Hamilton is examining a policy that dictates how much contractors on city jobs must pay their workers.
Councillors are looking into the city's fair wage policy, which outlines a minimum wage contractors must offer workers when doing municipal jobs worth more than $100,000.
A report Monday suggested paring down or even scrapping the policy, which has been in place since 1993. Construction industry wages are already competitive, the report said, and only eight Ontario municipalities have a fair wage policy.
But members of the audit, finance and administration committee instructed staff to come back with another report at the end of June.
Hourly pay rates under Hamilton's fair wage policy
Asphalt spreaders and rollers: $31.70
Labourer (bridge building): $29.06
Traffic control person (bridge building): $25.55
Elevator mechanic: $43.29
Journeyman electrician: $35.65
Hamilton's policy dictates that contractors must pay, for example, a minimum of $31.95 to a truck-mounted hydraulic crane operator doing road work, or $33.28 to a bricklayer on a city project.
Staff proposed freezing minimum wages at 2009 rates and adopting any wage rates contained in union contracts registered with the Ontario Ministry of Labour, which could mean less money for some workers. It also recommended increasing the minimum contract amount listed in the policy to $300,000.
But some councillors spoke against the changes. Coun. Sam Merulla wondered if the city was trying to solve a non-existent problem.
"Sometimes I think we…try to fix something that's a phantom problem rather than a real problem," he said. "If it's not broken, I'm not sure why we're trying to fix something and potentially hurt our employees."
Contractors and union members packed the gallery. Manny Bastos of LIUNA local 837 said scrapping the policy would create a "race to the bottom" for bidders of city contracts, rewarding those who pay their workers less.
"I believe that the citizens of Hamilton who pay their taxes would not like to see that," he said. "Hamilton has been a union town. We build product, we build quality and we'd like to keep the fair wage policy."
Coun. Lloyd Ferguson, a former contractor, also supported keeping the policy. Contractors want the best people, he said, and that is achieved by paying a fair wage.
"I can tell you from years of experience that the contractor wins by attracting the best and brightest and safest and fastest people to do the work for you," he said.
Staff will confer with unions and members of the building trades before coming back with a report. Hamilton's fair wage policy is reviewed annually, said Rick Male, director of corporate services and corporate controller.
Hamilton had 123 construction contracts valued at a combined $95 million in 2012.