Seward Co-op’s Ends guide us to sustain a healthy community that has equitable economic relationships, positive environmental impacts, and inclusive, socially responsible practices. It is in this spirit of cooperation that Seward Co-op began conversations to negotiate our third union contract with UFCW 663 this past March. The purpose of this communication is to provide information to our staff and community about our current bargaining process.
Seward Co-op and UFCW Local 663 entered into our first collective bargaining agreement in Aug. 2018. We signed our second labor contract, a three-year contract, in 2020, and are now negotiating our third contract. Since beginning negotiations on the new contract on Aug.. 3, we have met eight times. We have had good discussions and have reached tentative agreements on many items, including combining vacation and sick time, increased flexibility in using PTO, an additional language eligible for the language premium, safety tools, and more.
The biggest outstanding issue is the level of pay increases the co-op can offer to its employees. The co-op has proposed a competitive wage package that includes an increase to all pay levels of $4 per hour over three years. Current staff would also receive an additional $.75 – $1.50 per hour over that span. This is a total increase in wages of 20% over three years. This proposal would mean someone hired at the co-op now, with no work experience, regardless of full- or part-time status, would start at $17 per hour. By Aug. 2025, that rate would be $19.50 per hour.
The union’s wage proposal includes a $4 per hour increase over two years and an additional increase of $1 per hour for existing staff over those two years. We have shared with the union what we believe is a fair and accurate costing of this wage proposal, along with overall co-op financials that include budgeted sales growth and more. Seward’s management strongly believes that accepting the union economic package is not in the best interest of the co-op and would negatively impact our operations.
To work through the outstanding contract issues, the co-op and the union have agreed to use a third-party mediator from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS). Both parties met with that mediator for the first time on Sept. 8. Seward Co-op’s management team offered additional dates to meet during the month of September. However, the union is unable to meet again until early October. We are in communication to confirm the next bargaining dates in October and November.
The co-op’s position has been, and continues to be, to offer the best wages possible while being responsible to our owners and customers. This was true when we used the City of Minneapolis living wage model when we introduced a $15 per hour starting wage in our previous contract, and it remains true now. We are proud to be a local community-owned business with over 24,000 owner households and $40 million in annual sales. Other corporate grocers in our neighborhoods have multiple stores, some in many states, with revenues in the billions. We are proud of our commitment to have a minimum of two-thirds of our workforce in full-time positions and that our wage scale does not differentiate between part-time and full-time staff. This is not true in the conventional grocery industry, including other grocers represented by UFCW 663.
Also, as previously communicated to staff internally, we want to assure co-op staff and our community that the $2.5M remodel of the Franklin store is a necessary business investment and project funding is not coming from savings that could otherwise be used for wages. The Franklin store opened almost 15 years ago. We do not have a choice but to replace systems and equipment when they break down or fail. And an intentional, proactive upgrade to the sales floor is an important way to increase sales while also improving the experience for staff and our customers. This is a capital expenditure unrelated to the wage issue.
We are proud of our identity as a union co-op and see contract negotiations as a supportive tool for ensuring that all stakeholders have a voice in the important decisions that impact our workplace experience. We appreciate the staff members from many areas of the co-op who are at the table sharing their perspectives. The role of management at that table is to balance the desire to provide the best possible workplace experience with the responsibility to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of our community-owned co-op.
Management agrees that co-op staff deserve improved wages, and our proposal provides this. As mission-driven organizations, Seward Co-op and UFCW have many shared values. We look forward to continuing to work with UFCW 663 and its bargaining committee to resolve the remaining issues in the current bargaining process.