Baltimore Business Journal: Andrew Buerger: Having a higher wage can actually help businesses grow

Op-Ed By Andrew Buerger
Baltimore Business Journal, March 16, 2017

As our company name, B’More Organic, will tell you, we’re invested in Baltimore’s success. That’s why I recently took time to testify before the Baltimore City Council in favor of gradually raising our city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Raising the minimum wage will help our company, our economy and our city thrive.

From day one, we’ve known our people are our most precious resource. Taking good care of our employees is one of the best ways to profit and grow our business sustainably. In just five years, this approach has helped us spread our distribution to 44 states.

People know you don’t value them if you pay them or treat them poorly. When you invest in your employees, they invest in your customers. Happy customers lead to a happier bottom line. Low-paying businesses are being shortsighted. They may save money on the wages end, but they alienate customers and lose money with high employee turnover, which diverts time and money into continually replacing and training new workers.

When people are paid fairly, it reduces turnover and related hiring and training costs. It improves workforce retention, morale, productivity and customer satisfaction.

Customer service is one of our competitive advantages. Our employees are constantly interacting with and growing our customer base through phone calls, emails, social media, and field marketing such as in-store demonstrations and trade shows. It’s imperative they are professional and passionate about their work and our products.

We can’t expect our people to perform at a high level if we don’t pay them accordingly. Our employees earn the equivalent of $15 an hour or higher, and our paid interns earn $10-12 an hour. Unfortunately, the proposal to raise Baltimore’s minimum wage to $15 by 2022 for large businesses and to $15 by 2026 for small businesses like ours exempts young workers. I think that’s counterproductive.

Our paid interns, who are often high school and college students, or young adults right out of college, work incredibly hard for us. Sure, they are getting valuable work experience and learning with us, but they are also teaching us. They teach me about social media and how to reach our younger customers. They represent where the world and our customers are headed.

We expect the same high level of professionalism and service of our younger people as we do all our employees, so how does it make sense to pay them less? They are all contributing to our success and our bottom line.

Paying less than the minimum wage for younger workers sends the wrong message and will be bad for families, the economy and our community. We want to incentivize working hard and reward that hard work with decent wages and the opportunity to get ahead, for all our employees. How can we ask our young people to seek employment and pursue higher education, for example, if the wages they earn don’t allow them to support themselves and make attending and finishing college realistic? And let’s not forget that these young people are also an important part of the consumer base of many businesses, including my own.

Our certified B Corporation is in good company in supporting this increase as a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage, an organization made up of business owners like myself who believe paying fair wages makes good economic sense. The proposal to gradually raise Baltimore’s minimum wage provides plenty of time for low-paying businesses to adjust to the higher wage floors – and experience benefits such as increased consumer spending and lower worker turnover as the increases phase in.

Baltimore needs a raise. No one working full-time should live in poverty. We can’t say we are going to improve Baltimore and then pay people too little to live on. Workers are also customers. They need the income to be able to buy our product and those of other businesses; they need to be able to make a living. Low wages depress consumer demand, businesses and communities, not to mention put a drag on the city’s social safety nets.

I hope the City Council and the mayor do what’s right and raise the minimum wage.

Andrew Buerger is the co-founder of B'More Organic.

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Copyright 2017 Andrew Buerger

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