Too many New Yorkers, particularly women, immigrants and people of color, are stuck in bad jobs. If one of our program members works in a job where her schedule changes from week to week, she may find it impossible to care for her children, go to school, or even look for another job. If her weekly wage is not guaranteed through a set number of hours, she may be on the exhausting wheel of public benefits, and living hand to mouth. Future thinking becomes impossible in these situations, professional and career development out of the question.
Bad jobs are also bad for businesses. Low job quality leads to constant turnover, which takes a real operational and financial toll on a business. In most cases, employers don’t intend to offer bad jobs. But in the constant daily grind of keeping the doors open and the lights on, business owners can’t find the time or resources to improve circumstances for their employees. Many food businesses find themselves on their own exhausting wheel–of constant stuff turnover, lost sales and revenue, and thinner and thinner margins.
That’s where Hot Bread Kitchen comes in. Building on our work to spark equitable change in the food industry, we’ve launched our Quality Jobs Initiative (QJI), a practical effort to improve food jobs and business performance–because you can’t have one without the other. Hot Bread Kitchen is taking an operational, business-minded approach to this work, partnering with business owners, operators, and workers to develop a recipe for better jobs with three key ingredients: strengthened operations, investments in people, and thoughtful HR practices.
First things first: what is a good job?
Our work is not theoretical or academic; it’s grounded in real life businesses and real world experiences. We’ve spent years in conversation with our members about what, exactly, is a good job, and we prioritize several key elements of job quality–living wages, set schedules, physical and emotional safety, and career-building opportunities–in connecting our members with roles in the food industry. But we’ve also been a small food business and an employer ourselves, so we know the challenges owners and operators face in providing quality jobs–just as we understand the many ways poor job quality can affect workers.
Hot Bread Kitchen’s Quality Jobs Initiative Lab
We recently kicked off our QJI Lab, a program that invites business owners, operators and workers to collaborate in identifying challenges, developing solutions, and implementing workplace changes for better jobs and stronger businesses. With Hot Bread Kitchen’s guidance and facilitation, our first cohort of nine New York City bakeries is committed to making meaningful changes within their operations. The group includes bakeries that range in size and scope of operations: Amy’s Bread, Black Seed Bagels, Colson Patisserie, L’Imprimerie, Mini Melanie, Runner & Stone, Russ & Daughters, She Wolf Bakery, and Zaro’s Family Bakery.
“We care a lot about the quality of the work that’s happening here, especially as we’re growing,” says cohort member Kim Vallejo, Head of Operations and Business for She Wolf Bakery. “Food workers deserve a more dignified lot in life and compensation and fair treatment.”
The QJI Lab has the potential to impact more than 500 workers across this first cohort, most of whom earn low wages in entry-level jobs. Our goal is to improve their lives on the job and beyond, while helping businesses adopt practical ways to create a high-quality job that will inevitably and positively affect their bottom line. We believe this work also has the potential to set new benchmarks for the industry and shift the perception, so prevalent in food, that labor is fungible or disposable.
What comes next
But that’s going to take more conversation, more engagement, and more people dedicated to making positive change.
We shared our learnings at our first QJI webinar, Putting Quality Jobs on the Menu: A Recipe for Thriving Workers and Thriving Businesses, on April 6th, 2022. During this discussion, we heard real-world approaches and best practices from people building stronger businesses, who gave owners and operators concrete ideas and tactics for their own operations.
Together, and with the right tools, we can rebuild the food industry to be better–a place of healthier businesses, thriving workers, and happier customers. So, let’s get to work.