'The right thing to do': Chapman's Ice Cream makes pandemic pay permanent

Alicja Siekierska
·3 mins read

The vice president of an Ontario ice cream company said the decision to make its $2 per hour pandemic pay raise permanent was “the right thing to do.”

“You don’t want to get into a position where, as an employer and as a leader, you’re taking something away from your employees,” Ashley Chapman, the vice president of Chapman’s Ice Cream, said in an interview.

“There are so many expenses that people have been confronted with. We just want our employees to be okay throughout all this.”

The Markdale, Ont.-based company had first introduced a $2 per hour pay bump for its 750 production and distribution employees in mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic prompted government-imposed lockdowns on non-essential businesses. Last week, the company decided to make that pay raise permanent, increasing the starting wage at the manufacturing facility to $18 per hour. That wage will bump up to $18.50 per hour after new employees pass a three-month probationary period.

Chapman said another part of the company’s consideration was ensuring that employees were making a living wage. Two years ago, the company conducted a study to determine the living wage for employees living in the Markdale, Ont. area. Chapman said the previous wage offered by the ice cream maker had met the living wage range for the area, but costs – particularly related to housing – have since increased.

“The consensus was that in our area, living wage was between $18 and $18.50 per hour. That kind of helped push the decision to make it permanent,” he said.

In the early days of the pandemic, Chapman’s had to shut down its two production facilities for about two weeks in order to determine how to operate while adhering to proper safety procedures related to COVID-19. During that time, the company offered interest-free loans of up to $1,000 for employees. Chapman said $180,000 was loaned to workers during this time, a majority of which has been paid back.

Still, the pandemic pay raise will certainly mean higher costs for the ice cream maker going forward. But Chapman said that, as a family-run business, the company is “better suited” to handle the increased costs.

“The only shareholders are people with the last name Chapman, so as a family we made this decision,” he said.

“I can’t tell you exactly how or where the money is going to come from. We’re just going to make it happen.”

Pandemic pay controversy

Three of Canada’s top grocery retailers – Loblaw, Metro and Empire-owned Sobeys – were at the centre of public backlash this summer after ending the $2 per hour pay raise provided to grocery store workers. The companies scrapped the pay raise on the same day. Walmart Canada canceled its pay raise on an earlier date.

Executives from Loblaw, Metro and Sobeys had to testify in front of a House of Commons committee over the decision to scrap the pandemic pay raises, reiterating that the cancellations were made independently, despite the fact that the changes occurred on the same day.

Chapman said the backlash was not something the company took into account when deciding to make the pay raises permanent.

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