Now Or Never

Why this coffee shop owner started paying his staff a living wage

At a time when the hospitality industry is struggling to deal with lockdowns, supply disruptions and labour shortages a Victoria coffee shop owner decided to start paying his employees a living wage. Find out why he says it was worth it.

Sam Jones increased his labour costs by 20 per cent, but says it's worth it

Victoria coffee shop owner Sam Jones had long wanted to move to a living wage model, but finally did it in August. (Submitted by Sam Jones)

When you walk into 2% Jazz Coffee in downtown Victoria, you'll find americanos, espressos, and all of the other things you'd expect.

What's unexpected is what's going on behind the scenes.

In an industry that's struggling under the weight of the pandemic, owner Sam Jones made the decision to pay all of his 22 employees, from baristas to dishwashers, a living wage.

That wage doesn't include tips. He's also offering up to 10 days of paid sick leave — twice the amount currently guaranteed by the B.C. government.

"When people ask me how I can afford to pay a living wage, I turn the question around and say, 'How can I afford not to?'" said Jones, who sees his employees as an asset instead of an expense.

Jones started his certified living wage program in August 2021. One of the perks is he hasn't had any trouble attracting employees, at a time when other restaurants in his area can't keep staff on the books. 

"There is not so much a labour shortage in my mind, there's a reaction to how we treat labourers in our society right now," said Jones. 

"Why would you want to ... work that hard and have to go get another job at the same time [to make ends meet]? COVID has really put that on a pedestal for everyone to see."

A living wage

A living wage is calculated for cities across the country as what each adult in a two-parent family needs to make to support two children and pay for basic expenses like shelter, transportation, food and childcare, according to Living Wage For Families BC. It differs from location to location based on cost of living.

Right now the living wage for Victoria is $20.46, more than five dollars higher than British Columbia's minimum wage, which is set by the provincial government.

Living wage rates in cities across Canada:

Toronto           $22.08

Vancouver      $20.52

Calgary           $18.60

Ottawa            $18.60

Winnipeg        $16.15

Halifax            $22.05

Sources: Living Wage for Families BC, Ontario Living Wage Network, and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Jones had already paid his employees more than minimum wage, but moving to a living wage has increased his labour costs by about 20 per cent. He had long been thinking about making the change, but credits the Bread and Butter Collective for finally giving him the courage to do it.

The collective is a group of Victoria hospitality owners that formed during the pandemic to try to address problems in the industry, as well as share information and best practices.

Some collective members were already paying their staff a living wage, and were able to advise Jones on how to implement it at his own business.

It's the first time Hoèlune Hernandez has made more than minimum wage and she says it's brought ease to her and her family. (Submitted by Sam Jones)

Hoèlune Hernandez, 21, started working at 2% Jazz Coffee as a barista in March 2021. After growing up in a lower-income family, she says it's the first time in her life that she's making more than minimum wage.

"Since I've got my job at 2% Jazz, there is so much stability and ease that has come from it," said Hernandez.

After her father died in 2020, she worked at least two jobs at a time to support her family. She bounced around five different jobs trying to find one that would allow her to make ends meet, before landing at 2% Jazz.

"It's widened my horizons to what life could be like, because I've been living off of minimum wage for all of my life," said Hernadez.

She now sees a possible future for herself taking on a bigger role with Jones's company, including building the relationships between the cafe and suppliers and farmers.

By paying his employees a living wage, Jones says he gets retention and more out of his staff. (Submitted by Sam Jones)

Jones is encouraging other business owners to follow suit in paying their employees a living wage.

"When you combine the base value of paying your employees more with the vision of the company, and you include your employees in that vision, that's where you get retention, you get happy customers because they see that you have happy staff," he said.

"If you're still thinking that you can attract employees at a minimum amount of pay and the minimum amount of involvement in your business and the minimum amount of respect, which is what those two previous things add up to — well, good luck to you."

This segment originally aired in January 2022. Written and produced by Bridget Forbes.

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