The pandemic is still with us and Wisconsin is national hot spot. Nonetheless, the Willy Street Co-op management wants to eliminate hazard pay for frontline workers in their grocery stores. Workers at the co-op have been receiving hazard pay as a result of contract negotiations between the union, UE Local 1186, and management because of the increased risk of contracting COVID-19 at the workplace.
David Droster is a worker at the Willy Street Co-op and the chief steward of UE Local 1186.
“The union is currently fighting to maintain the same level of hazard pay that we have been getting for the last period or two of our temporary agreements with management,” said Droster. “It is currently set at $2, which just expired, and we are fighting to extend that. We, too, have noticed that there is still a pandemic on.”
According to the union, the Co-op received over $2 million from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. This program allowed for small businesses to receive loans that would be completely forgiven if they were used for wages and benefits. Droster believes that that money should be enough to cover hazard pay for workers.
“A lot of the Co-op’s worry is for the projected future losses, which no one here is trying to bleed the co-op, you know,” said Droster. “But we take the position that we are here now, bearing hazards.”
The Willy Street Co-op is owned by community members who can shop there and can buy a share in the organization. Those who are member-owners of the Co-op, or who shop there buy are not members, are encouraged to share their thoughts on the matter, both with the union and with the Co-op Board and management.
The Executive Board of the union can be reached at UE1186willystreet@gmail.com, and Droster encourages people to reach out. The Co-op board and management can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Droster pointed out that the co-op belongs to the owners and that the workers feel dedicated to serving the owners and community.
“Our belief is that this is the owners’ Co-op, and we respect not just the profitability of the company but the quality of being in the Co-op, shopping at the co-op, spending time there. You know, especially as a core tenet, one of the seven principals of the co-op is to be community minded, and we share that sentiment and we’ve shared that sentiment since the formation of our union and the beginning of our campaign. Folks are strained and stressed and burned out, and we feel that that compensation can go a long way to curing them materially and making them feel appreciated, and I think that that makes for a better place for people to spend their time.”
Management has responded noting that the hazard pay was supposed to be a temporary program aimed at essential workers and that there is a new normal. The Co-op had also raised the issue of funding.