Top Places to Work

Why one company voluntarily boosted its minimum wage to $15 an hour

The CEO of North Billerica’s Curriculum Associates made the call to boost warehouse and clerical workers’ pay.

Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
A Curriculum Associates warehouse worker.
Keith Bedford/Globe Staff
Rob Waldron, chief executive of Curriculum Associates in North Billerica.

This article is part of the upcoming Top Places to Work issue. The names of the companies that made this year’s list will be released online Thursday night.

If he had to report to shareholders, Rob Waldron admits he might never have raised his company’s base pay from $9 to $15 an hour. But as chief executive officer of privately owned Curriculum Associates, a publishing company that produces data management and assessment tools for schools, he says it was an easy decision to boost warehouse and clerical workers up to $15, pegged as a living wage by many in the national minimum-pay debate.

Waldron knew increasing wages earlier this year could affect the profit margins for the $100 million North Billerica-based company, a for-profit held by a perpetual trust that gives most of its profits to charitable causes. For the approximately 22 workers, out of 400 total employees, who got the wage bump to $15 an hour, Waldron says the increase represented a raise of between 10 and 46 percent.

Waldron says he felt morally obligated to join the national income inequality debate, being driven by minimum wage workers’ protests across the country calling for $15 an hour. “Companies must recognize the fundamental importance of paying employees enough so they are able to support their families and cover basic needs such as food and rent,” he says.

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Many of the warehouse workers who got the raise are Cambodian immigrants for whom English is a second language, so Waldron was not surprised when no one came running into his office to say thank you. But the wage hike seemed to boost morale companywide, he says, a sign that all employees benefit when workers are regarded equitably from the bottom up. “If I was told that we have to pay a tech hire another $5,000 a year to be at the market salary, I wouldn’t blink an eye. So why is it so much harder to raise the pay for someone hauling boxes all day?” Waldron says. “That physical labor is much harder to do.”

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Labor economist Arindrajit Dube, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said there’s no evidence that workers become more productive when companies increase wages. But more and more companies are voluntarily hiking their pay anyway, Dube says, whether it’s to attract workers in a tight labor market or to please socially conscious customers.

Another local company, Clover Food Lab, has “begun a conversation” about raising wages over the next two years to get workers’ average pay to $20 an hour, says Ayr Muir, founder and chief executive of the Cambridge-based food truck and restaurant chain.

For Waldron, who has hired more than 150 workers in the past year, it was a matter of being not just a profit-making business leader but a good citizen. “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘Why can’t we do this for our people?’ We can afford it, so we should do it.”

Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance writer in Lexington. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.