staff livable wages and benefits, with all staff earning $13.01 or more (after passing the 90 day intro period).

You’ll see more in this issue of the Breeze about our commitment to help reverse climate change. As an early signer to the Climate Collaborative, we have long been a leader in environmentally-friendly business practices, and this is just another way for us to show our commitment to a positive sustainable future on our planet.

Our leadership on food waste diversion was a big deal this year as many news outlets featured our work on getting food into the mouths of people who need it instead of landfills. We’re very proud of these efforts, I hope you are, too.

The future for Wheatsville is bright even as the grocery wars heat up with Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods. We’re STILL LOCAL and always will be! We look forward to creating more positive impact with your support for the next 42 years and beyond!

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Driscoll Berries

UPDATE 9/9/16:

As of this week , Familias Unidas por La Justica has officially agreed to an election and negotiation process for a collective bargaining agreement with Sakuma Bros Berry Farm and have called for an end of the boycott, and all boycott activities.

Here is the official statement:

Dear Supporters,

As of today we have officially agreed to an election and negotiation process for a collective bargaining agreement with Sakuma Bros Berry Farm. Thanks to your tireless efforts we are entering into this next phase of our union’s development with hope and determination. At this time we are calling for an end of the boycott, and all boycott activities. Out of respect for the process and our memorandum of understanding with the company please do not contact past, present or potential customers, purchasers, sellers or users of products coming from Sakuma Bros Berry Farm to convey criticism of any and all aspects of Sakuma’s business and operations.

Please stay tuned at the Familias Unidas por La Justica Facebook page for updates.

Thank you,
Ramon Torres
Felimon Pineda
FUJ

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New Livable Wage and Benefits Plan

We learned though a staff satisfaction survey done in early 2015 that pay was a strong concern for many of Wheatsville’s staff due to Austin becoming more expensive. We took this issue very seriously and convened a Wage Task Force, made up of interested staff from all parts of the co-op, to help us address the challenge of paying employees a livable wage while balancing our other important financial obligations.


The Wage Task Force met for several consecutive weeks to work through the wage issue. In late summer 2015, we enlisted the aid of our friends at National Co-op Grocers to help us come up with a workable solution. They shared their NCG Co-op Livable Wage and Benefits model, which we applied to the wage situation at Wheatsville. Once we applied the Austin-specific costs to the equation, we found that a worker in Austin getting benefits that offset their health care and food costs, as ours do, would need to earn $13.01 an hour. Once we saw and understood this number, we committed to making this new wage plan a reality for all of our staff.


We learned that increasing wages to $13.01 ensures that all full-time staff members are able to afford a one bedroom apartment in Austin, have health insurance, eat on the USDA moderate food plan, have a cell phone and transportation, and 5% for savings.


The new Livable Wage and Benefits Plan was implemented on January 4, 2016. The plan, which increased wages for over 80% of hourly staff, ensures that every Wheatsville employee earns a living wage of at least $13.01 after his or her introductory period. The new plan will also add benefits to our co-op business.


We expect to:
• Retain more of our great staff
• Attract more qualified and experienced candidates for open positions, and
• Create a stronger more positive and team-oriented co-op culture overall.


The Livable Wage and Benefits plan is a huge financial change at our co-op. The Wage Task Force, store managers, supervisors and myself came up with the staffing plan we would need to be able to afford this change yet implement it quickly. It involves an all staff effort to get more done with the same number of people and to become a highly efficient organization in the process. This is the path that all other successful livable wage co-ops have taken in order to be fiscally sound.


Our staff is working in new, smarter and more efficient ways to make this work while still delivering the friendliest store in town that you have grown to love. We will need commitment from our staff, owners, customers and the community to help make this bold new plan work.


I’m proud of what we’ve done here at Wheatsville to address a serious concern for our staff and our community and your patronage will help us ensure it’s a success!

Dan Gillotte
Wheatsville Food Co-op
Chief Executive Grocer

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Co-op Staff Wages & Compensation

LINK to  May 19, 2015: Statement from Dan Gillotte, Chief Executive Grocer

LINK to May 21, 2015: Statement from the Board of Directors

LINK to May 27, 2015: Board of Directors Meeting RECAP

LINK to June 16, 2015: CEG Compensation

LINK  to June 25,2015: Staff Wage Task Force UPDATE

LINK to August 20, 2015 Staff Wage Task Force OPEN LETTER

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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4001 South Lamar OPENS!

We couldn't wait ONE MORE DAY to open and share this store with you and we have a feeling you couldn't wait either.... so we've got some EXCITING NEWS we'd like to share!

Come celebrate the opening of our second store at 4001 South Lamar FRIDAY, September 20th, at 7:15AM!

Join us as we mark the opening of our second store with a special ribbon "cutting" ceremony that we need your help to "pull off"!  After the ceremony, we'll open at 7:30AM and help wake everybody up with FREE organic fair-trade drip coffee 'til noon! Come early stay late, you'll be glad you did!

We couldn't be more excited to throw open our doors and bring the friendliest store in Austin to all our friends in South Austin! With this expansion, we will be able to Create More Local/ Organic/ Sustainable Food, More Co-op Economy and More Happy People! That's the reason we're in business - and we couldn't be happier seeing our BIG Direction vision become a reality!

Of course, part of not being able to wait to open means that we still have a few areas that need a little work, but we're hoping you don't mind. Our front entrance and canopy will be going in before our Grand Opening Party on October 19th and we'll be adding more and more delicious deli foods and our bakehouse offerings over the next week or so. (Don't worry, you can get Popcorn Tofu on Friday! We wouldn't open without that!)

I am so excited to finally be able to tell you WE ARE OPENING and invite you in to help us celebrate this historic occasion 30+ years in the making!

Now that you're the first to know, feel free to tell your friends and bring them down, too!!! See you soon!

Wheatsville’s second store will feature many new and welcome additions including:

• 25,000 square feet of space total / 14,500 sq. ft. retail
• Over 35 state-of-the-art, zero energy,  Solatube lights which direct natural sunlight into the store using highly reflective fiber optics
• Large skylights that allow natural light into the store
• Energy efficient LED lighting which will auto-adjust according to light needs throughout the day
• 2500 sq. ft. Artisan Bakehouse that will begin baking bread for both stores within a month of opening
• A Community Room, hosting informative classes, demos and tastings
• Comfortable indoor and outdoor café seating
• In-store composting and recycling bins for customers
• Bike Parking, Bike Repair Stand (with tools) and showers for bike commuting staff
• Locally made Kosmic Kombucha and Maine Root soda on tap
• Made to order burritos, sandwiches, coffee and smoothies
• Humanely and sustainably raised meat and seafood
• Cruelty-free Wellness products
• Humanely Raised Meat including Farmer’s Market favorites like Richardson’s Farms and Windy Hill
• Sustainable Raised and Harvested Seafood

Grand Opening Celebration on Saturday, October 19th from 12pm-4pm which will include music by The Hot Texas Swing Band, kids activities and lots of local food demos and samples. 

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