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Unionizing; Owner Appreciation; Board Member Sarah Larson

by Stephanie Ricketts, Board Member

Hello Willy Street Co-op Community! Welcome to October, and all of its pumpkin-spiced glory. I’m keeping this intro short and sweet, as we have a lot to cover in this month’s Board Report!

Willy Street Co-op Staff Vote to Unionize

In early September, Willy Street Co-op employees voted in favor of unionization through the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE). Consistent with our commitment to supporting Willy Street Co-op staff, the Board recognizes the outcome of this vote and will continue to comply with all National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) requirements. I, along with my fellow Board members, look forward to learning more about the collective bargaining process, and how the Board can best support the organization as a whole.

Happy Owner Appreciation Month!

October heralds the anniversary of Willy Street Co-op’s founding back in 1974. There is no more appropriate way to celebrate than by honoring YOU—our amazing Owners! There is more information in this Reader on specific promotions, events and more. Swing by any store on October 13 for some appreciation cake, served by your Board!

Nitty Gritty Board Work

At the September Board meeting, one of the top items for the Board was the annual audit report presented to the Board by our external audit partner, Wegner CPAs. I am happy to share that we received a clean audit report this year, meaning there were no major areas of concern from Wegner. 

Another major agenda items was the annual Ends report, presented by the General Manager. As a reminder, the Co-op’s Board operates in a Policy Governance model, which means we set policies that guide the Cooperative, and then monitor the organization’s attainment of those policies via reports. The Ends are big, important policies that set the high level priorities for the organization. To that end, they are also short and broadly worded. Our Ends Policy reads:

Willy Street Grocery Co-op will be at the forefront of a cooperative and just society that:

has a robust local economy built around equitable relationships;

nourishes and enriches our community and environment; and

has a culture of respect, generosity, and authenticity.

The General Manager sets reasonable interpretations of what attaining these Ends policies looks like, which the Board can negotiate with her each year. We then review the documented efforts taken to comply with these definitions. This year’s Ends Report came back compliant with all policy definitions.

Last but not least, the Board began planning for its annual retreat, conducted a skills assessment to help with future Board recruitment efforts, and had a private session discussion on next steps for the Board in light of staff’s unionization decision.

New Board Member Introduction: Sarah Larson

I’m also happy to introduce you to another of your newly elected Board members, Sarah Larson! Sarah was elected in July 2019 to a three year seat on the Willy Street Co-op Board of Directors.

Stephanie Ricketts (SR): What was your first memory of Willy Street Co-op?

Sarah Larson (SL): My first memory of the Willy Street Co-op was, honestly, probably from a different angle than most. I went to college in LaCrosse, and worked at People’s Food Co-op for awhile. When I moved home to Madison, I started working for Tera’sWhey. My first memory of Willy Street Co-op was around then, when I was working to get Tera’sWhey on the shelf.

SR: How did you first learn about cooperatives, and what was the first co-op you joined?

SL: I first learned about co-ops in college. I don’t know that I remember specifically when or how. I was a liberal arts student majoring in environmental studies and philosophy, living in LaCrosse. Eventually I found the People’s Food Co-op, and that ended up being the first cooperative that I joined. It became part of my food, cooperatives, and environmental journey then, and co-ops continue to inform my sustainable food journey today.

SR: What do you rely on Willy Street Co-op for?

SL: I rely on Willy Street Co-op for a trusted assessment of the state of food. I particularly love the Reader reports from Megan in the Purchasing department, and how they help me understand how pricing works, how category management is going, and what we see in the food on the shelves and what it indicated in terms of the broader food system.

SR: What are your top three favorite Willy Street Co-op foods?

SL: I recently discovered the Willy Street Co-op bone broth, so I’ve been drinking that for breakfast this week. I also am a big fan of Justin's Dark Chocolate PB Cups, and the Forage kombuchas.

SR: Do you have any favorite food traditions?

SL: In the last few years my parents have been wintering in Nevada, and not around for Thanksgiving. My brother, husband, and I have done Thanksgiving together, and it has turned into a really fun celebration of food. We cook around a theme and have an all-out day of cooking, say Indian food, or empanadas, and we invite friends over and play board games. That has turned into a really nice tradition.

SR: Besides being a Willy Street Co-op Board member, what else do you like to do with your time?

SL: I like to read and play board games. I also play roller derby on the Quad Squad. Recently I became a member of the Madison Food Council, and I am also big into Big Brothers and Big Sisters. I also love to spend time with my amazing dog Radar, because he is the bomb!

SR: What are you most excited about in being a new Board member, and what do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges the Co-op will face over the next few years?

SL: I am really excited to be coming on the Board in this time of change, and getting up to speed and helping the Co-op move forward and continue to be a strong force of good for all its Owners.

As far as challenges, it’s getting more and more competitive in the grocery environment. We’re lucky that Willy Street Co-op is such an anchor in the cooperative grocery world. Figuring out how to best innovate and keep that growth in the changing shopping environment will continue to be a challenge moving forward. How does the Co-op respond to trends like zero waste, climate change, etc.? How do these become embedded in the store, in packaging, in call outs, etc. It will be interesting to see how these will be integrated in the retailer by the consumer, and how information dissemination will change via new technologies.

SR: Is there anything else you’d like our Owners to know?

SL: I am looking forward to the journey ahead, and to growing with the Co-op!