When I have told people that my family and I are leaving the island, many have said “But what is the Co-op going to do without you?” As always, I have a plan for that.
First, I admit that there is never a good time to leave, but this certainly isn’t a bad time. Even without me, the current Supervisor team has 30 years of experience making the Co-op the best it can be. The pandemic has presented many challenges, but it has also put the Co-op in a better financial position than ever. With an inflow of cash, we were able to catch up on many much-needed projects and we still booked a profit of more than $50,000 at the end of the year. What’s more, the pandemic has forced us to examine our business closely for the past year, and it prompted us to improve in many ways – including our health and safety program and our human resources in general. In other words, the Co-op is better than ever and I have no doubt that it will continue to be successful without me.
But back to the plan. The Board is beginning the search for a new General Manager, so we have worked on job descriptions and advertising plans, and the next step is to put together a hiring committee composed of Board and staff members. However, we are not counting on someone being in place before the summer; we expect the process to take a while in order to get the right person. In the meantime, we are organizing the Supervisor Team to take on the
extra responsibilities that I have had. In particular, Meg MacDonald will be the Interim Store Manager and Carly Mersereau will be the Interim Deli Manager; they will lead the two halves of the Co-op, and they will share decision-making over matters that involve both sides. The other Supervisors and Buyers – Bronson, Corry, Hazel, Rebeka, and Sheena – will take on extra duties as well. Amy Robertson (Board Chair) will support them all as needed and De Clarke (Board Treasurer) will take a more active role in the finances. I have put together a long list and we’re diligently working through it. While the plan can’t cover every upcoming circumstance or unforeseen event, the team will be ready. I ask you to support them in every way you can and to be patient and kind as everyone adjusts to this new model.
Finally, I ask you to consider beyond just the manager position and to the staff in general. In spite of increasing pay, benefits, and perks for our staff, we’re seeing fewer and fewer applicants as time goes on. Consider this: for someone starting as a store clerk with little or no experience, we’re paying $15.50 per hour along with a 10% discount on purchases and supplemental health, dental, and life insurance benefits for those who work more than 20 hours per week. From day one, the staff person accrues two weeks vacation time per year and one week sick time per year. For each shift, the staff person gets half an hour paid break, a complimentary espresso or coffee drink, and a complimentary soup. And the work environment is great! However, the last time we posted an ad for a store clerk, we received no responses. We have posted twice this spring for a cook (which obviously pays better) and no responses. We posted for all summer positions and got only one applicant; we would expect to get at least five. We’re fortunate that we’re bringing back so many young people from last year for the busy summer season. We do go through times when there are fewer available workers on the island, but this year seems different, like it could become a chronic problem. Yes, available housing almost certainly has something to do with it, but I suspect there’s more going on as well. The pandemic isfundamentally changing this island in ways we have yet to realize. Regardless of the reasons, this is the most serious problem our community enterprise faces: a lack of staff at all levels.
We’re fortunate that we have such a dedicated Supervisor team who can see us through the summer, and I have no doubt our success will continue with the support of a stable and committed staff. Remember that our staff are working harder than ever this year, and show them the kindness and respect they deserve. Without them, we don’t have a Co-op.