January 15, 2018 6:43 pm

Vancouver’s JJ Bean coffee raises B.C. employees wages to match Ontario minimum wage

FILE PHOTO - Vancouver-based JJ Bean Coffee has raised its minimum wage for B.C. employees to match the $14 an hour its Ontario workers will make.

FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
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While a number of Tim Horton’s franchises in Ontario are facing a public backlash for cutting employee benefits in response to an increased minimum wage, one B.C. company is going the opposite direction.

Vancouver-based JJ Bean Coffee recently expanded to Toronto, and when it learned minimum wage was rising to $14 in Ontario, it decided to increase its B.C. minimum wage by the same amount.

LISTEN: Simi Sara talks about JJ Bean’s minimum wage move

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“We’ve always been committed to paying our employees above minimum wage, and so with the recent news of Ontario wages going up it started a discussion about wages going up as well,” JJ Bean retail leader Jesse Neate told CKNW’s Simi Sara Show.

Neate said that philosophy has helped the company keep turnover low over the years, with many employees sticking with JJ Bean for stints of five years or more.

READ MORE: $15 minimum wage consultations begin with B.C.’s Fair Wages Commission on Thursday

But while retaining employees in a high-turnover industry is important, Neate said paying more was less a matter of inspiring loyalty than it was of being fair to its workers.

“[It’s] all about honouring our people. We couldn’t do what we do without our employees, without our customers. And we have some really amazing people.”

Of course, running a business is always a matter of balancing the books, and in order to pay more in wages the company was faced with the choice of cutting costs somewhere else or raising prices.

It opted for the latter, with New Year’s price increases of one to three per cent.

READ MORE: BC NDP kills 2021 deadline for $15 minimum wage

Neate said that works out to between five cents on a cup of drip coffee to about 50 cents on a sandwich.

“We’ve had quite a bit of positive feedback via Facebook or emails of customers who are just really supportive of what we’ve done,” Neate said of the new prices.

WATCH: BC NDP raise minimum wage to $11.35

He said feedback at the coffee counter has been about 90 per cent positive, though admits there are some people for whom the hike is a bridge too far.

“We also get feedback saying, well your prices went up — coffee’s expensive as it is, I’m never coming back.”

However Neate said the company does raise its prices annually, and while the jump might have been higher this year, the rationale behind it was different too.

He said when employees tell customers that the reason for the price increase is that they’re taking home a bigger paycheck, people tend to be receptive.

READ MORE: B.C. Premier hopeful minimum wage can reach $15 by 2021 without deadline

Neate didn’t want to weigh in on how Tim Horton’s handled the wage increase, save to say that it was a different situation for franchise owners — who didn’t have the power to raise prices without the company’s blessing.

With Ontario getting set to raise wages again next January, this time to $15 per hour, Neate said JJ Bean will likely once again follow suit.

B.C.’s NDP government has pledged to eventually raise the province’s minimum wage to $15, and has struck a commission to determine how to reach that goal.

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