Today at the city council Corporate Services Committee meeting, a motion to direct staff, in partnership with the Poverty Task Force, to investigate making the city an official supporter of a living wage, was defeated 3-2 with councillors Mackinnon, Billings and Mayor Guthrie voting against it. I believe that we missed an opportunity to take a leadership role in addressing poverty elimination.
Paying a living wage in my view should be an obligation. A civic responsibility. It should be a matter of course. It is the right thing to do. It is going to cost us money as a corporation to achieve the status of a living wage supporter, but it will cost our society more in the long run if we don’t.
We are so fortunate in Guelph. We are prosperous. We have low unemployment.We have a high quality of life. If you look a little deeper, the ‘we’ in that statement does not mean “all of us”. It means the privileged who have jobs that pay benefits, who don’t struggle every month to pay rent and buy food and look after their families. Look beneath the surface and you’ll see that our income gap is widening. People are being left behind, and when significant numbers are left behind, we cannot thrive as a community.
If you are NOT making a living wage, you are not contributing with your taxes. Instead you are drawing on services, you are COSTING the city and the province money. You are not contributing as consumers to our local businesses because you can’t afford it. You are not able to engage with your community because you are struggling, sometimes with two jobs, and you haven’t got the luxury of free time. You are not as healthy as your counterparts who ARE earning a living wage. You are not as productive in your job as those making ‘enough’. You are not as loyal to your employer, nor do you feel that you have a stake in your employer’s success.
We gain so much when we DO pay a living wage. When our workers prosper then we prosper. It’s as simple as that. There will be some who would say that we cannot afford to do this. I believe we can’t afford not to. It will be a short term burden to rectify this unjust inequity, but in the long term we will reap the rewards of this with a safer, healthier, better off and more equal populace. Really if we as employers cannot afford to pay a living wage, we shouldn’t be hiring!
It’s the right thing to do. It could be a central part of a long-term plan to address the income gap in Guelph. The example we can set to the city’s employers would have a ripple affect that would contribute immeasurably to our civic wellness. I feel positive that as a corporation we can find a way to pay a living wage to all our employees that is economically feasible, visionary and successful.
Our mayor feels that wages should be left to the ‘free market’ to sort themselves out. He says that the ‘left’ always makes the living wage a ‘moral and ethical’ issue, when it should be a strictly business decision. In this case I disagree. It is the free market that is responsible for our huge wage gap. The ‘free market’ allows executive salaries to soar, while wages of regular workers goes down. When a corporation is only driven by a desire for a greater profit, the default is to lower wages, not raise them. And yet, some innovative companies are realizing that paying a living wage pays back in many ways. We can do this in Guelph. We can set an example.
It’s the right thing to do.