URBANA — Common Ground Food Co-op announced this week that it has begun paying a "living wage" to all its employees.
It's not just what Champaign County has computed as the living wage for this area, but the living wage determined by a more generous model used by food cooperatives nationwide.
Common Ground, which has 98 employees, raised its base pay to $9.25 an hour in October.
That compares with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and the Illinois minimum wage of $8.25 an hour.
Champaign County has calculated the living wage for this area as $8.30 an hour, and the model used by the food cooperative movement determined a living wage of $9.23 for this area.
Living wage is defined as a wage that can meet a person's basic needs and provide a safe, decent standard of living in a particular community. The amount varies by location and the cost of living there.
Before Common Ground increased its base pay last month, it was paying $9 an hour.
"The adoption of a living-wage policy by the co-op supports our mission to be the center of a vibrant, inclusive community," said Jacqueline Hannah, Common Ground's general manager, in a release.
Hannah said retail is the lowest-paid industry in the United States, and the margins in the food industry are the lowest in retail, so it should be one of the industries where it's most difficult to pay a living wage.
"Farmers are often vastly underpaid, as are farm workers, and this problem trickles up to food retail," she said. "In the U.S., we pay far less of our income toward food than any other country in the world, yet families are still struggling to afford healthy food."
The food co-op, located at Urbana's Lincoln Square, has expanded considerably the past few years and is seeking a second location in Champaign.
Hannah said the cooperative had fewer than 10 employees in 2007.
"That the co-op was able to create so many quality jobs during a time of tremendous economic instability nationwide is a significant point of pride," she said.
A spokesman for Niemann Foods, the operator of County Market stores in Champaign-Urbana, said the company could not supply a base wage for employees in the Champaign-Urbana market. Gerry Kettler, the company's director of consumer affairs, said the pay is dependent upon position and experience.
A message left at Schnucks corporate headquarters about that company's base pay in Champaign-Urbana was not immediately returned.