The City of Vancouver is considering going back on its years-long commitment to pay workers a living wage after the benchmark for a living wage rose sharply last year.
A statement confirmed the city is evaluating whether it will continue the program, but provided no further details.
“The City of Vancouver is currently reviewing the program and recognizes the importance of fair compensation for our workforce,” read an email from a spokesperson.
“The City values the work of Living Wage for Families B.C. and appreciates the benchmarks this organization sets.”
Mayor Ken Sim declined comment.
Advocates say the decision would leave hundreds of non-unionized workers like cleaners, security guards and maintenance staff without the raise they’ve come to expect and rely on annually in the years since the city committed to being a living wage employer.
They also said the move could have a chilling effect for other smaller businesses and municipalities weighing whether they can afford to do right by workers at a time when the cost of living is sky high.
“It’s a mistake in more ways than one: there’s the impacts on the workers and their families themselves, which are terrible, but I think there’s downstream effects too that are regrettable,” said Stephen Von Sychowski, president of the Vancouver and District Labour Council, which advocates for thousands of workers in the city.
“If we want to find somewhere to save some money in the budget, it ought not be on the back of the workers who need this raise the most.”
Living wage rose by $4/hr last year
The city has been a certified living wage employer for more than five years, meaning it’s committed to paying its employees and contractors a “living wage” — known as the hourly rate two working adults need to earn in order to meet the basic needs of a family of four.
The living wage is a conservative estimate: the cost of food only covers basic groceries. Entertainment, extra-curricular activities and unpaid vacations aren’t included, and there’s no extra for saving money, sending a child to university or retiring with cash in the bank.
The wage for Metro Vancouver was set in November at $24.02. It marked an increase of nearly $4 an hour from the previous year, largely driven by the rising cost of food and shelter.
The increase doesn’t mean the city needs to give all of its employees a raise — just that workers at the low end of the pay scale need to be brought up to standard. The value of benefits offered can also be included.
The city did not say how much it would cost to bring workers up to $24.02 per hour this year.
Within weeks, the city started asking Living Wage for Families B.C. about the possibility of paying staff on a rolling average instead.
“We explained why it wasn’t really in the spirit of living wage to pay a three- or five-year rolling average. The living wage is reflective of how expensive it is right now to live and people are struggling,” said Anastasia French, provincial manager of the campaign.
“If you want to have workers in Vancouver … you need to make sure that you’re paying them enough money to be able to live in the city.”
The City of Vancouver is the largest municipality in the country to commit to paying a living wage.
Nearly 130 organizations across the province have been re-certified as living wage employers this year, including the cities of Quesnel, Port Coquitlam and Victoria.
“We hope that if [Vancouver] does walk away from their leverage commitment, it doesn’t then have a knock-on impact for other businesses,” French said.
“But of course there is that big worry that that might do.”