October 29, 2015

How much do you think Clover employees should earn?

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Have you ever woken up and looked at the world differently? Realized that you’d been missing something that now seems so obvious?

7 years ago I thew myself at what I see as one of the toughest and most important challenges to a positive future for us all: changing the way we eat. I had this idea that if you could help people fall in love with vegetables, all kinds of people, even the baconista, you could spark a change that would create a beautiful food future.

I think those of you who know Clover have experienced this magic. In many ways Clover today is much more powerful than I had imagined when I started this journey. I feel lucky to be part of what is starting to feel like an important movement.

But you know what? There’s something I’ve been doing wrong that whole time. We’ve been tearing apart the food system, rebuilding almost everything in a smarter way, but haven’t focused our efforts on wages.

I assumed what everybody in my industry believes about labor. I assumed it couldn’t change much. I remember when I found we paid more than the Apple Store, when we paid more than Whole Foods Market. I thought that was amazing.

But woke up the other day and realized I had it all wrong. It just can’t be amazing that somebody is working full time and earns $16,000/ year, and is living in Boston. Low wages mean instability. They make crazy little things in life like paying to get on a MBTA buss to go to work an obstacle. You might worry about where you’re going to live. It might be hard to maintain relationships. You might be late to work.

So here’s my argument: I think we can’t build a long-term sustainable food system without changing our labor practices. I think we can do this, but I need your help. We ask a lot of our customers, we want to know what we can do better, we want to know what you think of new menu items. We even ask you for recipes and ideas for the next sandwich. We ask you to tell everybody you know about Clover. Now I want to ask you to help us pay more.

I want to pay an average wage of $20/ hour.

Sounds impossible, right? It’s really not. I’ve been thinking on this for almost a year, and if we make modest price increases (think $0.25) spread over time (say 2 years), we can get there. And this is where you can help, or tell us you think this is a terrible idea.

What do you think?

The only way to test this is to actually try the change and see how folks respond. I’ve decided to start us marching down this path. We’re going to increase prices $0.25 at a time. When prices change wages will change. And then we’re going to watch transaction volumes. Assuming everything goes well, we’ll do this again. And again. To support $20/ hour customers would have to be willing to pay $10-11/ sandwich. I think we can get there in 2 years. But really this is a cooperative experiment. We’ll watch carefully to see how you, your friends, your colleagues, respond.

We’ll make the first price change in the first weeks of November. It will be small, but we’ll be loud about it because I think this could be the start of something amazing.

Does food taste better if it’s made by somebody who has a stable income?

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