The pandemic has shifted the way Seward Co-op operates and the way many of us shop for groceries. COVID-19 has introduced new barriers to the in-person shopping experience, and because of the risks surrounding the virus, many have come to rely on “on-demand” services for grocery shopping and delivery. As a result, Seward Co-op launched Curbside Pickup almost overnight, earlier this year. Curbside Pickup has not only provided a convenient way to shop co-op essentials, but it also provides another way to invest in a more equitable local economy and healthy community. The cooperative difference can be seen in our treatment of staff. Co-op staff receive predictable hours, union representation, a living wage and benefits.
Most on-demand services operate in the “gig economy” and rely on “gig workers” to provide the services. According to Wikipedia, “gig workers” are “independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers. Gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company’s clients.” Reports that proper personal protective equipment has not been furnished and hazard pay has not been provided have become more prevalent among gig workers since the onset of the pandemic.
At Seward Co-op, the staff who fulfill Curbside Pickup orders are always co-op staff most of whom are represented by UFCW 663, as opposed to independent contractors or on-call workers of the “gig economy.” As staff members, these workers earn a minimum starting wage of $15/hour. While the governor has declared a peacetime emergency, our staff are paid hazard pay, as long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the financial sustainability of the co-op. This amounts to an additional $2/hour. Full-time staff working 30 hours or more per week are eligible for a comprehensive benefit package including medical, dental, vision and 401K match. All employees, regardless of full-time or part-time status, accrue paid time off (PTO).
The co-op encourages staff who are unwell to stay home. Clean masks are available to staff at each of our locations. We provide hand sanitizer and surface disinfectant. Staff can monitor their temperature with our onsite thermometers. In addition to the co-op’s generous paid time off, the CARES Act offers two weeks of emergency leave to staff who miss work due to the coronavirus. Staff also have access to a PTO Donation Pool maintained by the Human Resources department. Employees donate their PTO to this pool to assist those who have needs beyond what their own PTO can cover. In April, many community members also contributed to this fund through the co-op’s SEED round-up.
“I believe Curbside is a necessary part of the co-op’s presence in the community, now more than ever. It is heartening to be on a team that meets the ongoing challenges of accessibility and safety with such intention. I have big dreams for Curbside! I think it reminds every one of us how important it is to have access to food and a connection to neighbors. My favorite part? Decorating the work fridge with little notes of appreciation from Curbside customers. We’re all doing our best!” —Aubrey, Seward Co-op staff
We know that community members have many choices when it comes to where they spend their grocery budget. That’s why we think it’s important to share how Seward Co-op uses resources to invest in our staff and community.