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”
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.