In Support of A Living Wage

 

Yukoners who rely on minimum wage earn $11.51 per hour. And that’s before any tax comes off the top. Yukon workers deserve better than minimum wage – they need a living wage. Most minimum wage discussions tend to go down the path of cost, instead of decency. Let’s take a quick look at the cost side so we can better understand the argument for decency.

Let’s envision a worker putting in 60 hours a week at two different minimum wage employers (with no overtime). At the current minimum wage, and after taxes, their take home is just under $33,000 a year. Let that sink in for a moment.

Given the recent rent survey completed by Yukon Bureau of Statistics, let’s assume our worker is single and pays the average rent for all types of rental units, $1,184.00 per month. Over a year, that total comes to $14,208.00. Nearly half of our worker’s income is gone in rent.

I could go on, but I imagine folks can predict where this math leads. Come year-end, a worker with one full-time and one half-time job has been able to little more than meet their survival costs.

The decent alternative to the minimum wage is a LIVING WAGE.

In Yukon, a living wage is calculated as $18.26 per hour – a substantial jump from the $11.51/hr minimum wage. This figure takes into account the true cost of living in the north, factoring in the high rents, higher cost of living and realities of the northern economy.

The minimum wage was introduced in 1975 to prevent the exploitation of women and youth in the workplace. Over time and in practice, minimum wage has served to do the opposite. Most minimum wage positions are now occupied by adults, especially people of colour and new Canadians. Minimum wage earners often support families, working two or more jobs to do so.

The living wage is designed to lift individuals and families out of poverty and into a place of greater economic security.

Times have changed since 1975. Business interests have formed powerful lobby groups which are often given the same or greater rights as people. What has been lost along the way is the understanding that businesses exist to meet the needs of the people. If people can’t afford the costs of goods or services, then businesses will starve and die.

Making decisions on how much people should earn based on the cost to business, is indecent.

Providing workers with a decent income will result in greater financial freedom, and increased spending on goods and services. People who aren’t on the knife’s edge of poverty have a much better quality of life, lowering costs for our health care system.

The benefits to our communities would be many, and the businesses paying higher wages would benefit from a stronger economy – the positive effects of increased wages have consistently proven to outweigh the costs. It’s time for Yukon government to make the decent choice, and support low-wage earning Yukoners.

Justin Lemphers, President
Yukon Federation of Labour

Read the letter to Yukon Premier Sandy Silver sent by Northern Labour leaders.

Download a copy of the postcard petition in support of the #LIvingWageNorth campaign

Visit #LivingWageNorth web page

#millennials-the kids are not all right.

Who are the Millennials? A millennial is anyone born between the early 80’s and the late 90’s – they are a pretty large cohort. Basically, if they’re younger than YOU, they’re millennials. If they’re annoying you, they’re millennials. If you don’t like a style, a trend or a new reality, blame that demographic. Everybody’s doing it. According to the press, they’ve killed the serviette industry and Sears. Really.

Millennials catch hell for just about everything they do or don’t do, buy or choose not to buy. Millennials are scapegoated or mocked almost daily in the media as lazy, vain, celebrity crazed and s­till living with their parents at 30. In fact, they are a socially conscious, diverse and well educated generation, busy challenging the status quo and changing the world in some profound ways.

As workers in their early 20’s to late 30’s, millennials comprise an enormous chunk of the work force. Many struggle to find an entry point into steroid enhanced housing markets, while staggering under crushing student debt. Too many work in jobs that are precarious and poorly paid with few benefits, little security and no hope of a pension. 

The stable union jobs that allowed their parents’ generation to thrive have all but disappeared. The wages that allowed home ownership were the outcome of negotiated collective agreements, but no-one is talking to young people about unions. Organized labour has been so demonized by corporate interests that many union members feel little pride in their membership. As a result, they don’t talk with their kids about the very real advantages of union membership.

Millennials are the first generation who will find it difficult to achieve the same financial stability their parents enjoyed.

In fact, studies have shown that a university educated 30 year old today earns about the same as someone without a degree in 1989, in today’s dollars but of course, the cost of living has skyrocketed.

Few young workers have had much exposure to unions and the bargaining power unionization allows. With many millennials working as interns,  contract labourers or navigating the new “sharing economy”, the idea of collective bargaining seems out of reach. Without it, decent salaries on which to raise a family, buy a home, and save for the future are unlikely.

Millennials starting families are faced with some hard choices. It’s almost impossible to afford daycare for more than one child, but few young families can afford to have one parent stay home – housing costs alone make that choice increasingly difficult. Young workers have some very compelling reasons to join a union and to support the ideals of the labour movement.

Union activism in young workers is in decline, so it’s up to the more seasoned union members to encourage them to look for unionized jobs. Talk to young workers – help them organize their places of work. The loss of good jobs won’t just affect millennials and their children, it will affect every Canadian.

Low wages mean a shrinking tax base, and an ever diminishing ability to fund the services and programs Canadians count on. Canada’s healthcare system will undoubtedly suffer without healthy incomes for this and future generations.

Let’s stop blaming millennials for the real world problems they have inherited. Let’s remember how important unions and union jobs are to communities and families. Let’s support young workers as they try to organize their places of work, and let’s encourage contract workers to find unions that connect and empower free-lance and sharing economy labourers.

YEU Celebrates 50 years; 1965-2015

News-Photo-First-Yukon-Agreement-Signing1971“It is time for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.”

Bob Smith, YTPSA President 1965

On a Sunday afternoon in late 1965, a group of Yukon civil servants gathered together in the Whitehorse Legion Hall. Having long felt they were not offered the same treatment as their federal colleagues, the Yukon workers wanted change. They met to adopt the constitution of an association uniting the collective interest of all Yukon Territorial Government employees.

Living standards were dropping as salaries failed to keep pace with the rising costs of living in the North. Salaries fell victim to inflation with a difference of over 40% in food costs between Whitehorse and Edmonton. The results, especially in communities outside of Whitehorse, were evident. Public Service morale in Yukon was down and staff turnover was constant. Looking to improve the lives of all YTG employees and their families, the Yukon Territorial Public Service Association was founded.

In the early months of the YTPSA,  documents note the Union’s immediate goal was to achieve a pay increase of 10%. Although lacking collective bargaining rights, they sought through their negotiations to provide a higher standard of living for their members. In a letter addressed to then Commissioner G.R. Cameron, YTPSA President Bob Smith wrote that it was time “for an imaginative, courageous, and positive approach to salaries, [and] working conditions.” By April, 1966, they were successful in achieving their wage recommendation.

This is the first in a series of articles sharing the history of the Yukon Employees’ Union, now celebrating 50 years. Follow http://www.theunionbillboard.com to receive regular updates.

Straight Talk: Beware the Union Organizer!

Norma Rae

We’ve been in the news a lot lately; we’ve had several new worksites unionize and we’ve been part of a very unpopular job action by Air North’s flight attendants. We thought we’d provide a bit of truth against the mythology  that we are out there in Yukon communities with our thugs, stirring up trouble uninvited.

We’re NOT.

YEU has exactly zero union organizers on staff. YEU’s massive organizing budget is $0. That’s right. $0.

We are gratified and proud that so many Yukon workers have chosen to come to YEU when faced with workplace problems they can’t solve. We are proud that workers from across the territory have chosen to approach us asking for help. That’s how it works, they call us. They. Call. Us. And when their collective agreements are negotiated, guess what? THEY decide which issues matter to them, and they tell US what they need.

And good for them. Thank heavens they do. We’ve seen some pretty powerful examples lately of what happens when workers don’t have the support they need to make things right in their workplaces. We’d love to tell you that workers no longer need unions… that is surely not the case now and we don’t see it as a likelihood in the near future.

We’ve heard it all; unions have no purpose anymore; everything unions achieved in the past is now enshrined in legislation so we don’t need them. That’s funny, considering how free-wheeling this government has been with legislation. Nothing is set in stone in Canada these days… just ask a scientist, a pensioner or a veteran. Unions are too political; why doesn’t anyone say that about corporations? We’re fighting for YOU, for your rights and your salary, your healthcare, your children’s education, your freedoms, your choices, your equity and your future. Corporations spend millions lobbying for their interests… they’re not spending that money on anything to benefit you or your kids, period.

So there you see folks. Our budget for agitation and organization of new units is a big fat zero. The number of staff members at YEU dedicated to the purpose of ensnaring unsuspecting workers is also a big fat zero. These workers are signing up for the same reasons workers have always unionized. Strength in numbers is not a slogan, it’s a fact. Get the facts.

You have questions? We have time. Call us at 667-2331. Email President Steve Geick at sgeick@yeu.ca or if you want, Call Steve at 867-335-2631!