Co-op Workers Need a Living Wage

With COVID-19 hazard pay in limbo, what is the compensation picture for the Co-op’s approximately 250 employees? With hazard pay included, they may be reasonably compensated by industry standards but even so, industry standards are low. (With your Amazon Prime membership, you can get a fine deal on Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickeled and Dimed.”)

As a value-driven enterprise, equity for workers is built into the core of Weavers Way’s mission. But the Co-op does not pay every employee a living wage either in theory or in practice. And after consulting management and the board, I see no plans to do so on the horizon.

A living wage is what someone needs in order to, live. According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology model which the general manager consults, a living wage does not accommodate even occasional entertainment or prepared meals or the accumulation of any savings. It’s ironic that the average Weavers Way worker in Chestnut Hill probably cannot afford to live there. And I cannot begin to imagine how an hourly employee with a child gets by. I also suspect that People of Color disproportionately comprise the lower wage rungs at Weavers Way.

Up until a few years ago, two board seats were reserved for employees; not any longer. Employees may run for the Board if they wish — or if they dare. A former employee told me he had been “warned” about raising the issue of unionization, intimating the warning had come from management or the board.

Weavers Way culture should be defined by what it actually is and not what it purports to be. I hope 2021 sees the Co-op operating more democratically and more equitably.

— Brian Rudnick

Response from Jon Roesser, Weavers Way General Manager

I would like to present members with facts regarding the Co-op’s wages and compensation.

Before doing so, I would like to stress that Co-op management believes we need to raise our minimum pay to $15 an hour as soon as we’re able to do so. At the General Membership Meeting in the spring of 2019, and at all subsequent General Membership meetings, I’ve given a progress update on our plans for raising our starting wage incrementally over a multiple-year period.

In the spring of 2019, we moved our starting wage from $10.50 to $11 an hour. In the fall of 2019, we raised that to $11.50.

We planned two more incremental increases in 2020, before the pandemic hit. Beginning in the middle of March 2020, we began paying all “front line” employees an additional $2 an hour in hazard pay. Almost all grocers who paid their employees hazard pay back in the early stages of the pandemic stopped doing so by summer, but we have continued to pay the additional hourly amount.

At the beginning of last month, we moved our starting wage up to $12 an hour. Currently, all store personnel are earning at least $14 an hour ($12.00 + $2.00 hazard pay) for all hours worked (employees do not receive hazard pay for paid time off).

The Co-op currently has 244 employees. Of them, 98 (40%) earn at least $15 an hour. Adding the $2 an hour in hazard pay, 175 employees (72%) earn at least $15 an hour.

At some point, when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, we will need to roll back hazard pay. We will then need to decide what portion of hazard pay we will be able to make permanent. We will endeavor to go as high as we’re able without putting the Co-op in fiscal jeopardy.

It is also important to consider an employer’s total compensation package rather than just hourly rate. Benefits are often overlooked when discussing a “livable wage,” and it is not uncommon for some employers who tout their high hourly wages to skimp on non-wage compensation.

Co-op employees receive paid vacation, sick and holiday pay, (as well as paid time off for bereavement and jury duty). We offer our employees three different medical/prescription drug plans and pay a substantial part of the premium for both employees and any dependents they have on our plan. We also pay most of the premium for dental insurance, and we pay the full cost of short-and long-term disability insurance and life insurance.

The Co-op has a retirement plan which includes a 35% employer match, a 15% staff discount (for staff and all members of their household) and, business conditions permitting, we pay an annual staff bonus (In the 12 years I’ve been with the Co-op, we have always paid a staff bonus).

Putting a dollar figure on all of these non-wage benefits is challenging – not all employees take full advantage of all of our benefits. But for the typical full-time employee, it is approximately the equivalent of $2.46 an hour.

Members who would like further information are most welcome to email me at