Baltimore Business Journal: Ned Atwater: Raising minimum wage 'critical to economy, community'

Op-Ed By Ned Atwater
Baltimore Business Journal, March 12, 2019

My wife La and I founded Atwater’s Traditional Food 20 years ago, and with our managers and staff we’ve grown to six restaurant/bakeries, a catering team and a small working farm across the Baltimore metro area.

We support raising Maryland’s minimum wage to $15 by 2023 and phasing out the tipped subminimum wage by 2027. The proposed legislation is being debated in Annapolis this week.

We are a staff of 200, from high school to retirement age. Our staff are on the front lines of our survival and success, from cooking delicious food to ensuring our customers have an excellent experience and look forward to coming back again. They are working and enjoying the restaurant business while building the life that is right for them. And that starts with a living wage.

The restaurant business has always been one with low margins, and a high failure rate. 

We work hard to run a profitable business. Like any small business we try to achieve a balance. Most of our money goes to buying food and paying staff wages. Decisions are made and questions are answered every day, and one of them shouldn’t be, am I paying a living wage?  

Our people should be at the top of the list of priorities, not near the bottom. It is a struggle to run a business whether we raise wages or not. But when we pay a living wage it makes it easier, not harder. Our staff can focus on the work in front of them instead of worrying about unpaid bills. They stay with us longer and we spend less money on hiring and training. More experienced staff are more efficient and productive, and happy employees provide the best customer service. All these things strengthen our business and help ensure that together, we can fulfill our company mission.

Fair compensation is central to our business. We provide health insurance and split the cost. All our staff accrue paid time off, regardless of how many hours a week they work. All staff are given a meal card for a free lunch and are paid while they eat. Our staff appreciate these benefits, but we still need to provide a living wage. 

In Baltimore and across Maryland, today’s minimum wage of $10.10 is not enough. It’s bad for businesses when people working full-time can’t afford the basics. 

The public, our customers, need to understand the connection between higher wages and the value of the goods and services that are delivered in return. A higher minimum wage ensures that we recognize and value the dignity of all work and all workers as critical to the functioning of our businesses and our society.

Fair wages are critical to the health of our economy and communities. Local businesses like ours thrive and grow when customers have money to spend. And by phasing the increase in in over time, businesses will have time to adjust while consumer demand is increasing as working people have more money to spend on things they couldn’t afford before.

Raising the minimum wage will be good for business, our neighborhood economy and our state budget.

Ned Atwater is the owner of Atwater’s Traditional Food in Baltimore and a member of Business for a Fair Minimum Wage.

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Copyright 2019 Ned Atwater

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