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June 3, 2020

4/8/2020 4:37:00 PM
Big wage hike for Food Co-op staff
Ken Stern

On April 1 the Skagit Valley Food Co-op increased pay for its hourly staff $4 per hour and $5 per hour for cashiers. That is the second wage boost for staff: They were given a “Hero Bonus” of $2 per hour for all staff and $4 per hour for cashiers for all hours worked in March.

Food Co-op member-owners were informed by Tony White, the new general manager of the Food Co-op, in an April 1 email. He praised staff for “the endless hours they have worked and for their incredible dedication to our Co-op. They truly have been heroes throughout this trying time.”

Across job classifications, the average wage had been about $16 per hour. White wrote in an email he was “recognizing staff for their awesomeness, I also wanted them to feel good about working. With the temporary unemployment guidelines in place with COVID-19 many laid off workers will make more money being on unemployment than if they continued to work. I felt that we wanted our actively employed staff to feel good about working.”

The April 1 email stated that staff at Third Street Cafe and in food service departments were laid-off, a result of complying with government directives. White wrote “that laying off such incredible people is the last thing we want to do” and expressed the wish to employ them again as soon as possible. He noted that most, perhaps all “staff who have been laid off will be receiving unemployment benefits that are at a minimum equivalent to their Co-op wages.”

While initial estimates are $15,000 per week for the wage increases, White does not plan to revise the annual budget. He projects a sales drop of up to 30%, including fewer travelers and no summer promotional events, but is confident the costs will be covered by revenues. He has not planned to use government funds.

White, who replaced the retired Todd Wood in January, made the decision with the senior management team based on weeks of discussion with food co-op general managers across the country.

In his email, White wrote: “The board and I (and I suspect our members) are in support of recognizing the great lengths that our staff are going to provide great customer service to our community” and noted “it is important to understand that our staff are on the frontline. Their work puts them at a higher risk of exposure than most other businesses; we should recognize that. The unemployment payout for this crisis will make it appealing to be out of work. Most $15 per hour employees will see an 25% raise for being out of work. I wanted our staff to get a raise for being at work!”

White’s April 1 email noted changes to store operations to make shopping as safe as possible for customers and staff. He noted, “We’re kindly asking you all to try your best to social distance yourself from others as you shop. It is not easy, but if we all try, we can make some headway on this.”

Staff are developing a limited online ordering system for curbside pickup.

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