The Board Retreats and Delves into Our Working Member Program

Esther Wyss-Flamm, Weavers Way Board Member

Ever wonder how that work requirement of six-hours-per-household-member fits into the flow of business at Weavers Way Co-op? The Board recently took a deep dive into reviewing the working member program during our annual Board retreat, with an eye toward ways the program might need to shift to ensure the Co-op continues to thrive in the midst of changing times.

We learned about the evolution of the work requirement, which was established when Weavers Way was founded. At that time, the Co-op had no regular staff; today, the three stores are run by full-time employees. We found that our program has different levels of participation and operational impacts in each of our three stores. We also heard about how other co-ops have maintained, reduced or dropped member work requirements. We learned that some working member programs are connected to discounting, while others are not. And we discovered the options are complicated.

Here is a Q&A summary of what went down that day:

Q: Are we changing the working member program?

  • Not right now, but maybe in the future. Overall, we have seen a long-term, steady decline in participation.
  • We think there might be alternative meaningful ways to engage as Co-op members in our communities.
  • We have learned that some co-ops have faced potential legal challenges to their working member programs, and we want to protect Weavers Way from possible legal and financial threats.

Q: Is our working member program compliant with labor and tax laws?

  • We are trying to answer that question. State and federal law is not 100 percent clear on this, so we are looking at what other co-ops are doing. We are also consulting with attorneys and other advisors to make sure we are interpreting the law accurately.

Q: What’s going to happen to my discount?

  • Nothing. For the time being, the program with its 5 percent discount will remain as is. If we consider specific changes in the future, you can be sure the Co-op will work with the membership along the way.

Q: What’s so important about the working member program? Why do we want to keep it?

  • It helps the Co-op meet its Ends of having members actively contribute to the life of the stores and the community.
  • Working members are among the most engaged and involved within the overall membership. They are also our biggest shoppers.
  • The program creates a unique identity for those who participate; it also enhances the sense of ownership.

Q: If members don’t work at the store, what makes the Co-op different from any other store?

  • Our stores are member-owned.
  • Members receive patronage rebates.
  • Unlike other stores, the Co-op focuses on promoting local food, building the local economy and engaging in the community.

Q: How would the Co-op change if we changed the working member program?

  • We would only make a change if we thought it would make the Co-op better. The Board will periodically evaluate the program over the next 12 months. We encourage members to email us, attend regularly scheduled member forums or come to a board meeting with their ideas or opinions on this topic.