Thousands of Vancouver area workers can’t afford to both live and work in Vancouver. At a recent press conference, low wage contractors and representatives with HEU and CUPE 391 joined COPE candidates to express the need for Vancouver to be a Living Wage city.
“Many people ask if a living wage is feasible in times of economic uncertainty,” said Deborah Littman, a Researcher with HEU. “It is precisely during these times when it is most needed. Unless people can afford food, shelter and other necessities they are not spending money to help maintain the economy.”
Low wages mean workers and their families constantly struggle to meet their basic needs, forcing many parents to work two or more jobs, accrue spiraling debt, and become more susceptible to long-term health problems. Child poverty is a strong predictor of school failure, lower literacy levels, poor health and under-employment as adults.
“Gender equality is at the heart of the Living Wage issue,” said Alexandra Youngberg of CUPE 391. “Here, in the Vancouver Public Library system, many of the lowest paid make less than the Living Wage and they are primarily women.”
Ordinary working families are moving out of Vancouver. According to Statistics Canada, almost 5,000 families left Vancouver between 2001 and 2006. Families that remain struggle with escalating costs for housing, food and transportation.
“People who work in Vancouver should be able to afford to live in Vancouver,” said COPE Cllr David Cadman.
Cadman wants the City of Vancouver, Park Board and School Board to set an example other Vancouver employers can follow. The first step could be striking a mayor’s task force of economic and social policy organizations, unions and city staff to explore how a living wage policy could be introduced.
COPE candidates want Vancouver’s public sector employers to pay direct and contract employees a living wage- the hourly wage sufficient for an average family to meet their basic needs in a particular region. According to a CCPA report, for Vancouver, that works out to $16.74 per hour.
“This city depends on people doing important work for which, at present, they are not getting a living wage. Yet as a society we haven’t been prepared to pay them enough to meet their basic needs,” said COPE council candidate EllenWoodsworth. “This is a question of fundamental human rights.”