Monterey Herald: Karen and Colin Archipley: Increased wage will grow state’s economy

Op-Ed By Karen and Colin Archipley
Monterey County Herald, July 2, 2016. Known cites to date also include Santa Cruz Sentinel, Eureka Times Standard, Napa Valley Register.

We founded Archi’s Acres 10 years ago to develop a business that would provide opportunities to veterans and create a sustainable organic produce farming operation. Paying a living wage is key to our success, so we are pleased the minimum wage is going up in July in numerous cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco, and later increasing statewide in January.

Our commitment to a living wage is borne of Colin’s experience in the Marines. He understands well that any group of people working toward a common goal needs to be united in its vision and share in its success.

By providing good jobs for veterans — who are more likely to be unemployed than the general population due to the difficulties of fitting back into civilian life — we enjoy a workforce with a loyalty and work ethic second to none. Because they are paid wages they and their families can live on, they are more committed, productive and present.

We do right by our employees, and they do right by us. By paying employees a fair wage we benefit from low turnover and excellent customer service as well as increased productivity. We use smart, efficient business practices to innovate and cut costs where it makes sense. That does not include wages — that’s an investment that pays big dividends.

Our success was not always guaranteed. When we started our business a decade ago, organics were still a niche product. Now organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of American agriculture. Costco, which has long payed above minimum wage to all its employees, is the largest organic food retailer in the country.

We banked on our farm becoming profitable. We also knew paying living wages would help us get there. Paying fair wages not only fosters better employees, but it puts more money in their pockets they can turn around and spend as consumers. We want our employees, and those of every other business in the state, to have enough money to buy our product — and to buy the products of other businesses.

Raising the minimum wage will help grow California’s economy. A new report by Oxfam America and the Economic Policy Institute shows that 42 percent of Californian workers earn less than $15 an hour. Almost half the workers in our state will make more money as the wage floor gradually rises to $15. That’s a lot of customers with more cash to spend.

As California phases in a $15 minimum wage, and all farms have to move to a living wage, it will be a real game changer. Big farms are our direct competitors. The 2012 Census found 65 percent of California farms are 50 acres or smaller and have less than $50,000 in market value. Even though they only make up about one-eighth of California’s farms, big farms accounted for 92 percent of the market value produced by farms in the Golden State. Many small businesses already pay living wages to attract and retain quality talent. If the big corporations have to pay fair wages also, that goes a long way in leveling the playing field for us little guys.

Organics was once met with skepticism and not a little eye rolling, but is now one of agriculture’s fasting growing segments. Raising the wage laws are getting the same skeptical or outright hostile treatment in some corners. But we strongly believe that once business owners start paying living wages, they’ll see the benefits we have seen. And certainly our economy and our state will be better off now and in the future.

Compensating people fairly for their work is vital if California is to remain the land of opportunity. We’re proud that in our forward-thinking state, more workers and consumers will be able to enjoy the fruits of all of our labors.

Karen and Colin Archipley are the co-owners and co-CEOs of Archi’s Acres and Archi’s Institute for Sustainable Agriculture Training/Cal Poly Pomona in Escondido.

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Copyright 2016 Karen and Colin Archipley

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