I am very dissapointed for our City of Hamilton staff and all minimum wage earners across the City that a 3 year phase in of a living wage was rejected by Hamilton City Council.
I believe this was a missed opportunity for Hamilton to take a principled leadership role and set an example for business – sending a message that the people who build wealth are worth more than the minimum.
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How Much Would it Cost Taxpayers for Hamilton to Pay a Living Wage to All Employees?
The City of Hamilton currently has three groups of employees that earn less than a living wage (currently set at $16.45/hour):
- Non-Union part time casual employees
- Non-Union full time summer students
- Unionized summer students
During the discussion, City of Hamilton Staff clarified who these City employees are:
Lora Fontana, executive director of human resources, told councillors many of the workers aren’t students.
Summer students account for 212 of the workers, and student labourers another 346, she said, while there are 229 school crossing guards. There are another 224 non-union workers who work in facilities such as arenas and long-term care homes.
“These are positions that are predominantly filled by adults — not students — who have other obligations separate and apart from school,” she said.Samantha Craggs, CBC Hamilton
The City of Hamilton has an total annual budget around $2 billion dollars.
City finance staff estimated that it would cost $292,550 per year to phase in implementation of a city-wide living wage over three years – roughly 0.015% of the annual City budget or an average cost of $1.15 per year added to the average residential tax bill.
Why Did You Support a Living Wage for All City Employees?
When the living wage issue was first raised by Councillor Nann during the 2019 budget deliberations, I was very much against burdening residential taxpayers with the cost of paying all City employees a living wage.
At that time, the previous Liberal Provincial government had just raised the provincial minimum wage to $14/h with a scheduled increase to $15/h, which was subsequently canceled by the Doug Ford Ontario Progressive Conservatives when they took power.
I have worked many minimum wage jobs (back in the $6.85/h days and piecework planting trees for ten cents per tree) to put myself through university, and I always viewed a bad paying, terrible job as somewhat of a right of passage.
However, through careful consideration of the many delegations who presented to Council on this issue, speaking with several City of Hamilton employees currently earning a minimum wage and feedback from Ward 8 residents – I came to realize the systematic ways that the wealthy disproportionately benefit from low wages.
In today’s economic system the distribution of wealth is increasingly inequitable and the old adage of work harder, get a better paying job is simply not a realistic expectation for many low income earners and students in our City.
As a community leader, I believe that the City of Hamilton must be held to a higher standard.
On this issue, in my opinion Hamilton City Council and the Corporation of the City of Hamilton has missed an opportunity to seize a leadership role and lead by example.
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