Port Coquitlam gets ball rolling on living wage

City council is expected to adopt a living wage policy next month, with implementation for staff and contracted workers in 2017

Municipal staff and workers contracted by the city of Port Coquitlam will soon earn at least a living wage.

This week, the city's finance committee got the ball rolling to become certified as a living wage employer.

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The committee will look at implementation options at its April 11 meeting; city council is expected to ratify the policy April 25.

Last  night (Monday), advocates spoke about the benefits of PoCo taking a leadership role and lifting employees out of poverty.

Deanna Ogle, campaign organizer for the certifying body Living Wage for Families, told the committee 15% of PoCo kids — or 1,789 children — live below the poverty line.

"Why do we have poor children? Because we have poor parents," Coun. Brad West said. "It's a disgrace that so many are living in poverty in such a wealthy part of the world."

Ogle is pressing PoCo to use its Metro Vancouver wage model of $20.68 per hour based on the CMHC housing costs for the city of Vancouver; however, PoCo is eyeing a small salary of $19.75 per hour based on the Tri-Cities Primary Rental Market Statistics (the living wage in Victoria is $20.05/hr while in Fraser Valley it's $17.27/hr).

Last December, PoCo's human resources manager told council the cost to the city to have a living wage would be in the range of $6,000 to $40,000 per year for staff. And it would face another $50,000 hit annually for contracted work.

But Catherine Ludgate, manager of community investment at Vancity, which is a certified living wage employer, told the committee Monday her credit union saved cash when it drilled down on its contracts.

Many contractors were willing to sit side-by-side at the negotiation table to help Vancity crunch its numbers in becoming a living wage employer.

"Frankly, we are buying less junk now," she said.

Ogle also said examples out of the U.K. and U.S. have shown a direct correlation between the living wage and improvements in health care.

Families lifted out of poverty because they are earning a living wage are making generational impacts, she said.

Asked by Coun. Darrell Penner about Living Wage for Families' push with the provincial government for action, Ogle said it's lobbying on campaigns like the $10/day childcare platform.

But while PoCo city hall hopes to take a leadership role in becoming a living wage employer, not all local businesses will be able to follow suit, Coun. Mike Forrest warned the committee.

His small company — Forrest Marine, a commercial gill net fishery — needs to compete to make a profit, he said. "It's easy for government because they pass it along," he said of the extra cost to taxpayers.

Still, Ogle and Ludgate countered higher wages lead to higher morale and longer employe retention, which in turn save money.

If approved by city council next month, the living wage policy would be part of the city's 2017 budget.

• To sign the Living Wage for Families petition for Port Coquitlam, visit livingwageforfamilies.ca



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