Working at the Co-op; How Does it Stack Up?

Fruit Slices

There are several ways to be employed at Honest Weight. As of July 21, 2017 when the most recent report was compiled by Rhoda Pickus, Human Resources Leader, there were 206 positions at the Co-op. The majority of the positions are part-time hourly. In addition, there are 65 full-time hourly positions, 14 full-time salaried positions, eight substitutes, and one temporary employee.

What does that all mean? A part time hourly employee is scheduled for up to 29 hours per week. Full-time means over 32 hours per week and may be budgeted for up to 40 hours per week.

Employee Tenure

Employee tenure speaks for itself. The two longest-standing employees, Bob Linn and Gayle Andersen, can each boast over 30 years on the Co-op’s payroll. There are another 18 employees who have been on staff for over 10 years, and 23 more who have been at the Co-op between 5-10 years. When the staff is examined as a group, the average tenure for all active employees at the Co-op is 3.6 years. That figure reflects the recent restructuring of the management team and the additional positions created when the Co-op moved to the current location.

According to Mary Lou Nolan-Gillham, Benefits Administrator, the move to the new store ushered in a challenging period, with the influx of many new employees to cover duties and needs that were in uncertain and uncharted territory. Rhoda’s records show that with the move, the overall staff size jumped from 70 to 206 active employees, with the greatest increase occurring in the greatly expanded food service (55 employees at present). By now, with some experience, staffing needs are more predictable. For perspective, Rhoda notes that food service in general has a high turnover, with a national average of a 76 percent turnover rate per year. In general, at the Co-op our turnover rate is far below that. There are many possible and positive reasons why employees stay on as long as they do.

Co-op Culture

So, if you’re a Co-op Member Owner, to some extent you’re a boss. That’s right, if you are a Co-op Shareholder who invests time weekly or monthly at Honest Weight, you are also an employer. And if you are a Co-op employee, you may also be a Shareholder or even a Member Owner. Sound confusing? It doesn’t have to be. Theoretically, whether Member Owner or employee or both, we all share the same mission: a commitment to providing the community with affordable, high quality natural foods and products for healthy living. The quest for participation, economic fairness, respect for the environment, and other co-operative principles inform and drive what we do. With these concepts in mind, Honest Weight’s administration considers laws and regulations, the Co-op’s operational needs and budget, and the employment/life balance when establishing and implementing Honest Weight’s employment policies Alexis DeLaTorre, Recruitment and Retention Specialist, describes the Co-op’s culture as mission-centric, creating a setting where lifestyle and needs of employees are respected and balanced with the needs of the Co-op. This plays out in the employment experience in a variety of ways.

Employee Programs

Programs for employees reflect, support, and sometimes spearhead the Co-op culture. For example, the Bicycle Commuters Benefit Program was begun by a committee that included Mary Lou Nolan-Gillham and has been met with much enthusiasm. Inspired by the realization that parking spaces are limited and have a cost, the program offers a small monetary reimbursement to employees who ride bikes to work. The availability of bike lockers and another benefit, the employee shower, make this a workable option.

And there is always plenty of food. The employee appreciation calendar features free coffee and tea week and special employee meals and picnics. The Friday Food Program brings in producers to demonstrate their wares to employees with lots of tasting, accompanied by tips on explaining products to customers. Employees are welcome to take cull produce (produce which may be past date or not usable for sale but is still edible). All employees receive a discount equal to the weekly Member-Owner discount.

Wellness Engagement is an employee program which has been well received. As a happy consequence of employee health insurance, which requires shared health, all employees can partake in the provided wellness activities, the most popular of which has been biometric screening provided on-site by professionals from St. Peter’s Health Care. Whether or not they opt into employee health insurance, employees can also benefit from the healthy diet campaign, yoga practice, and other offerings.

Even the best workplaces have some problems. HWFC offers a program to deal with them. Every two weeks there is an All Staff Meeting, a voluntary forum for employees on the clock to voice concerns and explore solutions. It is run by employees, for employees, and includes delegates from all departments, which gives staff an opportunity to develop leadership skills and report specific concerns to the board for action and resolution.

The Employee Compensation Package

For a new hire in an entry level position, the pay is $10.50 per hour. An annual performance review results in a raise, based on an employee’s score on their performance evaluation form. An employee who “exceeds expectations” on the evaluation form will be awarded a raise of $0.75 per hour, while someone whose performance “needs improvement” will have their pay increased by $0.15 per hour. Most employees “meet expectations” and are awarded an increase of $0.50 per hour.

The benefits package offered to employees, and outlined in a six-page booklet recently published by the Human Resources Department, is an impressive collection of life essentials and attractive perks. Benefits are based on the policies outlined in the 2014 Employee Manual. First on the list is a platinum health insurance policy. On the 91st day of employment, eligible staff members can participate in medical insurance with CDPHP and dental and vision insurance with Empire Blue Cross. In our current fiscal budget, a single, full-time employee pays 15 percent of the premium or may add partner or spouse coverage and pay 20 percent of the total premium. For a family plan, the employee pays 30 percent. Part-time employees pay a higher percentage, starting at 65 percent for an employee-only policy.

Paid vacations are another benefit. In the first year, two weeks of paid vacation time are provided. After five years, an employee is given three weeks per year; after ten years, four weeks per year are granted. An intricate holiday policy went into effect on July 1 and provides for holiday pay and time off that is prorated by the number of hours worked by the employee. It provides holiday pay and/or time off to employees who work in a store that is open for business most days of the year. Up to two weeks of sick leave per year and 56 personal hours per year can be accrued and banked for appropriate use, as well. Employees may choose to participate in the Donation of Leave Transfer Time program whereby they can donate sick or vacation time that can be used by an employee who has an emergency and has exhausted their available paid leave.

Honest Weight Food Co-op offers a 401(k) retirement plan to eligible employees. After 12 months and 1,000 hours of service, any employee who is 21 years old or older may start saving and the Co-op will match the first 6 percent of the elected deferral.

Salaried positions are defined by a variety of criteria and compensated competitively with comparable jobs in the retail food business. This is just a brief overview of the employment picture at Honest Weight. If you or anyone you know is interested in working for the Co-op, contact our Human Resources Department. You or your friend may find just what you are looking for!




Karla Guererri has been a Co-op Member-Owner for several years. She works in the field of education and lives in Troy.