Interview: Phoenix, AZ’s Fair Trade Café

Fair Trade Café in Phoenix, Arizona, is a socially conscious eatery that serves fair trade coffee and baked goods. Fair Trade’s owner, Stephanie Vasquez, was a public supporter of Arizona’s Proposition 206, a successful 2016 ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage and guarantee paid sick days for workers. CLASP recently spoke with Vasquez about her support for this campaign.

CLASP: You supported the campaign that led to last November’s successful ballot measure to raise the minimum wage in Arizona and require employers in the state to provide paid sick days. Why do you think it’s important to have a public policy requiring all employers to provide paid sick days instead of leaving it up to individual employers?

Vasquez: Unfortunately, the trend in business is that if there’s not a mandated minimum wage expectation, then, in my opinion, exploitation happens. We pay the least amount possible so that we can increase our profit margins. And I say, “We,” because I am part of the business community, and I have quite a few colleagues that were strong opponents of this. So unfortunately I think this is something that has to be an expectation supported by law: we need to expect fair living wages for all human beings.

CLASP: And the same thing goes for paid sick days?

Vasquez: Yes, absolutely.

CLASP: What do you say to those employers who contend that any government actionlike a paid sick days minimum standard or higher minimum wageis inherently a bad action?

Vasquez:  I understand where that notion comes from, but it’s fear-based. Really, I just start with a gentle conversation. It’s kind of like when you look at a glass. My perception of the glass and your perception of the glass is completely opposite. You turn the glass just a little—and that’s what these conversations are. Once you take the perspective away from me and I into us and we, nine times out of ten, everyone sees it all the same way.

CLASP: Have you gotten any feedback from your customers about your endorsement of these policies? Do you think it’s a selling point for any of your customers?

Vasquez: Fortunately, from both sides of the counter in my shop—my team and I and my customers—we’re extremely progressive in our views and very much open about our progressiveness and our involvement in the community. So supporting paid sick days and a higher minimum wage wasn’t anything that was going to harm me per se, or anything that was going to insult any of my customer base, just because everyone is so community-minded.