Willy Street Co-op adopts new livable wage model

Willy Street Co-op adopts new livable wage model
Courtesy MadisonCommons.org

According to Director of Finance Paige Wickline, three years gives the Co-op time to identify areas to implement operational efficiencies that will pay for the increase.

“There are many variables that determine how well we do financially each year, and our goal over the next three years will be to develop the kinds of efficiencies that manage growth and financial variables without resorting to increases in labor hours. If we do better than expected we could achieve paying a livable wage sooner than three years, and if we do worse than expected it could take longer than three years to get to a livable wage,” Wickline said.

The new livable wage model also works to address wage compression for those existing staff members who made between the range of $11.50 to $12.50. Firszt said the new model granted the staff in that range a flat 25-cent-an-hour increase and access to different benefits based on longevity.

Kerrie Lentz, the director of human resources, anticipates that the change may increase the number of applications to the Co-op and reduce voluntary turnover rates as the year progresses.

“We’ve always had a higher starting wage and better benefits than other grocery stores or retailers in general so I’m honestly not quite sure what to expect in terms of impacting new employment. I was told that applicants coming in for preliminary interviews are expressing their surprise and delight when they hear that the new starting pay rate is $11.50,” Lentz said.

First said the new model did not fully please everyone, but all staff members gained a raise which is a positive move forward.

“This project has been a few years in the making and we’re excited to be able to start it. The concept of a Livable Wage really fits in well with our mission statement since it serves the needs of our staff. We hope our project will inspire other local businesses to work towards paying a livable wage for their staff,” Wickline said.Willy Street Co-op increased starting staff pay from $10.69 to $11.50 on Jan. 9, marking the first stage in a new multi-year implementation plan to adopt a full livable wage for entry-level positions.

As part of the 2017 fiscal year plans, the Co-op adopted the new livable wage model developed by National Cooperative Grocer and Cooperative Development Services. The livable wage takes into account the costs of living in or around the city of Madison in addition to the average costs of other expenses like food, healthcare, transportation and taxes. It also addresses how to award staff benefits such as pay increases.

“We have calculated the Madison livable wage at $13.62 based off of the model we’re using and the current cost of living in Madison. We can’t actually move to $13.62 as the starting wage right out of the gate because we don’t have the sales to support that, but we’ve adopted a plan going forward so that in three years–two years from now–we will reach that Madison livable wage,” General Manager Anya Firszt said.

Firszt said the $13.62 livable wage may adjust in the next few years, but the Co-op will continue to keep evaluating that number to try to reach that dollar amount per hour for starting wage.