Contradictions Around Trying to Pay Bakers

muffins_talking_small“Within the current food system and within capitalism, we’ve learned that it’s difficult to create an organization where workers are compensated enough to thrive AND where everyone, especially poor and working-class folks, can afford to eat.  We are not willing to leave anybody out – not the members who eat our bread every day, not the bakers who bak our bread, not our neighbors who are hungry. This fall, we will be expanding our model so that we can pay our bakers a living wage, create a clearer worker cooperative structure, and continue to build our membership and access to bread.”
-from our Indiegogo fundraising campaign, launching next week, as quoted in the Season 9, Week 16 zine

The bakery experienced a continual struggle in staying true to various aspects of its mission:  as part of wanting to exist outside of capitalism, we made baked goods available to all our member households, prioritizing those experiencing food insecurity.  At the same time, in the bakery’s early days we sought to cover our bakers’ rent needs and then later we hoped to pay them a living wage, but instead kept working them extended hours and failing to meet their needs. At (re)subscription times, the bakers would send out needs lists with items ranging from ingredients for the bread to haircuts for bakers (see “Membership” for these lists, and the season 9 needs report-back for an example of what was and was not working).  A report documents the results of 2012’s crowd-sourced expansion efforts in terms of bakers’ work-week, money, growth strategies including vending locales, and questions on consequences of the expansion. Notes from a visioning dinner in January of 2013 point to both excitement over growth possibilities and desire to pay bakers a living wage. Notes and the financial report packet from business plan meetings in November 2013 provide useful insights into discovering what paying bakers a living wage would have meant operationally.

Statistics from November 2013 Business Plan Meeting Notes:
  • Right now, monthly payroll expenses are just under $1,600. What this accounts for is, between the 4 bakers, 45 hrs/week are getting paid for at minimum wage ($7.25/hr). The actual hours worked by the bakers are between 80-102 hrs/week.
  • If we want to pay a living wage, say $15/hr, with taxes added on that is $17.25/hr, and for 102 hours that would be about $7624.50/month in payroll expenses.
  • Scaling up from paying $1600/month to $7624.50/month means scaling up by x4.765, so that’s why we’re talking about scaling up by about a factor of 5.

The business plan conversations prompted some discussion about possibly growing the bakery hugely and opening a café.  After reflection, the bakers determined they did not want to carry out this plan at this time for a variety of reasons, including capacity and burnout, as well as different priorities for baking, political work, and time. At that point, the bakers decided to take a break from all operations in order to give the full membership time to make decisions about next steps.