Hot! Pushing for higher provincial wage

Standard-Freeholder.com – news/local
March 2, 2013. By Kathryn Burnham, Cornwall Standard Freeholder

CORNWALL – While everyone wishes they could have a bit more in the bank, Michelle Walrond is pushing for it to be a reality.

“If you are working full time, you shouldn’t have to go to a food bank,” said Walrond. “The people who work should have a decent life.”

The push is to see minimum wage in the province rise to $14 per hour, from it’s current rate of $10.25.

Walrond, a community leader with the Ottawa chapter of ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), made the pitch at the Cornwall and District Labour Council’s International Women’s Day breakfast March 2.

“The current minimum wage is six years old and so much has happened with inflation over the last six years,” said Elaine MacDonald, president of the labour council. “What hasn’t changed much is minimum wage.”

And in Cornwall, many have seen their earnings decrease, as manufacturing jobs have been replaced with work earning a lower wage.

With the costs of everything from rent and phone bills to food rising, more and more pressure is put on community organizations, provincial welfare programs and food banks.

“We see a lot of families on minimum wage who just can’t make it work,” said Alyssa Blais, executive director of the Agape Centre.

ACORN also argues that if many workers are making less than minimum wage, it’s costing the province, as poverty leads to higher medical bills and more crime as well.

They estimate the provincial government is losing $13.1 billion a year to poverty.

These numbers come from their fight for the city of Ottawa to support a living wage for all their employees and contractors.

The reality in Ottawa, where the living wage is $13.50 per hour, is that many “are working full-time for your city and you can’t afford to live in the city,” said Walrond.

While their 2009 campaign was derailed by a municipal election, Walrond said their gains were still significant in raising the profile of ACORN and poverty issues.

Which is what she is hoping to accomplish with the campaign to see minimum wage raised to $14.

“Whether we get $14 or not, it’s always about momentum to raise awareness and make sure people understand,” she said.

She is also hoping to change the culture of the province, which doesn’t accept poverty.

“If you are poor, you can’t act like you are poor,” she said.

Many people she knows are forced to place clothing and make up as priorities above food, just so they look the part for their jobs or school.

Furthermore, those on Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program see their earnings clawed back from their support payments when they do find work.

“It’s really punishing people for making an effort,” she said.

ACORN will be pushing for change March 21 outside the minister of labour’s office.

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Meanwhile, MacDonald highlighted what has changed for women over the past year.

While she expressed disappointment that women are only making $0.71 for every dollar a man makes, and less for those of different races or aboriginal women, there was some progress politically. With the recent election of Kathleen Wynne as premier, women now hold six of 13 first minister seats across Canada.

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