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James M.
Democrat MA 2

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  • Haymarket Cafe

    by Representative James P. McGovern

    Posted on 2016-01-07

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    McGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, today I am honored to share the story of the Haymarket Cafe, started by brothers Peter and David Simpson, in Northampton, Massachusetts.

    Mr. Speaker, one of the surest signs of a vibrant local economy is a lively restaurant scene. You know a town or a region is humming economically when you have a wide variety of restaurants to choose from. It is a sign that people have enough money left over after paying all of their bills to spend on treating themselves and their families. It is a strong indication that people feel secure in the direction of the economy.

    But for millions of low-wage workers across the country, the story is more complicated than that, and the picture is not all that pretty. For all the economic vibrancy associated with restaurant culture--and though restaurants employ almost 1 in 10 private [[Page H107]] sector workers--restaurant workers are among the worst paid, worst treated within the economy as a whole.

    {time} 1015 While non-restaurant private sector workers make a median hourly wage of $18, restaurant workers earn a median hourly wage of $10, including tips. The results are predictable in that more than 16 percent of restaurant workers live below the poverty line.

    This picture is made even worse by how it is skewed along race and gender lines. The highest paid positions in restaurants tend to be held by men and people who are White while the lowest paid positions are typically held by women and people of color. At the bottom of the ladder are undocumented workers, who comprise over 15 percent of the restaurant workforce, more than twice the rate for non-restaurant sectors.

    The good news is that it doesn't have to be this way. There are forward-thinking restaurant owners who are choosing the high road, restaurants where conscious efforts are made to break down gender and ethnic divisions and that choose to pay a living wage with good benefits.

    If you ask them, the owners of these establishments will tell you that they choose this path because it is not only the right thing to do, but it is also the smart thing to do financially. They choose this path because it is a solid business model that improves the chances of success in a highly competitive industry.

    I am proud to represent one of those restaurants in my district. The Haymarket Cafe in Northampton, Massachusetts, has led the way for almost a quarter century in treating its employees with respect and in paying them a living wage.

    I attended an event a couple of weeks ago at the Haymarket Cafe at which the owner, Peter Simpson, announced that his restaurant was moving to a $15 per hour minimum wage and would be eliminating tips. Now, I have known Peter for a long time, and I was not surprised that he would take such a step.

    Peter opened the Haymarket with his brother, David, almost 25 years ago. From the beginning, they were committed to paying a fair wage and in creating a positive work environment for their employees. In talking to Peter, I realized that his decision, while it reflected his idealism, was rooted in hard-nosed business sense.

    You don't survive and thrive for a quarter century in the highly competitive restaurant industry, especially in a small, tight-knit community like Northampton, if your business model isn't airtight. Every decision you make has to make sense financially in order to succeed and stay competitive.

    The decision to go to a $15 per hour minimum wage and eliminate tips was not something Peter took lightly. He did his homework. He looked at other restaurants in other cities that had made a similar move. He talked to all of his employees. He worked closely with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, which is leading the charge to better the lives of low-wage immigrant workers in western Massachusetts.

    Eliminating tips allowed Peter to make the wages between better paid waiters and less well-paid kitchen staff more equitable. It allowed his wait staff to earn a wage they could count on, rather than having to depend on the tipping whims of customers. It also gave him increased staffing flexibility, as he could train all of his staff to do all jobs so he could more easily shift people around when necessary. In committing to a $15 per hour minimum wage, Peter also increased staff loyalty while decreasing turnover and training costs.

    As a result of Peter's bold decision, the Haymarket Cafe has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support. Staff and customers are equally enthusiastic, and business has jumped. This commitment to wage equity has shown, once again, to be a sound business strategy and has shown that a business based on such principles can provide a decent living for its staff and can contribute to the economic health of the community.

    Mr. Speaker, the Haymarket Cafe is living proof, especially in an industry with such a dismal track record on wages, that paying a living wage is good for business and that a commitment to wage equity makes financial sense. The restaurant industry can and must do better, and I am proud to say the Haymarket Cafe is leading the way.


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