Hamilton's Mustard Seed Co-op pays workers living wage, catches Kathleen Wynne's eye

Premier Kathleen Wynne made a stop at Hamilton grocery store, The Mustard Seed Co-op, Friday morning to discuss plan to improve conditions for employees.

Premier Kathleen Wynne chooses The Mustard Seed Co-op to talk working conditions

Kathleen Wynne picked up some honey from Hamilton's Mustard Seed Co-op on Friday, accompanied by MPP Ted McMeekin and Mayor Fred Eisenberger. (Laura Clementson/CBC)

For three years the Mustard Seed Co-op has been delivering to the people of Hamilton healthy, local fruits and vegetables — and to its workers a living wage. 

And Friday, the grocery was recognized by the premier as a leading example for Ontario employers to follow. 

"We feel that as a Co-op, we've been trying to take a leadership role in creating an equitable workplace for our staff and for our community," said Mustard Seed Co-op president, Graham Cubitt. 

Since opening their doors in 2014, The Mustard Seed Co-op on York Boulevard has been a living wage employer — even though it hasn't always been easy. And Premier Kathleen Wynne considered it an ideal location to discuss her plan to assist Ontario employees. 

"I think she was inspired by seeing a business that has been committed to living wage, intentionally living wage since we opened, to see that you can make it work," said Cubitt.  

On Friday morning the premier talked about how her proposed workplace reforms would assist workers in increasing 'fairness.'

We are a living wage employer. We have been since we opened our store- Mustard Seed Co-op president Graham Cubitt

Increasing minimum wage, predictable scheduling and emergency leave days are all part of the plan.

"They are about providing a decent workplace, a decent living for people in this province," said Wynne. "What we are doing is what I think government exists to do and that is to do the things that people can't do by themselves."

Wynne walked around the store with Cubitt.

Mustard Seed president, Graham Cubitt takes Premier Kathleen Wynne for a brief tour of his store Friday morning, talking about local food and the food producers his store works with. (Laura Clementson )

"We are a living wage employer. We have been since we opened our store and so I think that was one of the things that attracted the premier to stop by and say hello," said Cubitt.

Comes at a cost

Mustard Seed's minimum pay is $15 per hour. That hasn't always been easy to balance.

"The living wage is a challenging bench mark to hit in the retail industry because it's a significant amount more than minimum wage, or has been," said Cubitt. 

Cubitt says providing his employees with a living wage has come at a cost—one of the factors being the amount of hours they can provide employees. 

"We've always opted to maintain the living wage benchmark rather than cut wages from retail staff because we recognize that people are giving something that they have, their time, they're giving to us, compared to another employer and we recognize that people need to make a living wage," said Cubitt. 

He says with the province set to increase wages next year, the store is now working out the equations for his store to increase wages even further. 

The Mustard Seed project stared in Spring 2012, when organizers put out a survey asking Hamiltonians on what they'd like to see in a new co-operative grocery store. The intention of the project was to provide another option for people who wish to buy locally grown, healthy foods.

'It is really about providing people a decent standard of living'

Hamilton mayor, Fred Eisenberger was also at the store. He says he's heard a mixed reaction from locals about the wage increase.

Eisenberger says a picture needs to be painted in terms of how living wage prevents other problems.

It is really about providing people a decent standard of living- Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger

"People with enough resources to be able to have a decent standard of living or at least close to a decent standard of living, tend not to trip into healthcare issues and tend not to trip into the legal system so there's an off-setting cost reduction," said Eisenberger. 

Eisenberger says an upfront investment actually reduces the longer-term costs.

Premier Kathleen Wynne visits Hamilton grocery store, Mustard Seed Co-op Friday morning. Wynne discussed how the local grocery has been providing employees with a living wage, something she hopes will carry across the province. (Laura Clementson )

"I think once people understand that picture, it is really about providing people a decent standard of living. It's going to avoid a lot of problems and reduce costs in the long term."

"We know that there are many businesses like the Mustard Seed, that have already made that decision," said Wynne. "They've already stepped up and put in place those conditions, but we want to make sure that everybody in the province is able to work in a workplace like that."