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Co-op Workers Demand Higher Wages, Free Expression

It's Not Known How Many Employees Are Organizing Or In What Manner
The storefront of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op, a community-owned grocery store, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Some Fredericksburg Food Cooperative employees want higher pay, free expression and the ability to attend board meetings.

hyperbole has obtained an email from the Board of Directors and General Manager to the Co-op’s owners on Wednesday evening. It explains that “several” employees had recently submitted a “list of demands” that included salary increases, the opportunity to attend Co-Op board meetings and permission to wear pins with social and political messages of their choice.

The letter says that the employees’ demands have been refused, citing fairness in negotiating with a group instead of on behalf of all employees, as well as the National Labor Relations Board, which is for “conducting elections in which each employees has a right to decide for themselves…and determine if they, in fact, wish to be represented by such a group.” It’s not entirely clear in what manner the employees have elected to organize thus far, nor their status as full or part-time.

The letter continues by explaining to owners that the Co-op’s starting pay of $10 / hour in their opening year in 2021 has increased to a rate of $14 / hour today, “with almost all employees earning more than that…despite the fact that the Co-op has not yet had a profitable year.” The Co-op is open to increasing employee salaries as it “gains stronger financial footing.”

The Co-op’s letter reminded everyone that board meetings are open to employees and the public alike, but held firm on the demand to wear political and social messaging, as well.

“Our concern is that the Co-op is not a political entity; we are a consumer-owned grocery store where all are welcome regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status and mobility.

The Fredericksburg Food Co-op opened in 2021 after merging nearly $2.5 million in private donations with a $1.4 million loan from the National Co-op Bank. Anyone can purchase ownership in the Co-op for $200. One of the benefits the Co-op advertises to owners is “a voice in the Food Co-op’s governance.” The Co-op’s website is advertising open positions for cashiers, stockers and cooks.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics places Fredericksburg’s average weekly wage at $1,160. A full-time employee working 40 hours per week at a wage of $14.00 takes home $560 per week. The national average exceeds $1,300.

This story will be updated with details as they become available.

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