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North Vancouver City Will Define its 'Living Wage'
North Shore News
Benjamin Alldritt

January 18, 2012
View the Original Article

The City of North Vancouver will continue to explore the possibility of becoming a "living wage employer," despite both of the North Shore's other municipalities expressing no interest in the idea.

A living wage employer ensures that all of its employees, and those of any contractors it hires, are paid a certain hourly wage. Metro Vancouver has pegged that figure at $18.81 per hour. Currently, only the City of New Westminster has taken such a step, and now requires its contractors to sign a declaration guaranteeing their workers are paid at least that much.

In September of last year, a motion sponsored by Coun. Craig Keating invited the districts of North and West Vancouver, as well as the business and non-profit sectors, to investigate what a living wage figure might be for the North Shore.

In a report presented Monday night, city human resources director Susan Ney said both neighbouring districts had declined to participate. Ney recommended the matter be dropped, particularly as her staff were already "fully committed to other council-approved projects."

Nevertheless, Keating said the city should continue to look into a living wage policy.

"I want to keep this option open," said Keating. "Identifying where we have gaps in paying employees, both through contractors and directly.

"I certainly think, at this stage, a dismissal of the whole project without inquiring into where we are as a municipality falls short of the original intent of the motion."

Keating said he certainly hoped the city would eventually take on such a policy, and said it was "a shameful moment" when the districts refused to participate.

"I'm happy to support moving forward on this," said Coun. Rod Clark. "The City of North Vancouver prides itself on leadership on a number of fronts - carbon footprints, sustainability, a number of things. As far as I'm concerned, a living wage policy is something I will support until it's proven not to be tenable. In fact, I would have perhaps leapt ahead and said do as New Westminster has done and go with the $18.81."

Coun. Guy Heywood said he had thought the original motion was to "find a number" rather than commit to a wage floor. He also asked staff how this would affect unionized employees.

Ney replied that any changes to a collective bargaining agreement would have to be negotiated, and that a living wage policy would mostly affect contractors and their employees. Working students, however, would likely be exempt.

"In my mind," said Heywood, "this is attempting to extend the benefits of being employed in the public sector to all the contractors with the public sector, and it might be overreaching the city's mandate for social engineering. I'm not in favour of this."

Coun. Don Bell was also "not comfortable" with the living wage proposal.

"My concern is: I'd like to know the impact in terms of city employees. I'd like to know what the costs are to us. My concern is also the suppliers of services to the city. I think that we need to hear from the Chamber of commerce and the Lower Lonsdale Business Association."

Bell asked how a living wage policy would affect such activities as renting a conference room in a local hotel.

"I think it's a bit heavy-handed," he said. Mayor Darrell Mussatto said he wanted to work towards a living wage policy.

"More information will help us make a better decision," he said. "If you take the North Shore as its own entity, the cost of living is probably a bit higher than if you take the whole Lower Mainland as a region.

"People who work in our community should be able to live in our community," he said. "I've said that before and I'll say it again."

Council voted 5-2 to move ahead with researching a living wage policy, with Heywood and Bell dissenting.