La Colombe founder: If you can't pay employees a living wage, you don't deserve to be in business | Perspective

Todd Carmichael, CEO of La Colombe, at his Fishtown shop.

 

“I don’t want to be in the business of eliminating jobs,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey told a town hall meeting on Aug. 31.

I agree. We need more jobs that pay a decent, livable wage.

But that is where our agreements end. Because rather than focus on policies that create those well-paying jobs, Toomey denies his support for the one initiative that creates and sustains jobs above the poverty line: establishing a $15-an-hour minimum wage.

Toomey knows a person can’t support a family on $7.25 an hour — the current federal minimum wage. We all do. He said so at the town hall, where he even said “that is why the government has programs to help them.” What he ignores is that companies and consumers need a higher minimum wage, too.

I am living, breathing, profitable proof that raising the minimum wage is good for business and workers.

Our workforce, profitable companies, and consumers as a whole need a minimum-wage raise. If even profitable, growing concerns like a coffee-roasting company can do it, so can others. I’ll go even further and say that unless you pay your employees a nonpredatory living wage that keeps people and their families above the poverty line, you don’t deserve to be in business. And you certainly don’t deserve a tax break for creating predatory-pay “jobs.”

Companies paying $7.25 an hour are cutting corners on human input. They are cheating the consumer by providing inferior services and products, and leaving their businesses weaker, if not anemic and dangerously exposed to competition. Corporations that provide the best services and products are the ones that succeed. The ones that race to the bottom will ultimately lose the race because there will always be someone willing to do it cheaper, or more sloppily, or with fewer quality controls.

Successful businesses evolve. They continually ask themselves what adjustments can be made to reach specific goals. Rather than laying the burden of the business on the shoulder of predatory pay, they make model adjustments, and continue to put the employee at the center of the company. In exchange, they earn employee loyalty and a happier company, which creates a better customer experience, better products, better culture, and brand. And, ultimately, a healthier, more profitable and faster-growing company. These sorts of companies flourish, directly contradicting the notion that fair pay is bad for business and bad for America.

These sorts of companies are not isolated in noncompetitive arenas — coffee retail is some of the most competitive territory in America today, and we are successful. Wegmans is leading the market in traditional groceries. Quiktrip is leading in convenience stores. And Costco is leading in bulk groceries. All are paying their employees living wages with good benefits.

Right now, close to 10 million Americans work full time and still live at or below the poverty line. These are people in minimum-wage jobs, called the “working poor,” often with few or no benefits, struggling to support  families on  salaries that haven’t had a federal increase in 10 years.

Nationally, the Raise the Wage Act needs more support, and Toomey needs to realize just how much this legislation would help everyone. The pro-business Republicans who want to know what needs to be done to create more good-paying jobs should know this bill is it. Over seven years, this legislation would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, allowing plenty of time for incremental implementation.

You want to run a profitable business? Then look at what works: paying employees a livable wage. It doesn’t just make for happier employees, lower turnover, and a better tax base, it makes for happier customers who are willing to come back. It makes for a better bottom line.  That’s how a tiny Philadelphia coffee roaster managed to spread nationally and grow into a $400 million market cap: by keeping people first.

Todd Carmichael is the CEO and co-founder of La Colombe coffee roasters and cafes and host of the Travel Channel show “Dangerous Grounds.”