The Hamilton Spectator: Why a $15 minimum wage makes sense for business

Posted August 4, 2017

When I first entered the world of business ownership, I assumed that keeping wages low was one way to maximize profit — but then again, nothing cheap is truly cheap.
Although I kept up with the required minimum employment standards, it wasn't long before I found myself surrounded by very capable people who felt underpaid and unmotivated. Sales were high, but so were my employee turnover rates. I was spending more and more time hiring and training new staff and scrambling to cover shifts. It's amazing how distant you feel when it seems you're the only one who cares, but also, dare I say, the only one who benefits.
Eventually, I hit an economic crossroad. I had to take some time to re-evaluate where things were going wrong. That's when reality grounded me. I realized my temp staff didn't feel secure, my permanent staff had secondary jobs, few within the workplace had any time to spend with friends and family, and most were struggling to pay their bills.
I hadn't anticipated that my employees would be fatigued from working multiple jobs, and couldn't give me their best. Without a doubt, their problems became an anchor weighing down my business. I needed to change things — and do it quickly.
Today, my wife and I continue to own and operate a small business in Niagara. We champion the entrepreneurial spirit, but strongly encourage the development of good job strategies. Joining business partners through organizations like The Better Way Alliance and Living Wage Ontario, we are committed to creating decent work opportunities and ensuring wages reflect no less than the "basic" realities of day-to-day life.
In exchange, we have a productive workplace in a highly competitive market. I'm proud of our reliable, focused staff and respect their need to know there's shared value in the company's success.
Is that too 2017 of me? In my view, Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act, is simply catching up with reality and I'm confident many working Ontarians would agree. After all, the term 'working poor' is very real and its impact on everyone is measurable. Poverty brings with it a diminished sense of self-worth, puts a chronic (and costly) strain on our health system, and perpetuates a negative cycle through generations.
With nearly 25 per cent of Ontario's workforce being positively impacted by improved employment standards, I need not implore one's social conscience; just common sense and a few basic mathematics skills should suffice. Heck, you can't truly grow of an economy when a quarter of the workforce has had less and less to spend each year.
Today's debate over minimum wage is predictably cyclical. Historically, we have heard the same arguments ever since we decided to end child labour. I would have hoped by now that decent work and wages would be widely understood as the foundation of a strong economy.
Knee-jerk reactions become highly probable in the face of change, but we all must remember that the laws of supply and demand keep prices in check. Positive stimulus into local economies by working Ontarians who would (have the ability to) spend more in local businesses should give naysayers pause.
Beyond scratching the surface, I feel that Bill 148 is a necessary adjustment to keep the playing fields of our economy fair, strong and healthy. Some will continue to claim this discussion is 'sudden and unexpected,' but those earning $11.40 an hour know it's 'long overdue.'
Those employers who model themselves on minimum standards are continually relying on the government to do the homework for them. Ironically, this bill should be a welcomed piece of legislation. If standards are meant to reflect common societal expectations, then protest coming from those unlikely to be earning less than $15 per hour, screams hypocrisy.
Simply put, it's the government's responsibility to determine and implement current standards. I, for one, encourage them to do so in a timely and effective manner. What would be the point otherwise? By definition, entrepreneurs are innovative and organized. They get ahead of the challenges. They evolve, they don't pack up and run. So, in the spirit of business, let's be innovative, organized, and make our economy work for everyone. Let's not be afraid to raise our expectations.
Damin Starr operates Pre-Line Processing, a manufacturing company in Lincoln, Ont. He lives in Hamilton. A certified Living Wage Employer and a partner of the, Damin presented on Bill 148 before the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs in Niagara Falls.