Not all Alberta businesses opposed to $15 minimum wage

The minimum wage is a hot topic in Alberta as it jumps again this year from $11.20 an hour to $12.20, the highest provincial rate in the country. The minimum wage will climb to $15 in 2018.

Some businesses offer a living wage, far above the minimum wage

The minimum wage is a hot topic in Alberta as it jumps again this year from $11.20 an hour to $12.20, the highest rate in country. The minimum wage will climb to $15 in 2018. 0:21

On his 14th birthday, James Boettcher got his first job bagging groceries at the Sunterra grocery store in his Calgary neighbourhood. His nickname was "skipper" and he would pick up extra shifts when school was closed to help his dad pay rent.

He earned $5 an hour, the minimum wage at the time.

Now 33, Boettcher makes a point of paying his full-time staff much more than minimum wage at the growing gelato company he runs.

"I grew up on welfare in Calgary for most of my childhood, so with that I understand the challenges that a single father or a person trying to make it on their own can have the way things are structured," said Boettcher, CEO of Fiasco Gelato. "The living wage is a pretty powerful thing." 
James Boettcher of Fiasco Gelato supports businesses providing a living wage, but suggests there should be a reduced rate for teenagers. (Submitted by James Boettcher)

Wage hike

The minimum wage is a hot topic in Alberta as it jumps again this year from $11.20 an hour to $12.20, the highest provincial rate in the country. The minimum wage will climb to $15 in 2018.

The business community has largely condemned the Alberta government's unprecedented hikes to the wage, especially considering the current economic woes. Restaurants Canada launched an online petition in June asking the government to postpone increases until the economy improves. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned the policy will lead to significant job losses.  

We didn't want our employees having to make difficult decisions every day around the basic necessities of daily living such as food or rent.- Lindsey Laberge, Connect First Credit Union

However, some businesses support the move, as the minimum wage becomes closer to the so-called living wage, which is calculated at $17.29 per hour in Calgary, according to the left-leaning advocacy group the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

"If businesses do not pay their employees a living wage, then they pass on the responsibility of covering the gap to the rest of the community," said Devin Goss, co-founder of BluPlanet Recycling. 
A living wage is the right choice from a moral standpoint and also for a corporate citizen in the community, says Devin Goss with BluPlanet Recycling. (Submitted by Devon Goss)

Even though the Calgary recycling company could pay some of its general labour workers less money, Goss said that doesn't mean it should. Providing a living wage helps attract better employees, he said, regardless of the state of the economy. The company has 15 employees and expects to grow to 25 next year. 

If businesses do not pay their employees a living wage, then they pass on the responsibility of covering the gap to the rest of the community- Devin Goss, BluPlanet Recycling
"Paying employees a wage which allows them to sufficiently cover their basic living needs is not only the right choice from a moral standpoint, but we feel that it is the right economic choice as a corporate citizen in our community," he said. 

Improving worker welfare

Connect First Credit Union introduced a policy in 2012 to pay all of its 600 employees at least a living wage, regardless of whether they work in Calgary or in a smaller community in Alberta. The credit union had to give many employees raises to meet the new policy.

"We didn't want our employees having to make difficult decisions every day around the basic necessities of daily living such as food or rent," said Lindsey Laberge, human resources director for Connect First Credit Union. "We believe it also enhances the employee's quality of their work experience because they are coming to work less stressed about having the worries of daily living."

The credit union encourages other businesses to also offer a living wage, although it understands there are financial implications, so each business is affected differently.

Last year, 51,600 Albertans received minimum wage, up from 36,400 the year before, according to an annual average by Statistics Canada. 

The majority of people who earn less than $15 an hour are adults over the age of 20, according to Alberta Labour Minister Christina Gray. Two-thirds of them are women. 

2-tier minimum wage

For Boettcher, with Fiasco Gelato, he supports paying adults a living wage, but he would like to have a lower wage for teenagers, who often still live at home. That's how he structures his business. Employees supporting themselves or someone else are usually full time and earn at least the living wage. Youth are often part-time and earn between $13 and $16 an hour.

If the Alberta government goes ahead with its plans to raise the minimum wage up to $15, he wonders if teenagers will struggle to land their first job because employers may be reluctant to pay that price for someone without any work experience. 

"There's still a lot of work to be done to have a better designed system," he said. "It's kind of broken in the way the government has approached the idea of if you just lift the minimum wage then it betters the system." 

When Fiasco Gelato decided to pay its full-time staff a living wage, Boettcher said, they had to raise prices and find cost savings in other areas of the business to offset the added expenses. He remains a proponent of paying a living wage.

"Financially we've had to definitely change the way the business is done to accommodate it, but I wouldn't say it is rigorous. You just agree to do it and find a way to make it work."

About the Author

Kyle Bakx

Reporter

Kyle Bakx is a Calgary-based journalist with CBC's network business unit. He's covered stories across the country and internationally.

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