Checkout these stories from people whose lives were changed for the better when employers determined to pay living wages (using the existing MIT Living Wage Calculator), and from employers who realized the business benefits.

Want to engage? Share your own stories, or tell us about living wage employers in your community, by email or through our social media network. As time goes on, we will share more stories, create short films, and curate your content to give the full picture of this living wage effort in action.

Pete Turner Owner of Illegal Pete’s

Colorado

Pete Turner was only 23 years old when he opened his first restaurant in 1995. And while he may have had a lot to learn about running a business, he knew one thing for sure: he was committed to being a moral and ethical employer. The question was – how to do that AND keep his earnings profitable?

Twenty-four years later, Illegal Pete’s has expanded to 11 locations with over 450 employees. And each person is paid a living wage – which includes paid time off, comprehensive health benefits, and a matching 401(k) program that more than half his employees sign up for.

“I wanted to be the gold standard in our industry for wages,” he says.  “I wanted to be the best.”

But first he had to make sure it would work.  In 2010, he hired an outside human resources company to do a wage analysis.  He learned that the minimum wage he was paying his employees ($9/hour) didn’t qualify as a livable wage.  So he decided to  read more>>

Nishad Sayem of Well-Paid Maids

Washington D.C.

Sayem arrived in the US in 2005 from Bangladesh.  Tasked with supporting his family to pay the bills (his father is disabled and his mom can only work part-time due to injuries), he took a full-time job at a Subway restaurant for 4 years.  But this wasn’t enough to earn a living, so he took a second full-time job at another fast food establishment.  The pace was unsustainable and he was forced to quit one of the jobs.  The worst part of having two jobs, he says, besides having a meager income, was that he had no time to see his beloved family, who mean the world to him.

“I didn’t have the time to spend with them.  When I went to work they were sleeping.  When I came home, they were sleeping.  I never got a chance to talk to them.”

So, Sayem started looking around for another way to make money.  Ever since coming to the US, he had wanted to work in housekeeping.  When Well-Paid Maids hired him, his whole life changed. read more>>

Johanna Cruz of Well-Paid Maids

Washington D.C.

Cruz is originally from El Salvador, and has been living in the US since she was three.  Born deaf, she did very well in school throughout her life, but that didn’t translate into a well-paying job, as she had hoped.

“I went to school for many years because I wanted to earn a living wage, and I thought that to do that, I had to become educated.  I noticed that I was being offered jobs at a very, very low wage.  This was made worse because I was an immigrant and I was doing my best to navigate that system without working myself to death.”

It wasn’t just her deafness that kept a living wage at bay; she continued to bump up against all kinds of discrimination – because she’s female and an immigrant and a non-native English speaker.  No one would give her a chance until Well-Paid Maids, whom she says changed her life. read more>>

Milton Guevera-Navas of Illegal Pete’s

Colorado

Milton Guevara-Navas is a bit of a unicorn in the fast-casual food universe: He’s been with the same company, Illegal Pete’s, for 21 years.  Hired as a teenager, Milton has steadily risen through the ranks from dishwasher, to cook, to line worker, and he’s now the General Manager of Illegal Pete’s on the Hill. He considers his boss, Pete Turner, a member of the family. Milton is not alone. Each cook that works with him has been with Illegal Pete’s for at least ten years. So what keeps employees there for so long?

For one thing, the salary is enough to earn a real living. Working full time at Illegal Pete’s has allowed Milton to buy a home and car, and he’s successfully supporting his wife and child. “Most of my co-workers couldn’t even cover rent.  But when they started working at Pete’s, they could rent an apartment, take care of their kids, and feel more stable in general.” His average cook works 40 hours a week over 4 days, which leaves them time to have other interests and even travel for vacation. “They live happy, that’s why they stick around.” Milton can think of only one employee who holds down two full-time jobs, and that’s because he wants to.

The second thing that keeps him there is Pete’s commitment to treating his employees fairly, no matter where they come from or what they look like. This respect trickles down to the customer experience. Pete takes care of his employees and the read more>>

Aaron Seyedian of Well-Paid Maids

Washington D.C.

The cleaning service industry has a notoriously bad record when it comes to fair pay and treatment of its workers.  While that might turn off some entrepreneurs from getting into that line of work, Aaron Seyedian saw it as an opportunity to build a socially responsible business that demonstrates what is truly possible. He created Well-Paid Maids: a cleaning company that prides itself on providing a living wage and comprehensive benefits package to its employees.

And business is growing like gangbusters.  “People are drawn to the fact that we have a living wage business model and benefits package.  Based on the feedback I’ve received, our labor model is the reason why people are using our company.”

Before founding Well-Paid Maids, Aaron learned that there’s an untapped market of customers who were so turned off by the typical cleaning service’s labor practices that they had never considered using a cleaning service – until Well-Paid Maids arrived on the scene.

“Everybody is at a certain level of news and nonfiction consumption now that they know the cleaning industry is a nasty business.  So getting to own that part of the market is a huge benefit for me.”

Starting any new business – especially when you have no Yelp reviews or proven track record – can be a daunting task.  But because of  read more>>

Ciara Cody of Illegal Pete’s

Colorado

Ciara Cody understands what it means to struggle to make ends meet. Her previous jobs failed to pay enough to cover basic living costs. As a single mother, she found it difficult to pay for rent, bills and childcare for her daughter. This, despite living with and sharing costs with her mother to save money. This all changed when Ciara started working for living wage employer, Illegal Pete’s. Her mother also works at Illegal Pete’s, and together they are able to provide a healthier life for three generations.

Hired as a line worker in 2016, Ciara now serves as the Catering Coordinator at Illegal Pete’s Denver Tech location – and she has no plans to leave. “The benefits are endless,” says Ciara, citing a good hourly wage, paid time off, sick days, and health benefits.  But for Ciara, the monetary benefits are really an expression of how Pete’s workplace culture allows for good quality of life.  Ciara loves the people she works with.  “I feel like when I leave home, I’m not really leaving home.  I’m coming to a different home, with a different family.  Pete embraces us to be who we are.”

As a mother of a young child, this is essential.  When she first started working at Illegal Pete’s, her daughter was barely a year old.  Ciara was clear upon being hired that she couldn’t work nights or weekends.  Her superiors didn’t bat an eye and gave her a schedule that worked for her family. Read more >>

  • Stories Across 2 Geographies

  • Impact Stories from 4 Workers

  • 2 Business Stories of Living Wage