On Good Works Chicago, Justin Hall of Fig Catering joined IWJ's Kim Bobo to discuss how working in food service has helped him create an ethical business. Justin and his wife started Fig Catering, now a full-service catering company, about 10 years ago. It all began when the two bonded over their passion for making good food and were asked to help cater a fundraiser for a local congressional candidate. Although the candidate didn’t win, Justin and his wife got the winning idea to begin their own business.
As someone who has worked in food service for many years, Justin knew that there were many issues facing low-wage workers. Because customers want affordable food and because food services can’t reduce the price of their ingredients or appliances, employers often cut wages unfairly. Cutting wages for workers often comes in the form of taking tips or not paying workers as "employees"... That is wage theft.
In order to be a more ethical employer than many of the food service employers that commit wage theft, Justin and his wife decided to build a sustainable business with values. Their focus is to have employees that want to work for them. They pay at least 20 percent above the minimum wage for all workers, as well as try to regularly give raises to employees and provide healthcare. Their idea is to make the jobs reliable and stable, which in turn will benefit their business by retaining employees. Justin shared that Fig Catering hardly experiences turnover because they go out of their way to treat employees well.
Justin’s advice for those who aim to be ethical employers is to take risks and start with a strong foundation, because in the long run, you will be rewarded. Companies that can afford to pay better wages should. When asked about how he would respond to a mandated minimum wage increase, Justin said he would have to see where the money in his business lies, and if necessary, he would take a pay cut himself in order to pay his employees higher wages.
Whether in food service or any other sector, If you believe you are a not being treated fairly by your employer or are a victim of wage theft and are being paid unfairly, please call IWJ's Wage Theft Legal Clinic at (773) 998-1320. The hotline is open on Mondays from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. The Wage Theft Clinic is located at 19 W. Jackson Blvd. at the John Marshall Law School. All messages will be answered within 24 hours.