BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley provides livable wage |

BriarPatch Co-op in Grass Valley provides livable wage

Photo for The Union by Jennifer Terman. BriarPatch employee Zaq Gonzales refills and wipes the buffet area. BriarPatch will grant a minimum livable wage of $11 to all base employees.

One of Nevada County’s natural food markets is in the final stage of paying it forward by raising employee wages.

BriarPatch Co-op has implemented a livable wage, determined by multiple cost-of-living factors such as healthcare, transportation and rent expenses, which increases its minimum employee pay from $8.50 an hour to $11 an hour.

“It’s going to be a good change for the business,” said BriarPatch General Manager Chris Maher. “It makes us more competitive to get the best people in here and provide great customer service, which is what differentiates us.”

For Lyndsay Molsberry, a BriarPatch employee of three and a half years, the pay increase was more than a pleasant surprise but an act of good timing.

“It’s crazy,” she said. “With (my roommate) being on disability, I’m the only one paying the bills, and it just so happened when he had gotten hurt, I found out our raises are going through, and it was kind of like everything is going to be OK, like it had all worked out.”

BriarPatch is a cooperative, meaning the store is owned and democratically controlled by members and a board of directors, which consists of — and is elected by — members. Surplus revenues are returned to the member-owners proportionate to their use, and members pay taxes on income kept within the co-op for investment and reserves.

The organization also focuses on environmentally responsible and healthy foods and offers a community center to provide education on consumer food issues, Maher said.

“Members vote and run for the board of directors, so they can influence the store directly in that way,” he said. “When you have a public company … stockholders are looking for a return on their dividend and don’t necessarily use that company … The people who own (BriarPatch) are the same people who use it — one group of interested people as opposed to maximizing profit.”

There was discussion as to whether the goal would be to pay the livable wage for starting employees or after one year of employment, but the decision was made to pay all base-level staff members the $11 per hour minimum.

The raises began in October, Maher said, and were broken up as a way to make the transition easier without raising prices.

“One of the things that was most important was to be able to do this without raising prices — that was completely off the table — and to get people to understand what we’re doing,” he said.

To offset the increase in wages, the store made sure to raise productivity, maintain the employee hours and inform the owners, staff members and management of the changes.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Kamala Wolf, a BriarPatch member of two months. “It’s really difficult to live on minimum wage.”

The change coincides with BriarPatch’s policy to be a fair and compassionate employer, Maher said.

The increase is seen as a financial positive, as it creates a happier employee environment. Because of the company’s growth over time, the store is able to keep labor costs the same, Maher said.

“It did not have a negative impact on the store,” Maher said, adding that in the six years of operation, BriarPatch more than doubled its number of employees and has enjoyed a 10 percent profit increase each year.

Robert Trent, executive director of the Economic Resource Council, said the quality and longevity of employees is improved with better pay and benefits, which can save companies money.

“By paying a good wage and treating (employees) with respect, it creates in the long run a more long-lasting, solid business,” he said.

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“We’re really excited about it,” Maher said. “It’s good for our business and good for the community.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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