Giving civic employees a "living wage" would bump up city hall’s salary costs next year by $350,000.
An administrative report examining the implications of setting a minimum wage rate of $15 an hour for civic employees found that four per cent of the city’s workforce earns less than that amount, with some staff in the library department and recreational services earning less than $12 an hour.
The report was a followup study requested by Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive policy committee at its Oct. 8 meeting, when an estimate of the number of employees earning less than $15 an hour had been set at 13 per cent.
The recent report, which will be considered by EPC at its Tuesday meeting, did not explain the discrepancy from October’s findings.
The $15-an-hour rate is considered the minimum living wage by labour organizations across North America, where there’s been a push over the past several years to set that rate as the minimum in jurisdictions across Canada and the United States.
The current minimum wage in Manitoba is $11.65 an hour. It was increased from $11.35 on Oct. 1.
The Manitoba office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives calculated the living wage for three Manitoba communities for 2016/17: Winnipeg, $14.54; Brandon, $14.55; and Thompson, $15.28.
The CCPA-M defined a living wage as, "the amount needed for a family of four with two parents working full time to cover basic necessities, support healthy development of children, escape financial stress and participate in the community."
The administrative report’s four per cent translates to about 418 civic employees – a number based on the "annual average headcount," from the City of Winnipeg approved 2019 budget.
The report found that in addition to summer students, most civic employees who earn less than $15 an hour are employed in part-time positions in three categories: recreation technicians, 311 customer service representatives and library shelvers.
The lowest paid city employee is a recreation technician, which includes children program leaders, earning $11.64 an hour.
The second-lowest paid position, at $11.95 an hour, is the starting wage for a library shelver, whose top hourly rate is $13.31.
CUPE 500, which represents most civic workers across all departments, including those earning less than that amount, supports a $15 minimum hourly wage, according to the report.
CUPE 500 president Gord Delbridge said in a letter that adopting a $15-an hour minimum wage would benefit those civic workers who are most likely to be Indigenous, youth, newcomers and women. A copy of the letter is included in the report.
"CUPE 500 believes a Living Wage policy for the City of Winnipeg will help lift workers out of poverty, and in particular marginalized workers," Delbridge said, adding he believes the living wage should be applied to all contractors who deal with the city.
The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce submitted a written response opposing the $15 wage rate, describing it as an arbitrary figure that cannot be supported by independent research.
The chamber said it was concerned setting $15 as the minimum hourly rate would lead to corresponding increases for other wage categories and suggested the real cost to the city could be much higher than the $350,000 figure cited in the report.
"This accordion effect could dramatically increase wage costs for the city at a time when it is trying to practice financial restraint," said chamber president and CEO Loren Remillard.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.