Three opposition city councillors, labour groups and an organization that certifies employers who pay a living wage of $24.08 per hour in B.C. have all condemned a decision made by a majority of Vancouver council to scrap the city's living wage policy.
OneCity Coun. Christine Boyle issued a statement Thursday to announce that council held an in-camera meeting regarding the city's living wage policy and that she voted to support it. The vote occurred Jan. 31, but councillors had to legally wait until yesterday to disclose how they voted.
Green Party Coun. Pete Fry announced on Twitter that he and party member Adriane Carr also support the policy, which has been in place since 2017.
"This is an unacceptable decision," Boyle said. "It gets more expensive to live in this city every day. We should be figuring out how to pay working people enough to live here, not making it harder and harder for them to make ends meet."
Boyle said she couldn't say which councillors or whether Mayor Ken Sim voted for or against keeping the policy. Sim and his ABC Vancouver party hold eight of the 11 seats on city council.
"But I can say I am incredibly disappointed that a majority of councillors voted to end our living wage policy," said Boyle, whose party has started a petition to demand the City of Vancouver reinstate the policy.
Glacier Media sent email requests for comment Friday morning to all ABC Vancouver councillors and Sim's acting chief of staff but had not received any replies at the time of this story being posted.
Asked at a news conference earlier this week about the status of the living wage policy, Sim said: "We're committed to making sure that the City of Vancouver is competitive in terms of wages, benefits and work environment. And so what we need to do is look at these things holistically, and it's our goal to be a best employer…and we will do everything we can to be a best employer."
Living wage now at $24.08 per hour
The city's communications department emailed Glacier Media a statement that the living wage rate for Metro Vancouver set by Living Wage for Families BC recently increased 17.35 per cent or to $24.08 per hour for 2023.
"The living wage rate is calculated annually and has fluctuated both up and down each year," the city's statement said. "This is difficult to administer in large organizations, particularly those with multi-year collective agreements like the city. Where the annual living wage has decreased in the past, the city has not decreased wages and asked service providers to do the same."
Due to the immediate impact the new living wage rate would have on the pay structure for the rest of the city and the possibility the rate may be reduced in future years, council decided to implement a fair wage approach based on a rolling five-year average of the living wage rate, the city said.
"We will continue to use the rate set by Living Wage for Families BC by implementing a rolling five-year average, which will smooth out annual fluctuations," the city said.
"We hope LWFBC will consider this variation in implementation and allow organizations that use this approach to continue to be certified, as we are continuing to use their calculated living wage rate but applying a more practicable approach for large organizations."
All city staff are compensated above B.C. minimum wage — $15.65 in 2022 — and the vast majority are at or above the recently announced 2023 living wage rate, as are the majority of the city's service providers, the statement said.
Fry wrote on Twitter that the Greens have been and remain committed to a living wage for workers employed by the city. He attached a link to his Twitter post to the city's website that provided details of the policy, which was adopted in May 2017.
The policy was brought in by the then-Vision Vancouver administration, which announced at the time that janitors and security guards would be among the contracted workers to the city, park board and Vancouver Police Department to get paid more in wages and benefits.
All three civic agencies were certified as living wage employers by the Living Wage for Families Campaign.
In 2017, that meant all workers contracted by the agencies were guaranteed a living wage of $20.62 in wages and benefits, which — as noted by the city's communications department — is now at $24.08 for Metro Vancouver.
At the time of adoption, the boost in pay and benefits in 2017 translated to a $600,000 annual investment from the city and park board and another $40,000 from the police department.
'Paying a living wage is good for workers'
Anastasia French, provincial manager of Living Wage for Families BC, said in a statement, "it is incredibly disappointing that the City of Vancouver (has) dropped its commitment to paying their staff and contracted workers the living wage. It's vital that anyone working on behalf of the City of Vancouver can afford to live in Vancouver."
French said the decision to pay workers instead a five-year rolling average goes against the spirit of the living wage. People across the city are struggling to pay for essentials right now, not the cost of rent or food averaged out from five years ago, she said.
"We are disappointed that they made this decision behind closed doors, with no option for the public to input and share their views on the importance of everyone earning a living wage," she said.
"We're grateful for the hundreds of employers across BC, including the Cities of Port Coquitlam, Quesnel and Victoria, that have committed to pay their staff the new living wage. These employers have found that paying a living wage is good for workers, good for business and good for the local community."
The Vancouver and District Labour Council's president Stephen von Sychowski said council's decision will predominately impact workers in "the most precarious and lowest paid positions," such as cleaners, security guards and maintenance staff, who, in most cases, are not represented by a union.
"What's worse," von Sychowski said, "is this significant decision was taken behind closed doors, without the benefit of public consultation, without hearing from those workers whose pay cheques will take the hit."
The BC Federation of Labour also released a statement calling the council to "immediately reverse their appalling decision."
"To any councillor who believes the living wage should be based on a 'five-year rolling average,' we invite them to find a single landlord, grocery store, dentist or pharmacy prepared to offer working people those same terms," the labour group said.
Council gets 7.3 per cent pay raise
The living wage, as defined by French's organization, is the hourly wage that two adults working full-time must earn to support the basic expenses of a family of four. It is a bare-bones calculation that does not include debt repayment or savings for retirement.
The decision by the majority of council means workers and contractors will see their pay drop by almost four dollars per hour to $20.90 an hour, said French, noting certifying as a living wage employer is a voluntary commitment by employers.
The news comes the same week that the ABC Vancouver-led council approved a 10.7 per cent tax hike for property owners this year. All of council also received a 7.3 per cent pay increase to begin 2023.
The mayor's salary this year tops out at $199,143, while all 10 councillors will earn $98,585. Those salaries do not include expense allowances or compensation related to board member work at Metro Vancouver.
Councillors also receive pay for duties as deputy mayor and duty councillor (monthly salary was $3,402 for both in 2022) and a monthly salary of $1,237 as acting mayor, according to 2022 compensation figures.