'Our employees are well paid,' says Regina mayor as committee says 'no' to living wage

The City of Regina administration is recommending that the city not adopt a living-wage policy based on a minimum $16.95 per hour because it would be too costly to pay employees more.

Majority of city employees make more than calculated $16.95 living wage

Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said the City of Regina is a good employer and pays its employees well.

A majority of Regina city councillors came out against a policy that could see it pay all of its employees and the staff of its contractors a living wage of $16.95 an hour. 

Councillors on the executive committee discussed the question Wednesday, with administration recommending in a report that the city not adopt the policy of becoming a designated living-wage employer and stick with the status quo. 

"Our employees are well paid," Regina Mayor Michael Fougere said after the meeting, while noting during the debate that only a small portion of the city's workforce earns less than the suggested $16.95 wage.

Living wage would cost $1.1M per year

He said that issues related to reducing poverty and redistributing wealth should be dealt with by the provincial or federal government. 

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives pegged the 2016 Queen City living wage at $16.95 per hour. Saskatchewan's minimum wage is $11.06.

The CCPA said a living wage "reflects what people need to support their families based on the actual costs of living in a specific community" and meet necessary expenses like rent, childcare or groceries.

A living wage for all employees and contractors would cost $1.1 million per year, or the equivalent of a 0.5 per cent property tax increase for residents, according to the report.

"We're a good employer," Fougere said. 

He said hourly wages are decided through collective bargaining and employees are taken care of because they are entitled to pensions. 

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens says when it comes to paying a living wage, the pros outweigh the cons. (CBC)

More than 86 per cent of the city's employees currently earn as much or more than the suggested living wage, according to a city report. 

All permanent city employees make more than the living wage. Most of the city's 1,000 casual or seasonal employees make $16.95 or more.

Only 379 casual employees earned less, including those working as cashiers, casual labourers and co-op students. However, they did earn more than the provincial minimum wage of $11.06.

'We could have done this,' says councillor

Wednesday's committee heard that six municipalities in Canada have adopted a living-wage policy. 

Coun. Andrew Stevens—who expressed disappointment that union leaders were absent in the debate —​ believes it's worth spending an extra $1.1 million a year to follow suit. 

He was the lone vote against the committee's decision to stick with the status quo. 

"This notion that, 'Oh, we shouldn't be or we can't,' or 'Oh, maybe this is beyond our jurisdiction,' that's patently false. We've seen that in other jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, and the U.K.," Stevens said afterwards.

"We could have done this. I think there would have been a really important signal to the community."

Peter Gilmer, advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, said he's disappointed with Wednesday's decision against adopting a living-wage policy for the City of Regina. (CBC)

Some of the cons noted by the city's report said that employees would get equal pay for unequal work, some higher paid employees might want a proportional increase in their wages, and it could sour negotiations with the employee union.

"Certainly the ripple effect of this policy would have put pressure on other employers to raise their wages and would have put pressure on, I believe, on other municipalities to come up with a more socially just wage policy," said Peter Gilmer, advocate with the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry, who expressed disappointment with Wednesday's decision. 

He said the policy would have made an impact with the wider public because it would have seen a living wage for employees of the city's contractors.

According to the report, the city procured the services and goods of 1,575 business vendors last years. 

"If the city requires its vendors to pay their staff a living wage, it is expected that vendors' costs [would] increase and the additional costs would be passed on to the city by way of increased contract costs," reads the report. 

Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the Prairie and agri-business vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the City of Regina can't afford to spend an extra $1 million per year on adopting a living-wage policy when it's already raising property taxes. (CBC)

Some councillors voiced concerns over the proposed move, saying they do not want to dictate what companies ought to pay their employees — a sentiment echoed by Marilyn Braun-Pollon, the Prairie and agri-business vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

"The city cannot afford a million-dollar price tag at a time when they're already raising property taxes, and it would hit every taxpayer in this city," she told reporters. 

Looking to the west for $15/hour

Before Wednesday's meeting, Ward 9 Coun. Jason Mancinelli said Alberta's minimum wage of $15 has also caused him to reflect on the subject of a living wage, which he's more in favour of than opposed to.

Coun. Jason Mancinelli said he is more in favour of a living-wage policy than against it, but notes that $1.1 million extra in expenses is a lot of money when it comes to navigating a municipal budget. (CBC)

"Looking at some of the jobs that have been created in Alberta with the increase to the minimum wage and the attraction to some people moving there, it gives me pause to think, 'Are we shortchanging ourselves by focusing strictly on saving a penny instead of investing?'" he said.

As a business co-owner, Mancinelli said he would consider himself to be a living-wage employer.

About the Author

Stephanie Taylor

Reporter, CBC Saskatchewan

Stephanie Taylor is a reporter based in Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC News in Regina, she covered municipal politics in her hometown of Winnipeg and in Halifax. Reach her at stephanie.taylor@cbc.ca

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