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COOKING UP FAIRNESS

Topic: This Working Life

Restaurant owner makes personal choice to pay staff $16 per hour

GEDZ

Restaurant owner makes personal choice to pay staff $16 per hour

JAKE MOGGERIDGE IS NOT YOUR AVERAGE DISHWASHER. He gets paid $16 an hour at the Union Local 613 restaurant in Ottawa. He’s probably the highest paid dishwasher in the city, maybe the province, maybe the country.

“I feel very appreciated,” says Jake. But he’s not alone: all the workers at the Union  recently got a raise to $16 per hour. Thanks to owner Ivan Gedz.

Gedz wanted to be fair to his workers and prove it wouldn’t cost him—contrary to all the hand-wringing over the new Ontario law that will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2018. Gedz crunched his numbers and discovered the raise in pay wouldn’t drive his prices up.

“We raised a few prices here and there,” he said in a tweet. “You wont notice. I didn’t....To all those local restaurateurs that said a fair living wage couldn’t be done well, frankly you are full of shit.”

Union Local 613, despite its name, isn’t unionized. But workers say it’s a good place to work.

The restaurant employs eight kitchen workers, more or less full time, three to five bartenders, and 4-5 servers. Some part-timers are employed, many former workers coming back for a shift or two.

The kitchen staff gets a share of the tips at Union, plus some other perks—a drink per shift, a staff meal—along with access to a medical/dental plan. It all makes the restaurant a place where people like to come to work.

“Management wants feedback at all times, and the employer is not afraid of criticism,”says line cook Peter Webster.

Webster, formerly a computer technician, has worked at Union Local 613 since January, making $14 per hour until the recent change. Cooks tend to stay at Union for years—“a little unusual in the industry,” says Webster.

They pay a lot of attention to making the staff comfortable, says Jake Moggeridge. The workplace atmosphere is very friendly. He notes that while sexual harassment is widespread in the industry Union 613 management is aware and pro-active about that sort of thing. Respect is a dominant workplace value there. “You just get written off at other places.”

The idea that restaurant workers don’t deserve a fair, living wage irks Webster. He points out his job can send him home with sore knees and sore hands—not to mention the occasional burns. The raise to $16 per hour makes it all seem more worthwhile. “I’m happy to be there,” he says.

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