Filckr: Chris Potter

California Chick-fil-A to Start Paying Workers $18 an Hour

We all know Chick-fil-A is the best. The food is great and the customer service is light years ahead of most fast food chains. Now Chick-fil-A — or at least one location of the chain — is proving us right once again by offering a living wage to its employees.

Fast food chains rely on unskilled labor generally supplied by high school or college kids or other workers that don't have a specialized set of skills. But as the unemployment rate continues to drop, jobs that primarily use unskilled labor, like fast food restaurants and retail, are running into the problem of finding enough workers to fill their ranks.

The other problem is that once fast food restaurants have the workers is that they have to keep them. The turnover rate is high in the restaurant industry, partly because of low unemployment, partly because there are more restaurants and so more opportunities to move to a better job, even among fast food chains where the workforce tends to be students who are going to go on to other work sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1.6 million teenagers work in fast food, most as their first job and most as a way to make money while in school, not a permanent career.

One way to retain fast food workers is by offering higher pay than other potential jobs and that's exactly what one Chick-fil-A restaurant owner in Sacramento, California, is doing. Eric Mason is increasing wages at his restaurant from $12 to $13 an hour to $17 to $18 an hour starting on June 4.

According to The Washington Post, Mason told local ABC news affiliate KXTV that he was taking action to pay his employees a living wage, something he says he would have done even without the new increase in the minimum wage in California.

"As the owner, I'm looking at it big-picture and long-term," Mason said in an interview with the news station. "What that does for the business is provide consistency, someone that has relationships with our guests, and it's going to be building a long-term culture."

Mason's employees will receive above California minimum wage, which is $11 right now and will increase to $15 by 2022. He's able to offer the higher pay because Chick-fil-A, like many fast food restaurants, allows franchisees to set certain local policies like pay.

Retaining employees makes sense, especially for a chain like Chick-fil-A that prides itself on high-quality, go-the-extra-mile customer service. The cost to hire and train new employees — which are called "hospitality professionals" — can be more expensive than paying existing employees a higher wage.

It remains to be seen if more fast food restaurants will offer a version of the Chick-fil-A living wage to their employees, or if such a move will make it impossible for restaurants to stay profitable, especially since while individual franchises may chose to offer higher pay, they can't charge higher prices unless the main corporate office approves it. Mason noted that paying workers more will be challenging, but says the community impact is worth it.

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