Thursday, April 3, 2014

11. Barack Back in Town

April 3, 2014 - Ann Arbor, Michigan
Source: MLive Michigan - Jessica Webster
Barack was back in my home town of Ann Arbor yesterday (April 2nd). I think he felt obligated because on his last trip to Michigan in February, he was only able to go to East Lansing and visit Michigan State University's campus. That trip was to make an announcement about the breakthrough legislation on the Farm Bill which Michigan's senator Debbie Stabenow masterfully guided through to approval. A win for farmers!
Source: MLive Michigan - Jessica Webster

Barack's trip yesterday was to highlight the need to raise the minimum wage in the USA. Why Ann Arbor? One is the fact we're a city on the leading edge of paying living ages. The Ann Arbor city council requires that all companies it does business with pay their employees, at minimum, a living wage, which is currently defined as $12.52 an hour for employers who pay health care and $13.96 an hour for employers that do not provide health care. [Source: MLive, click here.]

The president' push to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour aligns with a campaign for a statewide ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage in Michigan to the same amount. Michigan last increased its minimum wage to $7.40 per hour in 2008. It is among 21 states with a minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25. [Source: MLive, click here.]

But the other reason Barack had to visit Ann Arbor is Zingerman's Deli -- A. for the Reuben, and B. because Zingerman's co-owner, Paul Saginaw, has been to capital hill for talks with congress on how and why to increase the minimum wage. Read this great story of what it was like to be at Zingerman's for lunch yesterday: click here. Personally, I was within in minutes of being there myself, if I had only known! I was racing in my car from Michigan State to the University of Michigan, trying to make it to a 2pm meeting at UofM, so I was on main street while the President was one block away at Zingerman's. I wondered what all the police cars were for....

There are also two reasons all of this relates to coffee. A. paying the workers who grow coffee is important also. The countries they live in usually don't have a Barack Obama for a leader. Some have better -- the U.S. could learn a few things from Costa Rica in my opinion. But most have nothing even close. Voices of dissent are quickly snuffed out. Also, this is a place to clarify that the definition of "workers who grow coffee" includes both smallholder farmers, like those in Rwanda and Burundi, and the hired workers that many in the industry are trying to support through organizing, fair trade programs, etc.  It also includes employees at washing stations and in dry mills. It's a broad, diverse, important labor force that deserves to be compensated with a living wage.  

B. paying the workers who skillfully prepare coffee and serve consumers matters. That's what Paul Saginaw does and that's what the partners of Zingerman's Coffee Company do. They don't do it to be charitable. They do it because it's good business. I don't know if they pay baristas the Ann Arbor City Council's standard of $12.52/hr. But I do know for a fact, that Zingerman's employees are treated with respect and given ample opportunities and support to get training. Trained workers, who are treated with respect, are loyal workers. They also tend to be innovative and become problem solvers, not complainers.

With the issues facing coffee at origin, does anyone think we might need the workers in the fields and at the washing stations to be innovative problem solvers? If there is no President Obama or U.S. Congress to pass laws to help coffee businesses in Mexico, Colombia, Vietnam, Brazil and elsewhere operate at the level needed for the 21st century, it obviously remains to those of us in the coffee industry to simply do the right thing -- for business reasons.