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Vancouver councillor's living wage motion shot down

Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle attends a city council meeting in this file photo. Vancouver Coun. Christine Boyle attends a city council meeting in this file photo.
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A Vancouver councillor's bid to recertify the city as a living wage employer has been shot down in a move she describes as an "embarrassment" and "profoundly out of touch."

Coun. Christine Boyle brought the motion forward Wednesday asking the city to start the process of bringing back a guaranteed living wage for all of its workers.

"The cost of living is going up and working people can't pay their bills on vibes and good intentions," Boyle said.

Her motion did pass – but only after being completely rewritten via an amendment. The ensuing vote saw Boyle and the other two non-ABC members of council oppose the motion while the majority with the mayor's party voted in favour.

Before voting against the motion, Boyle said that 240 people directly employed by the city and "many more" contract workers earn an hourly wage that is not enough to cover their basic needs. These workers, Boyle said, include cleaners, security guards, graffiti-removers, and traffic controllers.

"All of these workers deserve to make enough to live where they work without having to have a second or third job, without having to choose between buying groceries and paying utility bills, without needing to rely on a food bank without being pushed out into long commutes," she said.

Living Wage for Families BC calculates the hourly amount someone working full time needs to earn to pay for essentials including food, rental housing, transportation and childcare. It's based on a household with two employed adults and two children and does not include expenses related to debt repayment or factor in saving for retirement or post-secondary education.

"It affords a decent but still very modest standard of living," the campaign's website says.

For 2023, the amount was $25.68 per hour, which was an increase of $1.60 per hour from the 2022– a jump driven mainly by rising rents and food costs. In 2021, the amount was $20.52.

The City of Vancouver first became a certified living wage employer in 2016, renewing its certification annually until the decision to stop doing so was made at a closed-door meeting last year. Instead, the city decided to bring in "a five-year moving average living wage to be used as the standard," a statement issued at the time said.

On Wednesday, the council majority voted on an amendment that would see that changed to a three-year average. The motion also directs the city manager to write a letter to Living Wage for Families BC asking it to "recognize the significant implementation challenges annual rate increases and decreases represent for large organizations to participate in the Living Wage Employer program as currently constituted."

The practical challenges of certification when the living wage changes each year were put forward as a key reason it was not sustainable for the city – with several ABC councillors saying the annual rate has decreased in the past and claiming the city would have to decrease people's wages to fall in line.

"The concept of living wages is great, I fully support the concept," said Coun. Brian Montague.

"I want people to have good, fair wages. However, what I don't support is (the) certification requirements of this motion. There are significant challenges."

Linking compensation to the living wage, he also said, would create unpredictability for workers and the city as an employer.

"If the City of Vancouver, were to follow the policy as prescribed, it would put the city in a position where, at times, workers’ wages would be reduced. That's obviously something we don't want to see. We don't think that's fair," Montague said, adding that the amount did decrease in 2016, 2017 and 2019.

But Boyle pointed out that even when the living wage calculation resulted in a decrease to the hourly wage, the city did not cut anyone's pay.

"Workers would absolutely prefer to make a living wage over whatever vague concept of stability is being spun here," she said.

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