This Labor Day, Support Orange County Employers Offering Living Wages
This Monday is Labor Day, a day to honor and celebrate the American worker.
What is the best way to do this, here in our community?
The organization Orange County Living Wage urges residents to spend the weekend supporting local businesses that have pledged to pay all of their employees a living wage.
There are currently approximately 250 certified “Living Wage Employers” in Orange County, ranging from restaurants and bars, coffee shops and specialty stores, not to mention healthcare facilities, auto mechanics, salons, and more. hairstyle, etc. Each has pledged to pay its employees at least $15.85 an hour, or $14.35 plus health benefits – a “living wage” adjusted annually for the cost of living in the county. ‘Orange.
This weekend, Orange County Living Wage is asking everyone to celebrate Labor Day by patronizing these businesses – then celebrate these businesses by posting about them on social media, using the hashtag #OrangeCountyNCLivingWage.
97.9 Aaron Keck of The Hill spoke this week with OCLW co-founder Susan Romaine and spokesperson Andrea Cash, as well as three residents who work for certified living wage employers: Tammy Price of Chapel Hill TransitWell sellers of Ten Mothers Farmand Alaina Plauche from Coffee while waiting. (Plauche is also a member of the OCLW board of directors.)
Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Andrea Cash, Tammy Price and Alaina Plauche.
Aaron Keck: Tell us about Orange County Living Wage and the work you do on Labor Day.
Andrea Cash: Orange County Living Wage just turned seven. It was formed by volunteers in July 2015. The minimum wage in this country has not increased since July 2009, that is 13 years ago. If you stop and think about how your life has changed in 13 years, the costs have certainly gone up, your life probably looks a whole lot different, but the minimum wage is still $7.25.
Kek: We were talking about it (even) before the rise in inflation.
Cash: And that means the people of Orange County have to decide: Should I fill up on gas? Do I need to fill a prescription? Am I paying rent? Where do I go grocery shopping? These are really tough decisions that people shouldn’t have to make. So this organization aims to celebrate employers who pay a living wage, elevate them, and hopefully bring more organizations into the movement. We have nearly 250 companies and organizations on our list. That means for 2022, they pay $15.85 an hour, or $14.35 with health benefits. My job is just to make sure people know, when deciding where to have a coffee, go to a restaurant, buy a gift, consider checking out our directory and supporting those people. It’s not easy, a lot of them have to work really hard to get to the point where they can afford those salaries. So we want to create a situation where this is sustainable for the organization. A lot of work is done behind the scenes.
And, you know, we’re just one of the few organizations like that in the country. There is something like 20 [nationwide]. There are four in North Carolina, in Asheville, in Forsyth County, in Durham, and then in Orange County.
Kek: Alaina, tell us about Meantime Coffee.
Alaina Plauche: Meantime is a student-run non-profit cafe in Campus Y. It’s been around since 2016, I’ve been here since 2018 – and all the while we cared about making sure people were getting a living wage. We were doing it before we were certified. This is the best way to value your employees and show that you care about them.
Kek: Tammy, tell us about your work with Chapel Hill Transit and what it means to you that CHT is a living wage employer.
Tammy Award: I’ve worked for Chapel Hill Transit for eight years. I’ve driven buses in Durham before, and this is totally different. I love working here. [Our town manager] is always behind employees who earn a reasonable living. During the pandemic, we actually had three raises, and then they just did one raise for new hires coming in. And the insurance is excellent. You can tell the difference. And when you have a manager or city manager who really cares about people, it really makes a difference.
Keck: We talked about how living wage helps workers. How does this help the overall economy?
Cash: Most of that money stays here in Orange County when you pay people more. And it helps morale. You are going to have a drop [employee] turnover rate if people are happier. And we know that a turnover rate costs organizations time and money. So it really boosts the local economy. We saw that if you look at a place like Virginia, which raised the minimum wage, it had a big economic effect. It’s really win-win everywhere.
Listen to Aaron’s conversation with Susan Romaine and Ben Sellers.
Suzanne Romaine: Labor Day is a really special holiday for us. It’s a 140-year tradition to set aside the first Monday in September to uplift our workers. We like to think we do our best to do so the other 364 days of the year. Whether they are grocery store workers or bus drivers, health care providers, teachers or farm workers, all make an important contribution.
Aaron Keck: All Certified Living Wage companies have committed to paying each of their employees a living wage. To what extent does this benefit the workers, the community, the companies that commit?
Roman: Some were already playing a living wage, but many of them had to raise their salaries to be certified. And they’ve now done it to the tune of $2.8 million. And that extra money in workers’ pockets is spent right here in our community. People can finally get their car repaired. They can finally have their hair cut. They can buy school supplies for their children. So it boosts our local economy, creating more jobs and hopefully opening new businesses.
Kek: Ben, tell us about Ten Mothers Farm.
Ben Sellers: We are a small organic vegetable farm on one acre in Cedar Grove. It’s a very small compact space and we don’t have a tractor. Everything is handmade. So it’s a labor-intensive form of farming, but on that acre we’re able to produce enough produce to feed 240 families every week who subscribe to CSA, which stands for ‘agriculture supported by the community”. Community members buy a share of the harvest from the farms and then receive a box each week.
And living pay is a big part of what I think makes it possible to be a farm that has a supporting workforce. Labor is a big problem for farmers in the region. Being able to farm quite close to my home, it’s about 20 minutes from Durham, makes a big difference. It means I can live in Durham. This means my colleagues can live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro. This means that we can be members of the community.
Kek: What is your experience of working with self-employed employers? How does this compare?
Sellers: Yeah, I had never made more than $10 an hour on a farm before working at Ten Mothers. And so that’s a big, big difference. And it’s difficult. It is not easy for farmers. People don’t pay enough for their food, usually, so farmers can pay more. But we are seeing wage inflation on other farms in the region. I think there are a variety of factors behind this, but maybe part of it is that there are now some farms that are living wage certified. There are only a few, but hopefully we see some pressure: now if you’re a farmhand on another farm, you can go to your employer and say, hey, there’s other farms in the area that pay that much. What are you doing to help me?
So the experience is very different — and I think that’s a big part of what allows me and my colleagues to imagine doing this in the longer term. There is a lot of burnout among people who work on farms.
Kek: This is a good point: we are talking about the 250 certified employers, but these employers also set the bar a little higher for all the other hundreds and thousands of employers that exist in the community.
Roman: Absolutely. And Ben makes a very important point about winning $10 versus $15.85. When we talk to employees making $10, one of the things we keep hearing is that it usually means you’re working a second, sometimes a third job in order to make ends meet. And so these workers show up tired. They are exhausted. It’s a very stressful life. And an employer will be the first to tell you they won’t be as productive. And so we’ve learned that some of the best advocates for living wages are employers themselves. When they pay a living wage, they contribute to a more productive, rested, focused and dedicated workforce. They see far less absenteeism and turnover, which can be very expensive for a small business. So they’re the ones saying, you know, this makes perfect sense to us. It is the best value for money to invest in our workers and to invest in their long-term commitment to our organization or company.
Sellers: It’s exciting to be part of this conversation. Because it’s a living wage, it’s not even necessarily a thriving wage for people in expensive areas like this. So it’s good to be part of the conversation about how you can imagine going beyond a minimum of what it takes to live, and imagining people having truly secure lives and livelihoods.
Kek: Final thoughts?
Roman: The best thing people can do to celebrate Labor Day in our community is to take a look at our directory of 274 employers and visit just one, whether it’s a yoga studio, coffee shop , a restaurant or a hair salon, and to say thank you when you go to visit this business. And if you have an extra minute, snap a pic and tag her on social media.
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