Paratransit drivers in London, Ont., demand $15.50 living wage

London Mayor Matt Brown is encouraging private businesses in the Forest City to pay employees a living a wage. He's just supportive of the city demanding the same of at least one of its contractors.

'Public money should not be used to keep people down on an unlivable wage. That's ugly'

Voyageur Transportation Services is contracted by the City of London's transit company and is not obligated to pay its drivers a living wage of $15.50 per hour. (Voyageur Transportation Service/Facebook)

London Mayor Matt Brown is encouraging private businesses in the Forest City to pay employees a living a wage. He's just supportive of the city demanding the same of at least one of its contractors.

Paratransit drivers in London say they want the city's leadership to step up and really take action to end poverty by practising what it preaches and force their employer, Voyageur Transportation Services, which contracted by the city, to pay a living wage.

The Voyageur drivers are upset about the fact they make slightly more than minimum wage while the mayor is promoting a living wage of $15.50 per hour.

Ontario's minimum wage is $11.25 per hour.

Brown told CBC's Amanda Margison he has no plans to dictate the wages paid to anyone working for the city, directly or contracted.

Brown said at this point, the living wage is a conversation starter only.

"It helps stimulate discussion and it seems that is happening in this case," Brown said of a living wage.

Earlier this year, Brown endorsed London's living wage. He agreed, $15.50 per hour is the amount people in his city need to pull themselves out of poverty.

But, he won't lobby that the city force its hired contractors, such as Voyageur, to also pay it.

"I'm not going to weigh in on contracts between autonomous organizations like the LTC and one of their contractors," he said.

'It doesn't cover'

Voyageur is a private company hired by the city's transportation commission.

Mark Mager's driven a Voyageur paratransit bus in London for almost five years.

He earns about $13 an hour transporting people to chemotherapy or dialysis appointments. 

"You're driving a bus, and sometimes you have four or five wheelchairs on board. All of it for the same money as people at McDonalds," Mager said.

Some drivers feel the wage doesn't cover the responsibility the drivers have.

Some of Guy Golovchenko's passengers are disabled and need a lot of help. He earns more than $12 an hour.

"For the responsibility we have, it doesn't cover," he said.

Every driver who spoke to CBC described juggling a second job to make ends meet.

"Public money should not be used to keep people down on an unlivable wage. That's ugly," Golovchenko said.

The neighbouring city of Cambridge adopted a living wage last year and in the fall will consider making it mandatory for its contractors.

Brown said he has no plans to do that, but says he hopes Voyageur will voluntarily adopt it.

Voyageur was not available for comment.  

With files from Amanda Margison