By Liz Welch
The Coop’s August General Meeting took place on Zoom, for the last time in the foreseeable future as in-person meetings resume in September. Issues covered ranged from how the Coop’s mark-up is calculated, to why childcare is still on hold—and why 21 is the new suggested age for adult members. Last but not least: Can we please begin to address our fossil fuel addiction?
CHAIR COMMITTEE IS LOOKING FOR A NEW MEMBER
Chair Committee member Josef Szende ran the General Meeting on August 29 at 7 p.m. via Zoom, during which he announced that the Chair Committee is currently looking for a new member who “directly reflects the diversity of the Coop.” Anyone interested, please email email@example.com.
ENCOURAGING FINANCIAL NEWS:
Joseph Holtz, the Coop’s co-founder, General Coordinator, General Manager and Treasurer, presented an eight-page financial statement, and reported “encouraging” news:
The Coop’s gross margin as of July 16 is $4,941,000 versus our total expenses of $4,741,00, leaving $200,000 to operate. Our overall income is $283,000, due to other and interest income.
Holtz also shared a graph (page 2 of the report) designed by General Coordinator Lisa Moore that clearly shows the fluctuation of the gross margin percentage at the Coop during the four-week periods that comprise the first 24 weeks of this fiscal year. The Coop’s overall gross margin percentage for the 24 weeks is 19.61%.
“If we know the actual gross margin, versus the perfect gross margin, then we know the shrink, which is the measure of all that goes wrong—whether dropping a jar on the ground, someone steals something or a company misbills us and we pay too much,” Holtz explained.
The Coop’s shrink percentage is 1.27% of sales—better than the 2.7% industry average, and even better than the the 1.7% industry low. As a coop owned by member shoppers and workers, Holtz believes that “we can and should be lower.” Holtz added that the Coop is transparent about how all products are priced.
WELCOME NEW MEMBERSHIP COORDINATORS
General Coordinator Lisa Moore announced two new membership coordinator team members: Lisa Pelavin began work on Saturday, August 26, and Mae Frankeberger was slated to begin work on Wednesday, August 30.
RETURN OF CHILDCARE
Moore also gave an update on the return of childcare, which members voted in favor of restarting at the October 2022 meeting.
Efforts to revert the former childcare room from the bulk processing area that it became during Covid are underway. Shelving has already been ordered and there is a plan to accommodate the bulk processing area back in the basement. The Coop staff also must revise the childcare training material, train members and create a new functionality in Member Services for childcare training and work slots.
The biggest unforeseen obstacle, however, has been securing insurance for childcare. “The Coop had childcare insurance until we canceled the policy in 2020 due to COVID restrictions,” Moore explained. “Joe Holtz contacted our broker in May 2023 to restart our policy and learned that the insurer we’d used for years is no longer in the market.”
Since then, the Coop’s insurance broker has reached out to multiple carriers and has not yet found one willing to insure childcare because we are not a licensed childcare facility or they do not write childcare policies. Moore said that we are exempt from NYS childcare licensing requirements because “according to health code Article 47, we are a retail establishment providing supervision for children of patrons, our members, while parents are on the premise and the children are not spending more than 8 hours in the program per week.” But we also could not become licensed even if we wanted to because the requirements are so stringent. “The child care room does not meet the standards established by NY: the room must have two exit doors with fire suppression, for example,” she explained. “We do not have such a room in our building.”
However, to make ourselves more attractive to insurers, the number of children will be limited to eight at any time and childcare workers must participate in background checks. “Our broker is continuing the search as the list of possible carriers has not yet been exhausted. Provided we get insurance, the goal is to have childcare back up and running in the fourth quarter,” Moore said.
After Moore’s presentation, member Beth Ruck asked if there had been any efforts to enable Coop members to coordinate with each other to share childcare, such as a bulletin board sign up. Another member, Lisa G, noted that there were only 30 people present on the Zoom and since this is an issue that impacts so many members, that perhaps the Linewaiters’ Gazette could cover it.
The Coop’s current rules state that members can join the Coop at 18, which means when current members children turn 18, they must join, be issued a card under their own member number, and begin working shifts. Parents have historically pushed back on this rule—whether their kids don’t want to join, or they’re away from home at college. General Coordinator Ann Herpel explained that this has led to tension, confusion and an equity issue as some children who wanted to be able to shop on their own or to work a parent’s shift have been issued cards at 14—and we have a record of their age, and expected them to work when they turn 18. There are many more kids of members for whom there is no record.
“We decided it would be reasonable to raise the age to 21,” Herpel explained. “If you can buy alcohol and weed at that age, you can also work at the Coop.”
The Coop’s General Coordinators sponsored an issue to be discussed: “Coop Definition of Household and Adult” as these definitions have caused confusion and stress to members and staff alike, according to Herpel, who presented reasons for the proposed shifts.
- The Coop defines an adult as a person 21 years or older. Individuals 21 and older may apply to join the Coop.
- A household is a group of adults who share food and other products purchased at the Coop.
- All adults in a household are required to join the Coop and fulfill all membership requirements.
- All adults in a familial relationship who reside together must join the Coop. Familial relationships include but are not limited to spouses, domestic partners, significant others, children/step-children, adult children, siblings/step-siblings, parents/step-parents, and grandparents/step-grandparents.
The other related issue was confusion over the definition of what it means to be in a “household.” Herpel explained, “The current accommodation is that if you are two adults living in a household but don’t otherwise share anything, then that person is not part of your household.” While your roommate does not have to become a member, your spouse or older children do.
”We want to make it clear that if one member of your family wants to join the Coop, then everyone in that household must join,” Herpel said.
During the questions and comments portion, member Seher Dholakia suggested that in order to be inclusive, people who are not part of a Coop household should still be able to join at the age of 18.
“I would have joined at 18,” Dholakia explained. “And I lived in New York.”
Herpel agreed that more nuanced language could be included in the new rules, adding, “If we are not requiring other children of household members to work until 21, then there could be access for new adult members joining at 18, but not having to work until 21.”
Another member named Tara also shared that she had been a member for 18 years and had never heard of this policy, which was why she came to the General Meeting—to figure it out. “I was not aware that [my daughter] could have gotten a card,” she explained. “She just left for college—can she still shop with me if she is home for the holiday? Is she supposed to work when she is home for the break? The 21 change would be super helpful to us to navigate.”
Under the current rules, Herpel explained: “You would have to register her as a member and then have her take a leave of absence until she is home, at which point she would have to work in order to shop. Or she could join her when she comes home—either winter break or summer break—and then go on leave when she’s back at college.”
The last member to comment on this complicated issue was Bhakti Sondra Shaye, who simply stated: “I’m in support of whatever makes the Coop more family-friendly!”
Coop member Tracy Fitz spoke next about an ongoing conversation at The Coop—to stop giving away plastic bags. “We started talking about this in Oct 2019, and then again in September 2022,” Fitz said. “My idea is to sell compostable or non-compostable bags instead of giving them away.”
She presented her reasons, starting with data:
Currently the Coop gives customers 60,677 non-decomposable bags per month. Each costs roughly $.01 a piece, which comes out to an estimated $693 per month, which the Coop covers.
The pros? The bags are cheap and strong.
The cons? Fitz listed many, including: They take fossil fuel to make them and do not decompose. Despite the myth, they are not recyclable—as it costs more to reuse than to use a virgin bag. Making—and getting rid of—these single use bags uses heat, which means more Co2 is emitted into the air which directly contributes to global warming. Carbon emissions are directly related to a 30% increase in extreme weather events, including hurricanes, wildfires, heat waves and more.
She also compares these stats to the pale green compostable bags made from corn that the Coop also distributes to members for free. Each costs 4 to 5 cents, and 41,000 are distributed monthly, which costs the Coop $1,837.00.
The pros? These bags are biodegradable. The cons? They need air to compost and often wind up in the garbage. “If they don’t go into compost,” Fitz said, “they don’t decompose.”
She also pointed out that the combined cost of providing bags for members—whether single use or decomposable—cost the Coop $30,000 plus a year which is added to the cost of food. Her suggestions?
- Convert to providing compostable bags which would cost the Coop $52,000 a year. “I vote for no free use single bag give away at the Coop and instead use that $52,000 to subsidize using re-usable bags.”
- Have a coop work slot that has a member walking around the Coop and training people how to be less dependent on fossil fuel plastic. “We would start with the single use bags,” she said. “And then tackle the clam shells and soft plastic containers.”
Member Brian Shuman showed members the mesh bags his family uses, and asked how the Coop would pay for this conversion. Holtz said: “By converting from fossil fuel [to decomposable] bags, we’d spend $50,000 a year…. that’s not good for our financial situation.” While he agrees with Fitz that the “plasticization of our world is appalling” and that he is in support of “making this conversion”, they differ on how the Coop would deal with it financially, explaining. “Tracy would like people to pay for it. I would like to pay for it by raising the price of every case of produce by 20 cents for every case of produce.”
If people were to pay for their bags, that could cause conflict at check out, which the Coop has been trying to make more efficient. “If we charge people per bag at check out, it would slow check out down,” Holtz said. “We can’t afford to do that.” He also thanked Brian Shuman for using cloth bags, adding that the Coop does not subtract the weight of the bag.
Amita Rodman agreed: “I wash and bring my own bags—and don’t expect that other people do that. But I do expect that we must and should pivot away from plastic as part of our value system.”
She suggested markups, or the Coop absorbing the price, as a good way to do this.
General Coordinator Lisa Moore agreed.
“We are working towards replacing compostable bags in the produce area, and removing fossil fuel bags,” she said. “And paying for it by adding 20 cents per case—not per item—in produce. You would not feel it as a customer, as a buyer of these items. And that is not the same as charging people individually.”
A member named Lenore seconded that the Coop absorbing the price is the more equitable approach: “I’ve done cashier and check out and people on fixed or limited income often have to put things back they can’t afford.” Herpel agreed: “A member using food stamps is not able to buy bags on their EBT card. It is not an option.”
Fitz appreciated all these ideas and ended the session with: “Can we chip at this issue slowly and methodically? Let’s stop with the fossil fuel bags first. Then we can go for the clam shells which are also single use, and soft plastic jars as well. And can we vote on this next time?”
Liz Welch re-joined the Gazette as a reporter in August 2023 after a hiatus. She is a longtime journalist and author/collaborator whose work can be seen at http://www.lizwelch.com.