One of the highest minimum wages in the nation — $17 an hour — is going to be paid in Santa Fe by a private employer, the arts company Meow Wolf.
Effective immediately, about 15 percent of Meow Wolf employees are getting a raise. Before, these lower-wage workers were making a $15-an-hour minimum. That already was higher than Santa Fe’s living wage of $11.80 an hour. Which of course, is dollars more than current federal wage of $7.25 an hour, or the soon-to-be-raised state minimum wage of $7.50 an hour.
The higher minimum wage is not something every business can do, especially small local ones with small profit margins. However, large employers with multistate operations — the ones where bosses make multimillion dollar bonuses — could raise pay. If they choose to, that is.
Meow Wolf made that choice. It’s clear the company founders want to do well — the popular arts and entertainment conglomerate is expanding across the country. But raising wages is about more than future success.
CEO Vince Kadlubek has been publicly passionate about Santa Fe’s need for more affordable housing. He wants more employees to be able to live where they work, whether that’s at Meow Wolf, teaching in schools or running the register at Walmart. With rents soaring, people need to make more money.
The hike in pay, equal to a full-time yearly salary of about $35,360, will make a difference in the lives of employees. It beats higher minimum wages around the country, including $16.09 in SeaTac, Wash., and $15 in New York City.
This is trailblazing, just as Meow Wolf as a concept has sharpened the appetite for experiential art. No wonder it is expanding to Las Vegas, Nev.; Denver; Phoenix; and Washington, D.C.
Last week, the arts collective was featured in New York Times magazine, publicity worth tens of thousands of dollars. The magazine headline said it all in capturing the success of this born-in-Santa Fe business: “Can an Art Collective Become the Disney of the Experience Economy?”
Meow Wolf being Meow Wolf, replied on Twitter: “We don’t want to be the next Disney. We want to be the first Meow Wolf.”
That seems to be true whether discussing how art is experienced or how businesses are run. Even before the latest raise, the Meow Wolf minimum was generous, with an ample benefits package. With some
425 employees locally, Meow Wolf is one of the largest private employers in Santa Fe. Its choices could have impact beyond the city and state.
Other national entertainment corporations, for example, have not always paid wages that are high enough for workers to pay for rent and food. Disney has been a particular target of critics, as have larger retail chains. By choosing to pay more, rather than pocketing the profits, Meow Wolf has raised the bar.