What Working Families Knead
Since 1999, Red Hen Baking Company has become known throughout Vermont for its baguettes, batards, and other bodacious breads. But last April co-owner Randy George ’93 gained national attention, joining other “Champions of Change” at a White House press conference about making strides for working families.
“The first experiences I had baking bread on a professional level were in the Marlboro College kitchen, when Richard Caplan was there,” says Randy George, co-owner of Red Hen Baking Company, in Middlesex, Vermont. “I enjoyed working with food, but it was that time baking bread for the dining hall that I realized I really wanted to focus on that.”
Randy worked in several bakeries after college, from Maine to Oregon and Washington, and some of them were truly inspirational to him in terms of their employment practices. So when he and his future wife, Eliza Cain, moved from Portland, Oregon, to start their own bakery in Vermont, Randy instilled many of the most family-friendly policies into his own business.
“I still consider myself a worker, and at 42 employees, our business is small enough that it is impossible for me to forget what it’s like to work long hours in a physically and mentally taxing job,” says Randy. “I’m grateful for everyone that works for us, and it only seems natural to express that gratitude in concrete, meaningful ways.”
In addition to providing a livable wage in most positions, Red Hen covers most of the cost of comprehensive health insurance for employees. They have a dedicated “wellness” room that is available for lactating moms, as well as massages, which are provided by a massage therapist who visits regularly. For every mile that they ride their bikes back and forth to work, Red Hen employees receive 35 cents toward a gift certificate to the bike shop of their choice.
“There is actually a self-serving side to it too,” asserts Randy, who has also been an outspoken advocate for raising the state minimum wage, paid sick days legislation, and the Wage Gap Compact. “I want to sleep and take days off knowing that the people who are working for us at those times are experienced at what they do and truly care about doing the best job they can. You’re not going to find people like that if you just pay them the bare minimum.”
Randy appreciates being in a small state like Vermont, where a relatively small business can have a meaningful impact on the local economy and community, but Red Hen Bakery’s employment practices have also attracted attention on the national stage. Randy was one of 12 “Champions of Change” invited to the White House last April 16 to discuss their efforts at more family-friendly policies with President Obama and Secretary of Labor Tom Perez. He shared the table with the CEOs of Microsoft and Patagonia, the executive directors of the North Dakota Women’s Network and Family Forward Oregon, and other luminaries in the area of progressive workplace policies.
“We shouldn’t have to choose between rewarding work and raising a family, and we’ve got to fight for that change,” said President Obama. Besides making the best organic, hearth-baked breads this side of the Atlantic, Red Hen Baking Company is part of that change.
For more about the Champions of Change event, including pictures of Randy standing behind every possible fellow champion (Vermonters are very polite), go to the White House blog. Randy says to stop by Red Hen Baking Company (just off I-89 in Middlesex) and say “hi,” or go to redhenbaking.com.