Our thanks to 97.9 FM WCHL for spreading the word about our recently certified living wage employers. Have a listen the short clips below to learn more about these businesses and organizations – and please support them as you can!
Transplanting Traditions Community Farm
Orange Congregations in Mission
Orange County’s newly updated 2023 living wage for hourly workers is $16.60 an hour, or $15.10 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) adjusts the living wage annually to keep pace with rising rents.
OCLW determines its living wage by using the widely accepted Universal Living Wage Formula based on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) standard that no more than 30% of a person’s gross income should be devoted to housing. To calculate the wage, OCLW uses the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in a four-county area including Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Orange counties.
Since Orange County Living Wage’s voluntary employer certification program began in 2015, nearly 340 employers have certified as paying all full- and part-time employees the living wage. The 266 employers on OCLW’s current roster employ about 9,000 employees in Orange County. In this past year of record inflation, 48 new employers were recognized for their commitment to paying a living wage.
“Someone earning $7.25 per hour will gross $15,080, if they work 40 hours a week all year. In this time of rising costs, it is completely insufficient,” says OCLW Director Susan Romaine. “A $16.60 hourly wage reflects the minimum wage necessary for workers to live close enough to our county to provide essential services like staffing our hospitals, schools, police and fire departments, grocery stores, restaurants, pharmacies, nonprofits, and more. We commend our 266 certified living wage employers for their leadership in the local economy and for prioritizing their workers.”
When a business or organization certifies as a living wage employer, OCLW calculates the total amount they raised wages to meet the living wage threshold. Since 2015, that total is $2.8 million, with over $950,000 stemming from 2022 wage increases alone – money that is often spent in Orange County.
Learn more about Orange County Living Wage, view postings on the living wage jobs board, or fill out the free application to become a certified living wage employer at orangecountylivingwage.org.
In 2022, we welcomed 48 Orange County employers to our roster of living wage employers. Compare that to 2021, when we added 34 employers! Are you the leader of an Orange County business or organization that wishes to join the ranks in 2023? Here are some tips to help you achieve this goal as we enter this new year!
- Run the numbers, and determine when you might be able to hit this milestone. Measure the wage gap – meaning, compare current wages with the benchmark to understand what lies ahead. Our 2023 living wage is $16.60 an hour, or $15.10 for employers who pay at least half of employees’ health insurance costs. The certification will be in effect for the next two years, and then there’s a more streamlined process to be recertified based on the living wage that is in place at the time of your recertification. Prospective living wage employers: OCLW can connect you with a certified employer, in a similar industry, who can share some tricks of the trade. A mentor of sorts. Reach out to us.
- Assess whether your overall model might be due for a second look. Nicholas Stroud of Belltree Cocktail in Carrboro wanted to raise his wage to more than $15 per hour but didn’t think that should mean he should hold back any tips – so now his workers earn a living wage plus gratuity. “You should have seen the smiles on [my team’s] faces,” he told The Local Reporter. “They were happy to come to work and proud to work here.”
Glasshalfull eliminated the tip obligation when they reopened following Covid. Their website states: “You will notice that our menu prices have increased. In order to eliminate the tip obligation, we raised prices by the average percentage tip previously paid at Glasshalfull. This makes it possible to provide fair and equitable pay for our employees and an excellent experience for you at approximately the same price you used to pay. Glasshalfull has been involved with Orange County Living Wage since 2016 when we were certified as a Living Wage Employer. Our lowest starting hourly wage at Glasshalfull is $16 an hour, topping out at $30. We care about all of our employees, and we pay our service employees a real living wage. If you feel your service team goes above and beyond, may we suggest an optional gratuity of 3%, 4%, 5%, or a custom amount in lieu of the current obligatory 18%, 20%, or 22%.”
- Document your “why.” Put pen to paper to express why this is important for your business/organization and what it would mean to you personally, to your patrons, to your team, and to the larger community as a whole. Getting clear on your motivation will help you reach your goal. “We decided to pay a living wage because it aligns with one of our core values – ‘belonging,’” says Jacklyn Goggins, executive director of B3 Coffee. “To us, belonging means respecting the worth and dignity of all people in the workplace and beyond. To us, a living wage means equitable access to purposeful and community-oriented work. A living wage benefits our employees, business and the broader community because it means we are doing our part to shift power to marginalized communities.”
Mark Overbay of Big Spoon Roasters recently told us: “As a small, family-owned business, we prioritize taking care of our people and their families because healthy and inspired people are empowered to create nutritious and delicious food. When we had the vision for Big Spoon Roasters back in 2010, we had a clear goal of creating a different kind of food business – the type of place we’d like to work – that makes the kinds of no-compromise foods we love to eat, and helps people develop a healthier relationship with our planet. Every business decision is made with this mission in mind.”
Vera Fabien of Ten Mothers Farm shared: “Paying a living wage means our farmers have stable, year-round jobs and can stick around longer than one season, which makes our business more resilient. Skilled long-term farmers make for better vegetables and better service for our CSA customers. It’s taken us a number of years to get to this point, but it feels really good to finally be here, and we believe it’s a win-win situation for all of us.”
- Be transparent with your employees – and other key stakeholders – about your plans. St. Thomas More Catholic Parish of Chapel Hill’s leaders took a strategic approach to ensure that they could support their living wage goal in the long term. But they informed parishioners – about 2,800 families representing about 8,000 individuals – that this was something they were working toward. “Even before we started the offertory appeal, we let folks know that this is a goal we have. We shared that we weren’t there yet and explained why,” says the Rev. Scott E. McCue.
In October 2021, living wages were announced as a key component of the parish’s annual increased offertory appeal; parishioners are annually asked to think strategically about their financial gifts to the parish. In short, leaders made the case that as the cost of living increases, so, too, must wages. The parish became certified in the spring of 2022.
5. Share information about Orange County Living Wage with your employees – so that they can understand how the current living wage is calculated, how the application process works, what our current roster looks like, and how we work to connect living wage employers to job seekers. Our website – orangecountylivingwage.org – is chock full of information about our history, our living wage employers and employees, and more! You can also view our past newsletters.
6. If there is a business or organization on our roster that you are familiar with, reach out to its leaders and ask them to have a conversation about what they have learned along the way. Maggie Funkhouser, the manager of the Carrboro Farmers’ Market, learned about the Orange County Living Wage certification program through living wage employers in the community – market vendors, restaurants, and others, including the Town of Carrboro. “We have a really wonderful relationship [with the Town of Carrboro], and there’s a lot of mutual support,” she says. “Certainly, them being living wage certified is a hugely impactful thing, and it affected me.” The market became living wage certified in 2022.
7. Reach out to Orange County Living Wage so that you can be notified of upcoming networking opportunities. In the new year, OCLW aspires to host events in certified living wage employers’ spaces so that prospective living wage employers and current living wage employers can exchange tips, swap strategies, put their heads together about creating and maintaining a successful living wage workplace.
Orange County Living Wage is pleased to announce that Golden Fig Books has been certified as a living wage employer.
Independently owned by David Bradley, the book shop opened this fall in Carrboro’s Carr Mill Mall.
Seven days a week, the team offers a mix of new, used, and children’s books. Patrons can bring in their used books to possibly receive cash or store credit.
Learn more at goldenfigbooks.com.
David is pictured at center with Olivia LaMarca and Sarah Yarborough. Read on for David’s thoughts on the importance of paying a living wage.
Why have you decided to pay a living wage?
Golden Fig Books pays a living wage because we believe it’s fundamental that any workplace be able to provide for its employees. I’ve always wanted Golden Fig to have a positive effect on our community and, to me, that starts with our staff. As we continue to grow, I’m hopeful that we can make bookselling a viable long-term career option and, in order to do that, we have to start by guaranteeing a liveable wage for everybody involved.
What does the living wage mean to you?
I view a living wage as an excellent starting point for a sustainable business. The federal minimum wage has lagged so far behind inflation, worker productivity, and the cost of living that it is basically meaningless to today’s economic environment. By starting our employees at a living wage, we hope this allows them to lead full lives and take pride in their work without the constant stress that comes with being chronically underpaid.
How do living wages benefit your employees, your business, and the broader community?
This is one of the occasions where the saying “a rising tide lifts all boats” truly does apply. Living wages have the direct benefit of putting more money in the hands of our employees and demonstrating that we value the incredible work they do at the store. But, from a broader perspective, it also has the benefit of uplifting and improving our local community. If everyone were guaranteed a living wage, there would simply be more money spread throughout the community, leading to innumerable benefits such as increased tax revenue for local government projects, more worker freedom (both in terms of time and opportunities), and more disposable income that can be put back into the community’s locally owned businesses in a virtuous cycle. Every organization that commits to paying living wages brings us one small step closer to that vision.
Dear Living Wage Supporter,
During this time of labor shortages and soaring inflation, we’re very proud that Orange County Living Wage (OCLW) is adding new employers to our roster at a record pace. Over 250 certified living wage employers appear on our roster, up from 220 in 2021. They represent 8,800 workers – roughly 10% of all workers in Orange County.
As our living wage community grows, wages climb. Our 2022 living wage is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. Since OCLW’s launch in 2015, our certified employers have raised wages by a combined $2.8 million to meet our annually adjusted living wage threshold. That extra money makes it possible for lower-wage workers to pay for rent, food, and transportation, with the dollars often spent right here in Orange County.
Will you help OCLW grow our living wage movement by making an end-of-year donation?
▪ For $1,000, sponsor two networking events for our 250 certified living wage employers, creating opportunities for cost-saving collaborations and synergies.
▪ For $250, help us maintain our Job Board, connecting employers to skilled workers and workers to good-paying jobs.
▪ For $150, help us fund publicity for our living wage employers through social media, a bimonthly newsletter, our blog, opportunities to engage with the media, and printed pieces such as brochures.
▪ For $100, supply framed certificates and breakroom posters for 10 certified living wage employers.
▪ For $50, purchase OCLW storefront decals for 10 employers.
▪ For $7.25, remind yourself and others of the unacceptable 13-year-old minimum wage for workers in Orange County.
Make your tax-deductible gift today. Mail a check payable to OCLW at P.O. Box 1502, Carrboro, NC 27510. Or visit our website at orangecountylivingwage.org/donate/. You can also head to our website to view our growing roster of living wage employers – all would appreciate your support this holiday season.
Thank you for doing your part to sustain living wages and create a more equitable economy for everyone in Orange County!
BY ANDREA CASH
When St. Thomas More Catholic Parish of Chapel Hill became certified by Orange County Living Wage in July, there was much rejoicing, as a long-term goal had been reached. Behind the scenes, the process had been underway for more than five years.
The effort began with advocacy from the outreach committee of about 16 people, which is centered around the idea of treating others fairly. The committee works on initiatives like blood drives, weekly food drives, collecting and donating clothing and household items for community members in need, and the CROP Hunger Walk.
Susan Romaine, a founder at OCLW, is also a parishioner at St. Thomas More. She presented to the committee about OCLW’s mission years ago. Outreach committee member Carol Prokop was particularly moved. “It didn’t occur to me that some people at the church may not be getting paid living wages,” she says. “It’s an issue that is very important to me. And now and then, I would check back with the parish leaders to see how things were going – and then report back to the committee.”
“It’s just the way the work of the church happens and the way we function,” says Carlos Lima, St. Thomas More’s director of operations and finance. “People bring in concerns and initiatives, and we respond in the best way we can.”
Walking the Walk
Prokop says becoming living wage certified sets an example as followers of Christ.
“As a church, we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” she says. “If we are telling people that we need to be compassionate and empathetic and support fairness and justice … we must support people’s basic rights. People need a fair wage for their work in order to get those basic rights met.”
Lima says the parish could have been certified a couple of years ago, except the wages of some part-time workers weren’t where they needed to be. OCLW’S living wage for 2022 is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. The church’s leaders took a strategic approach to ensure that they could support this goal in the long term. But they informed parishioners – about 2,800 families representing about 8,000 individuals – that this was something they were working toward.
“Even before we started the offertory appeal, we let folks know that this is a goal we have. We shared that we weren’t there yet and explained why,” says the Rev. Scott E. McCue.
In October 2021, living wages were announced as a key component of the parish’s annual increased offertory appeal; parishioners are annually asked to think strategically about their financial gifts to the parish. In short, leaders made the case that as the cost of living increases, so, too, must wages. Would parishioners help fund the wage increase?
McCue recalls that parishioners immediately understood that “the reason we are able to be successful in our mission – to Pray, Serve, and Spread the Gospel with Joy – is because we have the employees we have who do the work that they do.”
Parishioners met the moment by increasing their financial gifts between the fall of 2021 and July 1, 2022, making it possible for wages to be lifted and the living wage goal to be met. The parish has 28 employees. On average, wages were increased by $2 per hour – signifying an annual wage increase of $126,760. The parish’s work force falls into four main categories: pastoral staff (including two priests, a deacon, and a lay minister)); faith development staff focusing on the education of adults, children and youth; administrative staff, including an office manager and support staff; and the maintenance department. On average, staffers have been with the parish for eight years.
“I think the staff was very much appreciative that we were looking at this in a very intentional way to make sure that we were keeping up with the cost of living and being mindful of the needs that they have and the responsibilities they have,” McCue says. “The fact that we took on the initiative to be certified I think says something given our presence in and impact on the community. … For us as faith leaders, we speak often about that need to look out for those who are most in need in our midst. … Part of this has to be to make sure we are looking out for those who are entrusted in our care.”
Lima says the certification is an example of putting “your resources where your message is, where your heart is.”
“It’s important that people know that this is faith-based initiative,” says Pastoral Associate Mary Ellen McGuire. “This all stems from Jesus Christ, who was a model of justice for us – and fairness and compassion. That’s what drove this.”
‘The Right Thing to Do’
McGuire adds that she is hopeful that parishioners who either own businesses or have the ability to influence their workplace will spread the word about OCLW, leading to more wage increases in the county.
“People feel it’s important and feel gratified that the money they put in the coffers is going toward this,” she says. “People work hard, and the staff is extremely grateful. There is rejoicing, and the sentiment is that it’s the right thing to do.”
All photography – with the exception of the collage of staff photos at the end of the article – by Tom Simon.
To commemorate Labor Day, WCHL’s Aaron Keck hosted a panel discussion featuring local workers whose employers are certified with us. Tammy Price from Chapel Hill Transit, Alaina Plauche from Meantime Coffee, and Ben Sellers from Ten Mothers Farm reflected on what it means to be paid a living wage. OCLW’s Susan Romaine and Andrea Cash spoke about our organization’s history and mission. Listen to the audio clips via WCHL’s website.
And don’t forget to take part in our social media campaign this Labor Day weekend. In a separate segment, Aaron and his husband Brad talked about their date night plans that will include stops at living wage employers like Belltree, Lantern, Epilogue, and more.
Between Sept. 1 and Labor Day on Sept. 5, we encourage you to show some love for Orange County’s living wage employers! Thank them for helping to create a more just and sustainable local economy that works for all! Check out our directory and make plans to spend some of your dollars with one or more businesses/organizations on our roster. Then, post to social media using our hashtag – #OrangeCountyNCLivingWage – between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5. And be sure to tag Orange County Living Wage and the employer you’re featuring!
A bit of background: While the federal minimum wage hasn’t budged from $7.25 per hour in more than 13 years, Orange County
Living Wage’s 2022 living wage is $15.85 per hour, or $14.35 per hour if the employer pays at least half the cost of health insurance. We commend the approximately 250 living wage employers currently on our roster – more than 8,500 employees work for them.
Since our nonprofit was founded in 2015, OCLW living wage employers have collectively raised wages by $2.7 million – money that is often spent right here in our backyard!
Thank you for showing your appreciation for these positive change makers in our local economy!
BY ANDREA CASH
When Chef Beau Bennett of Beau Catering suddenly died of an intracranial brain hemorrhage on a Friday in October of last year, his staff had to simultaneously process their devastating loss and successfully pull off three large catering events that same weekend.
“The show must go on,” says Lauren Erickson Bennett, Beau’s wife. “There is still an event, and people are looking to you. … As the caterer, you’re the backbone of the event. … You have to keep it moving along.”
Lauren gives the team credit for wanting to do well for their colleagues, for the business’ reputation, and for their clients. The team had never executed an event without Beau at the helm. She also recognizes that, through their dedication and steadfastness, they exhibited “pure love for Beau.”
Most of the staff has come on board since the onset of Covid. Lauren says that’s even more of a testament to how much they care about their work – they were relatively new to their company environment but chose to stay as the business weathered the storm.
Since Beau died at the age of 45, the business – which was launched in 2009 and is based out of the Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough – has been busier than ever. “This was a hard spring because this is the first time since Covid that it was a regular, busy wedding season plus all the things we set up during Covid – the marketplace, the drop-off meals. … We actually have sort of tripled the business,” Lauren says.
Lauren co-owns and operates a financial planning and investment management firm – working with a lot of small business owners – but wanted to keep Beau Catering open because there are 20 to 30 people at any given time relying on it for all or part of their income. “I felt like we had to give it the best we could and not shut it down,” Lauren says.
It’s also “the one place I can say Beau’s name without feeling kind of awkward,” she says. They were together for 22 years and married for 10, having met as restaurant co-workers.
Sometimes, in a given day, the staff will hold three to five tastings for clients who are planning events, and they catered two to three events each week through the busy spring wedding season, which will happen again in the fall season.
It’s no secret that the food industry is challenging, and catering brings unique obstacles as the team must set up in unfamiliar spaces and for unfamiliar audiences – during high-pressure events that often represent some of the most important hours of a client’s life. The team can only function well if everyone shows mutual respect. “In general, it’s really important to keep positivity – but not in a cheesy way,” says Lauren. “And honesty. Honesty breeds positivity. You have to hear people when they have an issue or a complaint on how something could be done differently. You have to listen and respond.”
“Everybody is expected to do anything – and they do,” Lauren says of the Beau Catering team. “And that’s why the living wage is so important.”
Payroll has consistently been the catering business’ largest expense. Lauren says it was always Beau’s goal to pay people not just a living wage but a thriving wage. (The business became an Orange County Living Wage employer in March 2019.) Staffers start at $16 per hour – 15 cents more than Orange County Living Wage’s 2022 living wage – during a probationary period. Their hourly rate quickly increases if they do well. Most on the team make $18 to $25 per hour, plus tips.
“If someone is consistently worried about money and bills and paying for the kids or whatever the personal thing is, and then you add in that you are asking them to do really challenging work, you are not going to get substantial work out of them,” Lauren says. “And they aren’t going to be positive. The morale is really important.”
Feel the Love Friday – a social media initiative – came about within a month of Beau’s death because Beau passed away on a Friday and by that Saturday, there were rumors on the Internet saying that the business had closed. Their social media team came up with the idea to keep Beau’s presence front and center in an upbeat way. Every Friday brings a positive post: about staffers preparing meals to uplift a nonprofit, about a special memory of Beau, about a team member. “It’s a way to keep Beau as part of things without being too sappy and weird,” Lauren says.
Beau, a native of Washington, North Carolina, first worked in a restaurant in his hometown, but got his first kitchen job at Crook’s Corner after taking on odd jobs, including working in the construction industry. He was trained under renowned Crook’s Corner Chef Bill Smith.
Lauren says that Beau thrived in chaos and loved working with his hands. His cooking philosophy centered on using as few ingredients as possible – Beau believed that the best food was also the simplest.
Beau Catering launched in 2009. The Beau Show – where Beau would speak to event crowds and describe the food as it came out – was a signature of Beau’s business and an extension of his effervescent personality. But, Lauren says, “the Beau Show was a real show, all the time.”
“Beau was the kind of person you root for twice as hard because you know he is rooting so hard for everyone else,” Hillsborough Mayor Jenn Weaver wrote in The News of Orange following Beau’s death last year. “He was the kind of person who finds genuine happiness in other people experiencing their own successes and life milestones. … This one person touched so many people’s lives in a purely positive way.”
The chef was known for his larger-than-life presence and friendly nature. And that, in so many ways, is his real legacy.
“There’s no real reason to keep the business going if it’s not going to have the same emotions and feelings and fun that was there before,” Lauren says. “There’s no reason to do it if the team isn’t making money and enjoying themselves and feeling empowered.”