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Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas discusses restaurant worker wages

Stashed in: Economics!, Seattle

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Hospitality is one of the industries that cries poor the most when it comes to decent wages. Tom Douglas has done really well in that business and has decided to rebalance by substantially raising wages for back-of-house workers. He serves on the board of a food bank and says it makes him sick to know that his workers are one unlucky event away from needing that help.

What changed your view?

Basically, I’ve just turned 55 and my business is turning 24. I’ve got my toys. I own my home and our farm where we grow a lot of the vegetables for the restaurants. I own my cars and I’m debt-free, essentially. I just decided that, before I open another group of restaurants — which I fully intend on doing — that it was time to look at my company and what I could give back. So I started with … trying to increase the living wage for a lot of the people that live on the edge.

I’ve been on the board of Food Lifeline, our food bank distribution system, for almost 30 years, and it makes me so sick to think that my cooks are one paycheck away from that very line I’ve worked so hard to shorten. It doesn’t need to be that way.

You’ve increased pay for non-tipped employees by how much?

I’ve increased the baseline. We already offer access to health care. So if you work a full-time week here, which we declare 25 hours, after six months, you get health care. We offer vacation, a week a year after one year and two weeks after two years.  That’s waiters, cooks, dishwashers, anybody. We also offer a week a year of sick leave. And now we felt the last thing to get our piece of pie more where I think it should be was to change the baseline wage of kitchen workers.

I love the line, "It doesn't need to be that way."

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