The Lakewood, CO-based company, whose formal title is Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, operates a chain of 157 stores in 20 states, mostly west of the Mississippi. The company reported $230 million in sales in the first quarter of its fiscal 2020. In response to the unprecedented strain put on the workforce, the company has increased pay by $2 an hour and has hired 700 additional staff to help with cleaning and stocking.
The company has also instituted two specific hours a week on Sundays and Wednesdays for elderly customers, pregnant women and others to shop. And it has instituted policies to limit the number of shoppers allowed in stores at any one time based on the individual stores’ square footage to take social distancing guidelines into account.
Similar measures have been taken at other retailers selling dietary supplements as well as foods. Whole Foods Markets, for example, has also raised workers’ pay. But at that company, which is now owned by Amazon, there was a call for a national sickout day on March 31 on the part of a union that has been trying to organize the company’s workers. The union alleged that the company wasn’t doing enough to protect workers’ safety. It’s unclear how many workers actually called in sick on that day.
Family history earns loyalty
“There is a big difference when you work for a family-run company whose leaders come in every day to make sure the stores are running safely. Natural Grocers has raised wages significantly, paid bonuses, allowed early eligibility for medical insurance, added extra weeks of paid time off for stress, illness and family issues, and provided masks and sanitizer to every employee,” said Alan Lewis, director of special projects for the company.
“Temporary workers are helping stock and clean so staff don't get worn out,” he added.
Lewis said the company has also agreed to pay for all costs at in-network providers related to COVID-19 treatment for workers through May 31. That includes diagnostic visits, costs for tests, and in-patient treatment. The possibility of incurring high medical bills has been one of the concerns raised by workers at many companies in many fields in the current environment.
“The company makes decisions for the long term, and well-trained dedicated staff are its lifeblood. Employees who risk working in the public sphere deserve every accommodation possible,” Lewis said.