Volume 51, Issue 2: Spring 2017
Annually without fail, rents increase, energy bills go up, groceries cost more, public transit fares get hiked.… The cost of living rises relentlessly and making ends meet gets even tougher for those toiling at the low end of the wage scale. Astonishingly, as a widely publicized Statistics Canada report revealed, the purchasing power of Canadian workers earning the minimum wage — the lowest hourly rate an employer can legally pay — increased by only one cent an hour in the nearly 40 years between and 1975 and 2013. Moreover, there are more people depending on minimum-wage jobs now than a couple of decades ago: about eight per cent of salaried workers in all, including a disproportionate number of women, youths, racialized people and recent immigrants.
While the traditional labour movement supports the bid to raise the wage floor, it has not spearheaded this struggle. The energy is coming primarily from local organizing efforts, some of which are highlighted in this CD Focus, and from groups beyond the union mainstream, such as Rank and File, a Canadian labour news website which published and distributes the organizers’ handbook $15 and Fairness Now! David Bush, one of the Rank and File editors and a leading activist in the Fight for $15 in Ontario, lent CD a hand in putting together this focus section.
In the midst of putting together this focus on “The Fight for $15,” striking York University food service workers, represented by UNITE HERE Local 75, won a ground-breaking settlement for a $15-an-hour starting wage and fair working conditions. Their victory paves the way for workers right across the province to achieve $15 and fairness. Nearly 1,000 members voted on the university’s offer and claimed victory in the three-week strike. It is a huge win for racialized workers in low-wage industries who are forced to take the hardest and least desirable jobs without basic labour protections. Most Aramark food service workers are women of colour. For details see “Striking York food service workers win $15 and Fairness” at rankandfile.ca.
What impact would a $15 minimum wage have? Well, in 2015 about 25 per cent of all workers in Canada made $15/hr or less. That’s more than four million workers. And by no means are all of them young and living with their parents. Labour force data shows that 13 per cent of working men and 22 per cent of working women between 25 and 54 earn less than $15; and 18 per cent of working men and 29 per cent of working women over the age of 55 earn less than $15.
The Fight for $15 is far from over, of course, and we hope that this CD Focus contributes to an understanding of its larger meaning and to marshalling support for the struggles ahead.