Hamilton won't pay its part-time and seasonal employees a living wage this year

Hamilton city councillors have turned down spending $292,500 this year, and $877,660 over three years, to pay its arena workers, summer students and other part-time employees a living wage.

Middle-class families can't afford the bill, one councillor says, calling it 'socialism at its worst'

Hamilton city councillors voted against paying about 1,000 part-time and seasonal workers $16.25 per hour. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Hamilton city councillors have turned down spending $292,500 this year, and $877,660 over three years, to pay its arena workers, summer students and other part-time employees a living wage.

Councillors voted 10-4 against paying its non-union part-time casual employees, non-union full-time summer students unionized summer students $16.45 per hour. Some of the roughly 1,000 are making minimum wage, which is $14. 

Terry Whitehead, Ward 14 (west Mountain) councillors, was one of the people who voted against it, suggesting the move is "socialism at its worst." He has kids in school, he said, and he pays their tuition, like many middle-class families have to do for their kids.

"There's a lot of people being pressured in every different direction, middle class people, and yet we're not crying foul in the context of shoring up our responsibilities," he said. "But if this is socialism at its worst then let's pay for everybody's bill."

Lora Fontana, executive director of human resources, told councillors many of the workers aren't students. 

Summer students account for 212 of the workers, and student labourers another 346, she said, while there are 229 school crossing guards. There are another 224 non-union workers who work in facilities such as arenas and long-term care homes.

"These are positions that are predominantly filled by adults — not students — who have other obligations separate and apart from school," she said.

Tom Jackson, Ward 6 (east Mountain) said he struggled with the vote.

"This is one of those balancing acts where I want to support what's in front of us," he said.

Nrinder Nann, Ward 3 (central lower city), voted for a living wage. Even in the case of students, she said, some are helping support their families with the money they earn.

"There's a perception out there that young people are working to make beer money, or working to pay for entertainment costs," she said.

Hamilton's crossing guards make $15.85 right now, Fontana said, but will soon make just over $16 per hour.

The debate happened as part of deliberations for the 2020 operating budget, which council expects to approve at the beginning of April. Right now, the budget increase is just under three per cent.

How they voted

In favour of paying a living wage to part-time and seasonal employees:

Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Nrinder Nann (3), John-Paul Danko (8), Mayor Fred Eisenberger.


Sam Merulla (4), Chad Collins (5), Tom Jackson (6), Esther Pauls (7), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Terry Whitehead (14), Judi Partridge (15).


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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