Door to Door

Like Diogenes who went with his lamp in the daylight looking for an honest man, I’ve been looking for a businessperson who supports a livable wage (around $15 per hour) in Sacramento. They were able to do this in Los Angeles and San Francisco, so why not here? We can build a new arena with luxury parking, cram new housing into a toxic basin (McKinley Village)—all this to become, purportedly, a “world class city.” So how about instituting a world class livable wage for the servers and clerks and caretakers who won’t be able to buy McVillage houses and can’t even afford arena tickets?

The Mayor’s Task Force recommends $12.50 per hour and The Bee says this is “a better fit for Sacramento.” The cost of living is considerably less here than in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Pat Lynch
A poll taken on Next Door showed a nearly 50/50 split on this issue, with business owners and business advocates taking the expected position against the increase. So I was looking for an anomaly—a businessperson who actually liked raising the minimum wage for employees.

Found one. She lives right here in East Sac, and is opening a nursery called The Plant Foundry. Her name is Angela Pratt. She got her degree in horticulture from UCD, and she empathizes with workers. “To me, having happy, productive employees who feel appreciated and adequately compensated is more important than squeezing every penny I can out of the business and putting it in my own pocket,” she says. Since she’s a start-up (opening day should be sometime in September), she hasn’t yet calculated what she’ll be able to pay to stay in business. But her start-up team earns the L.A./S.F. living wage. “It’s something I’m trying with my current employees and we’ll see how it goes. There’s only one way to find out if this is sustainable: putting our efforts into running the business more efficiently. By using an iPad POS system for inventory tracking, we can look for other ways to cut costs that don’t involve reducing wages or hours.”

Pratt says her empathy for low-paid workers comes from having been one. “I’ve worked for employers who were very reluctant to give raises, nickel-and-dimed us when we did ask, and yet we were expected to smile and provide exemplary customer service. I’ve also worked for employers who gave regular reviews and increases, reminded us to take breaks, and even provided health benefits and other perks.” Working conditions matter to her. “I feel employees should be given opportunities for growth, and bosses should pitch in …wherever needed. It’s not fair to expect an employee of any age to endure hours of extreme heat or cold, not being allowed to sit down, rules against listening to music, etc., when a manager or owner has those comforts.”

The image of bosses lolling (my term) while workers hustle and sweat sparked a litany of bleak personal recollections. Here’s one: I furiously stapled papers to meet a last minute deadline while a man strolled by, paused, pointed at the floor, and said to me, “These papers need to be picked up.” That was the day I said, “Pick them up, then,” and spent a big slice of the afternoon with a Human Resources person who said I didn’t need to use words like servitude to describe my job, a job many would be thankful to have. And I shouldn’t, she said, have answered snippily to a supervisor, even if he was a dud whom nobody liked. This all happened when I was young and valiant, but I have never forgotten him standing there, puffed with his smug, small authority. He made the days miserable.

“Work should be enjoyable,” Pratt says. And rewarded. She adds, “too many good employees become disenchanted and unproductive when they realize they’re not valued enough to be paid what I call a ‘dignified wage’.” So here’s an owner/manager who believes in good pay and says of her present employees, “We’re a team. I’d be lost without them.” If you’re a newbie who gets hired to water plants, she won’t pay you $15 per hour. But she’ll be fair, and you’ll go to work in a nice place. If you’re a single adult with rent to pay, or a single parent, you’ll have an employer who gets it. You’ll appreciate the check that accompanies the good vibe at The Plant Foundry.

A lot of tired, partially examined notions can be trotted out to justify skimpy wages, the fall of free enterprise foremost among them. But Angela Pratt focuses on a bigger, truer picture. I’ve queried several people, and she’s the first one who’s talked about the dignity of livable pay in a collegial workplace. She clearly intends to create a working climate that is the antithesis of some of her past experiences; the employee has become a sensitized employer.

I think she’s right, and if you’ll forgive a salute from the old days, right on.

Pat Lynch can be reached at patlynch@surewest.net. Pat Lynch is a Sacramento writer with astute social consciousness and a reporter’s sharp eye. She tunes us in: to language with its revelations and betrayals, to subtexts, to nuance, to irony. Her characters engage us emotionally; her stories peel away the layers with humor and great humanity. Purchase her book, “All That Glisters And Other Stories”, at Lulu.com or call 916-457-2725 for a 20 percent discount.

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