Author Topic: Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?  (Read 994 times)

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snappylt

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Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« on: February 22, 2013, 06:38:54 PM »
i was talking with one of my sons about different types of business organizations.  It reminded me of an odd situation I came across many years ago, so I thought I'd ask for opinions here.

PLEASE NOTE: my question is going to be about whether or not it is rude to discuss a neighborhood "hot topic".  I don't want to discuss the "hot topic" itself here.


More than twenty-five years ago I worked for a non-profit employer in a very big city.  I ended up living near our office in a small, relatively crime-free "safe neighborhood" surrounded by what I was told were high-crime areas.  There were very few grocery stores inside that big city back then.  (I think most of the inner city grocery stores had closed and moved out to the suburbs.)  The grocery store in my "safe neighborhood" was a cooperative, owned by the people who shopped there.  To be able to shop there at all, one had to purchase a membership, like a share of stock, and then when one moved away one could sell one's share back to the co-op board.

It sounded good to me.  I figured that if it was a co-op, the prices would be low, but when I joined I found that instead, the grocery prices were quite high (compared to the other city I'd lived in before).

I asked at my office and was told by one of my coworkers (an older woman I trusted) that I needed to be very careful what I said in public about the co-op grocery.  It was a very hot topic in my new neighborhood, she said, and if I said the wrong thing, I'd risk really angering certain people with strong feelings either way.

She explained that the neighborhood co-op grocery had a policy of having annual raises for each employee, with no upper limit to their salaries.  She told me that there were some employees who had started as bag boys as teenagers in the 1950s and were still bag boys thirty years later, and were earning, she said, more than $50,000 (in 1980s dollars - way way more than I earned).  She said employees tended to stay on there for many years because of the way their salaries could get so high.  She told me this also meant that the co-op's expenses were high, and so the co-op charged high grocery prices to the members.  She said there were strong feelings about this issue, and up until then, people who supported high salaries won the elections to the board of directors.

I was a young fellow in a new city.  I didn't want to get into arguments, so I pretty much followed my coworker's advice for the year I worked there and did not discuss the co-op's salaries or prices at parties or in the office lunchroom.

Here's my etiquette question: would it have been rude for me to discuss the issue of the co-op's salaries & prices in the neighborhood?

I can see both sides.  On the one hand, I think it is usually rude to be discussing other people's salaries - it's usually none of my business.  How am I to know if a relative of a co-op employee is right there, liable to be offended if I complain about high salaries causing high prices?  On the other hand, since I was an co-owner of the co-op, would that have made it not rude to discuss the employees' salaries?





« Last Edit: February 22, 2013, 06:44:19 PM by snappylt »

Hmmmmm

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Re: Co-op store - Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2013, 06:47:42 PM »
I don't think it would be rude to discuss the high salaries.

As a co-op member (a.k.a. stock holder) you have a right to educate yourself on the policies of the co-op. And how much they spend in labor is a genuine concern for any stock holder of any company. A company with high labor cost for their industry is not a good investment in many cases.

However, it sounds like the co-worker offered you advice on "how to win & keep friends" not etiquette advice so I don't think her advice was out of line.


Surianne

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Re: Co-op store - Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2013, 06:49:18 PM »
Hmmm...I feel like I'm missing a few things here.

Why would you want to discuss the employees' salaries to begin with?  Is there a particular reason that you felt pressured to discuss the salaries?  Was someone bringing this up with you?  You mention in the office lunchroom -- I think generally, it's a bad idea to discuss divisive issues in the workplace, so it probably would have been better to change the subject.  I'd see this as akin to discussing politics.  You also mention at parties -- I suppose you could discuss it there, as long as you dropped it if you noticed it was making someone upset.  It doesn't seem like a smart call to me, though, unless you knew your audience very well.

I'm also a little confused as to why you joined the co-op before finding out the food prices.  Did they not allow you to see the prices before joining?  I don't think that's necessarily an etiquette issue, more an issue of practicality. 

If you had a problem with the employee salaries,  I think the best way to handle it without being rude would be to write a polite letter to the managers of the co-op, explaining why you felt that employee salaries should be kept low. 

snappylt

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Re: Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2013, 07:10:05 PM »
OP here, replying to post #2.

At that time in history, the co-op was the only grocery store (other than smaller, even higher-priced convenience stores) within walking distance of that inner city neighborhood.  Apparently many US supermarket chains had closed their inner city stores at some point after WWII, opening big new stores out in the suburbs, instead.  I remember some of my coworkers with cars would drive out to the suburbs to grocery shop, they said, because the prices were much lower in suburban supermarkets than at our inner city co-op back then.

Since it was the only grocery store in walking distance, and since I just assumed that a non-profit co-op would have low prices, it didn't occur to me to check their prices before joining.

I don't remember feeling "pressured" to discuss the salaries at the co-op.  The topic of high prices in general would come up in routine conversations sometimes back then, though.  (Wasn't there high inflation for a while back then?)  I had just been warned by that one coworker to be careful about complaining about high prices at the co-op.  She explained that the co-op's high prices were because of its high salaries.  She said feelings ran very high on both sides.

Anyway, I had not thought of this in years until this week when my son and I had a conversation about types of businesses (like corporations, partnerships, co-ops, etc.).  That reminded me of my only experience with a co-op.  I remembered that at the time, I had agreed with my coworker that complaining about the co-op's prices and salaries was best avoided.  I was curious to know if others here thought that was a rude thing to discuss, or not-rude.
« Last Edit: February 22, 2013, 07:16:40 PM by snappylt »

Sharnita

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Re: Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2013, 07:36:13 PM »
I think potentially rude and more realistically pointlesssince it doesn't sound like discussing it could/would change it.

oceanus

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Re: Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2013, 07:44:49 PM »
Rude, pointless, and inappropriate to discuss the salaries.

Deetee

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Re: Co-op Rude for members to discuss employees' salaries?
« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2013, 08:00:50 PM »
I think this falls into the "don't discuss politics" camp.

Now personally, I both LOVE to discuss politics and I think that rational intelligent people should be able to discuss politics and have a duty to be informed enough to , but I am careful to discuss with other people. I feel that one should be able to have some discussions where neither side knows what the other actually votes/feels etc... The arguments should be intelligent and nuanced enough that they could encompose various viewponts.

Off soapbox

I think you were just being warned that this was a political topic and you should tred with caution. As for being upset or thinking the wages are unfair that could go many ways. I would hope that someone who was really disgruntled about the wages would shop elsewhere (with ensuing inconvenience) or join the board.

I may be biased as my grocery store of choice also pays "high" wages and has slightly higher prices and I support it fully