Ontario coffee franchise continues to pay above minimum wage, despite province-wide hike

It’s always been the philosophy of Coffee Public that if they expect their employees to go above and beyond in their work, they should be paid accordingly.

Which is why owners Erin and Nick Cluley have been paying their employees above Ontario minimum wage since they opened their first location in Toronto six years ago.

And that philosophy remains the same today, even after the provincial government’s minimum wage increase took effect in the new year.

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The new $14 per hour minimum wage took effect Jan. 1, and marked the first of two scheduled hikes, with the second to take place on Jan. 1, 2019, when the minimum wage will go up to $15.

“Given that the minimum wage has increased to $14 and will increase to $15 in 2019, we feel compelled to give everyone a $1.25/hour raise,” Coffee Public said in a post on their social media platforms Friday. It was a photo of a letter the company gave to its employees to explain the changes being made in accordance with the province-wide hike.

This means that all employees’ starting wage will be set at $14.75, up from $13.50 and increase to $15.50 beginning January 1, 2019.

The decision includes employees from both Coffee Public locations — the Cluleys opened a location in Port Hope shortly after buying a farm in the town over a year and a half ago.

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“When we first opened back in 2012, we always planned on paying above minimum wage — we never really envisioned having minimum wage staff,” Erin told Global News Sunday. “So we’ve been doing that from day one and I think it’s been working well for us.”

Erin said they had been preparing for the wage hike for months and that there was never any real thought to not increase Coffee Public’s wages further to the new mandatory increase.

“We had started our staff at $13.50 for a long time now, so we knew we were going to have to raise everybody at that point if we wanted to keep the same status quo that we’ve been working at for the last six years.”

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The company increased prices by 10 per cent to offset the changes.

The post has garnered positive feedback on social media, especially since the wage increase has faced a lot of blow back since its introduction.

On Wednesday, a photo posted to Facebook showed a letter sent to workers at two Tim Hortons restaurants in Cobourg, Ont., which said that as of Jan. 1, staff would no longer be entitled to paid breaks, and would have to pay a portion of the costs for dental and health benefits to offset the $2.40 jump in the hourly minimum wage.

Condemnation was swift and the controversy even caught the attention of Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, who on Thursday called the benefit cuts a “clear act of bullying.”

A statement on Tim Hortons‘ corporate website placed blame on a “reckless few” franchise owners.

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But for employees of Coffee Public, the letter came as no surprise, as the Cluleys have always made their staff a priority.

“I remember that when I was interviewed for the position, my manager made a point of telling me what the owners believe in, and part of their mandate is that they believe in paying workers fairly, above minimum wage,” Coffee Public Port Hope employee Mallory Ford told Global News Sunday.

“Being paid more than the bare minimum is very motivating,” Ford added.

“It makes me feel like my hard work is valued and that I’m not disposable [or] replaceable.”

Ford started at Coffee Public last November and is a recent university graduate with a load of student debt. She feared she would have to take a nine to five desk job to help her to pay them off, which is something she doesn’t enjoy. It would have also have made her side job as a photographer difficult to keep up.

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“I didn’t think it would be possible to make more than $12 or so in any customer service or food service position, even though that is what I enjoy the most, that’s what I’m best at and have the most experience in,” she said, adding the owners have been very supportive of all employees who maintain side businesses of their own.

Ford said it also “feels really good to be a part of a company that tries to support local business and agriculture.”

Coffee Public also ethical sources from around the world “because wages are an issue worldwide, and if we source our products from places where employees are underpaid or poorly treated, it would be hypocritical,” Ford said — a statement also echoed by Erin, who said she couldn’t have said it better herself.

Coffee Public does most its production themselves, which Erin said helps them to be able to save money which can then be directed toward wages instead.

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The company roasts almost 100 per cent of its own coffee and does all of its own food production, including baking.

“I had always wanted to get into farming in one way or another,” Erin said. “We’re just glad that we can love what we do and do that with a little bit of an ethical spin on it and pay our bills.”

As to the almost viral response the company has seen since it posted the letter, Erin said attention wasn’t something they were looking for at all.

“It’s just something that we’ve always been doing and we’ve been preparing for this for a long time.

“We really didn’t expect this, nothing we’ve ever done has had this kind of response. But it’s timely, people are really passionate about this one way or the other.”

For Ford, working for a company like Coffee Public makes her incredibly proud.

With a files from Paul Soucy and Tania Kohut

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