Paying city employees a living wage would cost about $3M a year, report says

It would cost more than $3 million a year to pay all City of Winnipeg employees and contractors’ workers a living wage of $19.21 per hour, a new report estimates.

The report by city staff, done after councillors Matt Allard and Cindy Gilroy proposed Winnipeg work toward paying all employees a living wage, is on the agenda for the July 9 executive policy committee meeting.

An estimated 516 city employees make less than $19.21 an hour, the report says. The $3 million total also includes a “very rough estimate” of the cost to the city if contractors’ workers, such as cleaning staff and security guards, also got the increase.

The higher wages would provide a “big boost” for the 311 customer service staff, librarians, wading pool attendants, garbage collectors and others who make low wages, said Gilroy, the councillor for Daniel McIntyre. 

“We know that there has been struggles with people being able to afford rent and food, and that’s just for city employees,” Gilroy told CBC on Wednesday.

“So I think being a fair living wage city sets the bar and really shows that we are a caring city.”

A woman with long blonde hair stands in front of a brick wall.
Coun. Cindy Gilroy says introducing a living wage for City of Winnipeg employees shows workers that the city cares. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Gilroy thinks the city can afford the cost, especially if it starts with just increasing pay for city staff (not contractors’ workers). The report estimates bringing only city workers’ wages up to $19.21 an hour would cost around $1.75 million.

Mayor Scott Gillingham said the report reinforces that wages should be negotiated through collective bargaining. 

“When you factor in the benefits that city employees receive, like ambulance, hospital, vision, dental, paid sick leave, there is a value to all of those benefits that was not contemplated in the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives framework,” Gillingham said.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says $19.21 is the minimum wage a family of four, with two young children and both parents working 35 hours per week, must earn to achieve a decent standard of living.

It doesn’t include costs for debt repayment or retirement savings (beyond the Canada Pension Plan).

The city report says because the living wage of $19.21/hour includes costs such as private health insurance and illness, city benefits can replace some of the costs.

A man in a suit is pictured speaking.
Winnipeg Mayor Scott Gillingham says wages should be negotiated through collective bargaining. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The report estimates the value of those benefits at a little more than $2/hour, which would bring the required living wage down to $17.03; the cost of implementing that wage for city employees (not including contractors’ workers) is estimated at just under $500,000.

CUPE, which represents most of the affected workers, estimates that once benefits are factored in, the living wage would be $17.87 an hour.

The cost of implementing that living wage for city employees would be “extremely” minimal, CUPE Local 500 president Gord Delbridge said.

“The City of Winnipeg is one of the largest employers in Manitoba. They should be leading by example,” Delbridge said. 

“We don’t want to be living in a, you know, society that is having to access food banks and are living in poverty. We want working-class Winnipeggers to be able to contribute to society and live with some dignity.”

A man stands in a rotunda with writing on the wall behind him.
Gord Delbridge, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 500, says the cost to implement a living wage in Winnipeg would be “extremely” minimal. (Travis Golby/CBC)

It’s important for those in power to look at the standard other municipalities across the country are setting in terms of providing a living wage, Delbridge said.

Gillingham said the report has been received as information and it will be discussed at the July 9 meeting.