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Restaurateur commits to $15 wage

Says move will help attract, retain workers

Yawu Miller | 8/17/2016, 11:23 a.m.
If all goes according to plan, by 2018 all of the workers in Bon Me’s six trucks, five restaurant locations ...
Bon Me co-owner Ali Fong announces the restaurant chain’s planned wage hike. Banner photo

For Jose Castro, moving up to a managerial position at Bon Me has been a game changer. The pay bump from $10 an hour to $15 eased the stress of attending community college, paying bills and helping to support his mother and sisters.

“I don’t have to worry so much about my bills,” he said. “I can focus on school.”

If all goes according to plan, by 2018 all of the workers in the firm’s six trucks, five restaurant locations and central kitchen facility will earn $15 an hour, according to co-founder Ali Fong.

“We are proud of this change because we want Bon Me to help our workers better provide for their families,” Fong told reporters at a press conference Monday, held at the kitchen facility on Hamden Street in Roxbury. “We are determined to show that high wages are the best way for our business to be successful.”

Fong said that in addition to the wages, Bon Me would also provide a training structure to help its employees move up in responsibility and pay.

Fong was joined by Mayor Martin Walsh and representatives from Raise Up Massachusetts, the Chinese Progressive Association and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROCU), a coalition of restaurants that have pledged to pay higher wages. In its commitment to a $15 wage, Bon Me joins Dudley Dough, Just Cause Pizza in Harvard Square and Juliet in Union Square in what is becoming a national movement among restaurateurs to pay sustainable wages.

“Anyone who is an insider in the restaurant industry know that there is a hiring crisis,” said Alex Galimberti, a national director at ROCU. “It’s hard to hire people and retain staff paying minimum wage, especially in large cities with high housing costs. Businesses doing what Bon Me is doing will be better able to hire workers and retain them.”

The push for a $15 an hour wage in the restaurant industry is part of a national movement to raise minimum wages above the federal wage, which stands at $7.25 an hour. The union-backed effort is aimed at union and non-union earners, including fast food workers, janitors and hospital workers. In Massachusetts, union organizers scored a victory in 2013, securing incremental increases in the state’s minimum wage from $8 to $9 that year, stepping up to $11 this year.

Raise Up Massachusetts Campaign Director says Bon Me’s move is a significant victory in the local push for higher wages.

“This demonstrates that even a small business can afford to grow and thrive while paying workers a living wage,” he said.

“When we can point to a company founded in this city that employs over 100 people and they’re willing to make that investment, I can’t say enough about them,” Walsh said.

Walsh said the city of Boston can’t set its own wage structure, but has convened a living wage task force to help work out strategies to increase wages for the city’s residents.

“We’re becoming a city of people who can make it and people who have to move out,” he said. “We can do better than that.”