Treating workers as humans
At Hen of the Wood, we call ourselves the Hen Family. That’s not just a figure of speech — we’re serious about building a business that supports everyone who helps make it successful. That’s why we provide paid sick days to our employees and why I support the paid sick days bill that would give all Vermont workers the same right.
Paid sick days have improved our restaurant. They have reduced turnover and helped us to recruit and retain top-notch employees. Many of our employees are building careers in a field that often is hard to sustain livelihoods and families.
I know the conventional wisdom is: “Who wants to work in food service?” I’m proud to be part of a growing group of restaurant owners working to change the realities and reputation of this industry, from a tough one to work in, to one where workers are treated as human beings and enabled to meet their needs.
Just recently, one of our employees got hurt snowboarding and had to be out of work. I know that between medical bills and lost tips, it was a struggle to miss work. And we missed her. But thanks to paid sick days, it wasn’t a catastrophe for her. I feel good that our employees don’t have to worry that they’ll be in serious trouble if something unexpected happens, such as a skiing injury or the flu. And I know that our patrons feel good knowing that they can rely on our staff members to be healthy and happy when they come into one of our restaurants.
Big national corporations and the organizations that represent them, such as the National Restaurant Association, do not represent me as a local business owner. These groups have opposed paid sick days nationwide supposedly on behalf of small businesses. But they don’t represent me — they represent the interests of the remote shareholders of large profit-driven corporations that are a primary cause of the growing wage disparities in our country. In fact, when Hen of the Wood joined the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, we didn’t even know the Chamber was the local affiliate of the NRA. Frankly, that concerns me because I don’t want the NRA’s voice or the Vermont Chamber’s to be confused with mine on this issue. In 2014, I will be standing up for paid sick days in Vermont, and I urge my patrons, neighbors, colleagues and all of us to do the same.
Eric Warnstedt is executive chef and co-owner of Hen of the Wood in Waterbury. He won the 2010 Restaurateur of the Year Award from the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.