Globe and Mail Off Base on Living Wages

Citizen Wealth Financial Justice

DSC05548Playa de Manzilla Certainly ACORN Canada didn’t expect a resounding endorsement from the conservative national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, from its editorial about the ACORN living wage campaigns that are front and center in the major city and national capital of Ottawa and in New Westminster, the important working suburb of Vancouver, and it’s a good thing, because the editorial was a classic example of tut-tut manipulative paternalism at best.

The Globe and Mail got some things right.  The editorialist scolds understand that they cannot write off something that has had an impact in 140 municipal and other jurisdictions in the United States and has now leaped across the border, as they note.  Now that they see the movement gaining traction in increasing Canadian cities they realize that there is wind in the sails that they need to deflate immediately or see huge progress quickly before they can mobilize posh opposition.  But before I get the facts too far out front, let me include a segment of their “argument” below from the 12.28.09 edition of the paper:

“…proposals are due before city council committees in Ottawa and New Westminster, B.C., in the near future. Thanks to aggressive promotion by social justice groups, Canadians should expect to hear more about living wages in the new year.”

Props to ACORN Canada, though the Globe and Mail doesn’t see fit to fully attribute of course.

“The actual definition and scope of a living wage vary widely. In some U.S. jurisdictions, it applies only to full-time municipal employees. In others, it covers direct employees as well as anyone working for private firms fulfilling municipal contracts – janitorial services, for example.”

Here’s the ice gets thinner where the Globe and Mail are skating.  The most effective and dramatic impacts of the US living wage movement have been in area-wide campaigns at the city or statewide level that have raised the minimum wages across-the-board through initiative procedures creating billions of dollars worth of benefits to millions of workers (as I have documented extensively in my recent published Citizen Wealth).

“In both the U.S. and Canada, the notion of municipalities setting local wages separately from state or provincial minimum-wage legislation has been controversial. Critics claim this to be a clear overstepping of municipal authority. It can also be seen as a tool to discourage contracting-out, to the advantage of municipal unions. Regardless, the living wage ought to be judged on its efficacy, not its ideology.

The question is whether a living wage is effective at reducing poverty, and at what cost.”

Here’s where the argument is, what else can I say, but dishonest.  The editorialist recognize that the “notion” of municipalities or even states setting minimum wages are “controversial,” then then pooh-pooh the impacts through clear and simple distortion by never acknowledging the profound and dramatic results of just such actions whether by cities (like San Francisco, Santa Fe, and even New Orleans before losing in court) or states like Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Arizona, and others!  Instead they only look at the very, very few measures that set minimum standards for municipal employees and don’t even do a very fair job at looking at the impact on the burgeoning number of subcontracted workers by governments that have been encouraged in the most inequitable and predatory fashion by creating incentives to reduce all privatized jobs to only the legally mandated minimum wages with no benefits, holidays, vacations, and certainly no pensions or health protections.

To its credit, a living wage does not appear to affect local taxes to a noticeable degree. Baltimore observed a mere 1.2 per cent increase in contracting-out costs when it first mandated a living wage of $6.10 (U.S.), up from what was then the minimum rate of $4.25. And while it does reduce profits for firms bidding on municipal contracts, some U.S. businesses affected by the living wage have reported lower absenteeism and other productivity benefits as a result of the required wage hike. Overall, the direct costs of a living wage appear minimal.

Only “minimal” my Globe and Mail friends once you dumb it down to nothing in this highly partisan and manipulative argument.

Unfortunately, the benefits seem similarly insignificant. The published evidence on the effect of living wages on poverty in the U.S. is mostly anecdotal, or weak from a statistical point of view. The enhanced wage rates typically apply to just 1 per cent or less of an area’s working population, and this is too small a sample to move poverty statistics. Anyone lucky enough to be covered by living wage legislation certainly receives an immediate advantage, but these beneficiaries are few and far between.”

And here is where it all gets even dicier.  Who ever made the claim that the sole and only purpose of “living wage” measures was poverty reduction?  Certainly not ACORN Canada!

Reducing poverty is essential in Canada, just as it is in the rest of the country, and the “no progress, no program” proposal of the Globe and Mail is standard issue filibustering by admitting poverty is an issue without a care in the world whether it is addressed.  If the proposals in Ottawa and New West had any impact at all, we would be delighted.

As important though is equity for lower waged workers in general and making sure that municipalities are not creating policies that allow and encourage predatory contracting practices for workers and firms doing business with stewards of the public domain.  This is the business of citizens and citizen organizations, and shame on the Globe and Mail for not standing firm for fairness for workers, which is a cherished part of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and one of the magnificent values that sets Canada apart in North America and on the side of right and proper standards, rather than the “dog-eat-dog” that rules the rest of the continent.