Tri-Cities News: More pay, more taxes: a win/win

June 18th, 2010 by Mary Woo-Sims - Tri-Cities News

FACE TO FACE: Should cities dictate ‘living wage’ as New Westminster has?

Congratulations to New Westminster city council, which in late April voted in Canada’s first “living wage” bylaw. This bylaw effectively raised the minimum wage paid by the municipality to about $16. 70 — more than double the minimum wage in B.C.

According to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, “a living wage is a level of pay which enables someone working full-time to earn enough to meet their basic needs and build some savings for the future.”

B.C.’s current minimum wage of $8 an hour can hardly meet one person’s basic needs, let alone a person who might be supporting a family. The movement for a living wage, which started in the U.S., has now branched into Canada and cities across the country are being asked to adopt living wage policies. New West is the first to do so.

My colleague says the living wage is a nice sentiment but it is taxpayers that have to foot the bill. But he doesn’t stop there. He’s critical of the law because it’s “another manifestation of special treatment for unionized city workers.” I take issue with that statement.

When people like my friend opposite complain about public sector or unionized workers’ wages, I wonder if these same people think these workers are exempt from paying taxes. I am glad workers, unionized or not, get as much pay as they can. The more they earn, the more taxes they pay. In addition, the more money earned, the more is spent on family, friends, goods, services, facilities, etc., and that spending keeps our economy going.

New West’s living wage law doesn’t just apply to unionized workers. The living wage also applies to workers with firms, unionized or not, that receive contracts from the city as well as companies that receive economic development funds. This ensures the living wage initiative extends far beyond the reaches of New West city workers.

Fundamentally, however, one can’t discuss the concept of a living wage without discussing the issue of B.C.’s minimum wage, which now ranks as the lowest in Canada. And let’s not forget that first-job/entry level position minimum wages start at a paltry six bucks an hour.

It’s time to make the minimum wage a living wage.