Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Coffee & Equity: Battle for fair wages taken to Broad Street Market

Owner Andrea Grove speaks with state Rep. Patty Kim at Elementary Coffee Co. in the Broad Street Market.

What gets you going in the morning? A strong cup of coffee? In Elementary Coffee Co.’s case, it’s strong coffee and fair wages.

Owner Andrea Grove today met with state Rep. Patty Kim (D-Harrisburg) at Elementary’s stand inside the Broad Street Market to discuss wage increases and the positive effects on small businesses.

Since opening 4½ years ago, Elementary has made pay equity a high priority, explained Grove. One of the main ways they do this is through paychecks that exceed the minimum wage.

“When Elementary makes more, our employees make more,” Grove said. “I’d really like people to make more than me.”

At first, Elementary started employees at $9 an hour, but now has increased pay on average to $12 to $13.50 per hour, Grove said, adding that, with tips, employees earn up to $18.20 an hour.

“[Grove] is putting higher minimum wage in a formula up front–it’s not an afterthought,” said Kim, a strong supporter of a Pennsylvania minimum wage increase. “That is the mental shift we need.”

Federal minimum wage has been stuck at $7.25 an hour since 2009. However, 30 states (including Washington, D.C.) currently have higher minimum wages, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

“People shouldn’t be working full-time and still have to be on public assistance programs,” said state Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller, who also attended the pay equity event at Elementary Coffee. “They should be able to afford housing and food and basic necessities.”

Advocates like Kim dream of seeing a $15 minimum wage.

While some businesses may struggle to increase wages, Kim sees it as a long-term investment. Small businesses can expect better employee retention with higher pay, she said.

Kim acknowledged that some job losses may result from an increased minimum wage. About 33,000 people will lose their jobs in Pennsylvania, she explained, but some 1 million people can expect pay a raise.

“We have to pick and choose our battles,” she said. “In the long run, it will be beneficial.”

The long run is exactly what Elementary has in mind as they look forward to opening a second location at 256 North St., Harrisburg, in July. Grove explained that, as workers take on full-time roles, Elementary will raise their wages yet again. They are also looking into providing health care coverage for employees.

Grove recognized that it takes time to gain enough stability to pay above minimum wage.

“It comes in steps,” she said. “One step at a time.”

Or, perhaps, one cup of coffee at a time.

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