A Living Wage Campaign in Ottawa
|Michelle Walrond introduces the Living Wage campaign. Photo: Garth Gullekson.|
We at Ottawa ACORN came to know of the need for a living wage from conversations with our numerous low-to-moderate-income members. Thousands of working poor struggle with jobs that do not pay enough to meet basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing. The numbers of businesses that pay "poverty wages" is staggering. Ottawa ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) is a non-profit organization focusing on social justice at the local level.
Ottawa ACORN has established the following goals:
- 1. Raise public awareness that City government contractors have been underpaying workers, even though the City recently enacted the Ethical Procurement Policy banning the use of sweatshops and child labor.
- 2. Push to have a bylaw enacted at the municipal level to ensure a minimum wage of $13-$15 per hour for all City government contractor employees.
- 3. Get city council to pass The Poverty Reductions Strategy, which includes ACORN's living wage motion.
In May 2009, Ottawa ACORN kicked off our Living Wage campaign. The first job was to raise public awareness, a daunting task that involves both going door-to-door to speak directly to citizens, and having meetings with public officials and the media to inform them of the issues and solicit support.
The Low-Income Cut-Off or LICO, often criticized for being an inaccurate measure of the true cost of living, calculates the cost of housing, food and clothing in a given region based on population. In June 2009, the LICO was reassessed, indicating a living wage in Ottawa of $13.50/hour.
Hoping that the City of Ottawa would lead the way in enacting an ethical wage policy, we decided to focus on how people were paid with public (government) dollars. The campaign's premise was that public money should not pay poverty wages.
We focused on those the municipal government does business with, including city contractors, firms and companies receiving economic development assistance, and anyone receiving other grants or funding from the city.
City councilors Peggy Feltmate and Alex Cullen agreed to bring the issue forward at the June 2009 Community and Protective Services Committee meeting. Members and organizers began setting up meetings with the city councilors who were on the Committee and sought support from other council members. We also started a living wage canvass in target wards during May, and are still continuing it more than a year later.
At the Community and Protective Services Committee meeting, Councilors Feltmate and Cullen introduced the campaign, and Councilor Georges Bedard moved to include it as part of the city's proposed Poverty Reduction Strategy. When the motion went to full council on February 10, 2010, 14 councilors of the 22 present voted to direct municipal staff to undertake research, write a report and make a decision on living wage during spring 2010.
While we wait for that report, Ottawa ACORN will continue to take further steps in this campaign. Many members want to put extra pressure on the "nays" from the council, particularly during the coming October election.
Check out www.acorncanada.org or call 613-746-5999 to get involved.
Join us for the Living Wage Forum September 22, 6 pm at City Hall (110 Laurier Ave.), Champlain Room.
Michelle Walrond is a community leader with Ottawa ACORN. She has been an active member in the organization for over three years. Michelle currently teaches ESL and Language coaching online to students in South Korea.