In a debate that became personal, Parksville council has voted to certify the city as a Living Wage for Families employer.
Rick Sullivan appeared before council last week, representing the District 69 Living Wage for Families Coalition that was formed in 2011. He successfully got council to pass this motion June 6: “that the city become a living wage employer and that staff be directed to provide a report on what this looks like and report back to council.”
The living wage in this region — for two adults working full time who have two young children at home — was most recently set at $16.76/hour.
Council’s vote June 6 came after a pointed debate about the city’s role in the affairs of local business.
“In a perfect world, we could all make $16 or $20 or $25 an hour, but we don’t live in a perfect world,” said Coun. Al Greir, a long-time business owner before his retirement and the only councillor to vote against the motion. “It’s really not our mandate as a council to tell businesses how to run their business and what to pay.”
Grier suggested raising wages always comes with a rise in prices.
“Raising wages is not the answer,” he said. “I’d like to see you (the coalition) come back with how we can create jobs, not just raise wages.”
Coun. Sue Powell said she “strongly disagreed” with Grier. She pointed to the high cost of daycare as a factor that forces families to struggle to make ends meet.
“When councillor Greir was growing up, there were grandparents looking after kids,” said Powell. “For parents today, there’s not a social safety net.”
Powell also took aim at businesses that say they can’t pay the living wage.
“Don’t tell me you can’t pay a living wage when you are socking profits into off-shore accounts,” she said.
When asked after the meeting, Powell said she was not referring to local, small businesses sending money abroad, but she also did not specify which businesses would be doing this.
The local school district has passed a motion to become a certified Living Wage for Families employer, but like the city it does not have any employees who are making less than $16.76/hour. “To my knowledge, it hasn’t placed any undue stress on the system,” said School District 60 trustee Julie Austin, who joined members of the coalition in their presentation.
Greir, who said motions like this one are pushed by “people who are not in business,” also said the passing of these motions by the school district and city may be just the tip of the iceberg.
“It starts with just the city and then it’s a political scheme,” he said.
Coun. Teresa Patterson, a local small business owner, wondered aloud if small firms like her catering company would be excluded from future work for the city. “If I could pay more, I would,” said Patterson. “But there’s absolutely no possible way I could pay my employees a living wage.”
Austin and others said firms who seek contracts with a city or school district that is certified as a living wage employer would only have to pay their employees the living wage during the contract.
In a move that seemed backwards when compared to usual procedure, council voted in favour of the city becoming a living wage employer, but asked for staff to provide a report on “what this looks like.”