Union at TRU keen on university living wage campaign

'It is an ongoing challenge to ensure wages meet or beat the living wage standard'

Sylvie Paillard / Kamloops Daily News
February 21, 2013 01:00 AM

CUPE Local 4879 president Lois Rugg speaks to a crowd in front of the Campus Activity Centre at TRU in this file photo.

The union for Thompson River University's support staff is keeping a close eye on a campaign pushing for living wages in universities.

"I certainly agree with this (campaign) on many levels and will be watching this initiative with great interest," said Lois Rugg, president of TRU's support staff union,CUPE 4879.

The new Living Wage for Families campaign is challenging Simon Fraser University (SFU) to become the first university in Canada to commit to wages that would enable workers to cover their families' basic expenses.

The group asks that SFU insert a legally binding clause in all future service contracts committing to a living wage rate, which in the Lower Mainland is currently calculated at $19.14 per hour.

The call is based on findings of a research report released on Wednesday entitled Simon Fraser University: Becoming the First Living Wage University in Canada.

The report focuses on the extent and impact of low wage poverty among SFU's contracted workers - food service, cleaning, janitorial, child-care and research assistants.

"For most of the last decade, our province has had the highest child poverty rate in Canada," said Michael McCarthy Flynn, Living Wage for Families campaign organizer in a press release.

"Low wages is one of the key reasons for child poverty in B.C. - 43 per cent of the poor children in B.C. or 41,300 children, live in families with at least one adult working full-time, full-year."

The research revealed that 73 per cent of those surveyed earned less than a living wage, more than half worked unpaid overtime hours - in some cases up to 12 hours per week - and only half received benefits as part of their employment.

The report documents workers having to live paycheque to paycheque, working multiple jobs, depending on food banks and suffering extreme mental and physical stress.

The issue is a familiar one for Rugg.

"TRU has many contract workers in the janitorial and food services area as well as many of the student jobs which are well below the living wage rate," said Rugg. "Our local has not discussed this initiative with TRU specifically but it is an ongoing challenge to ensure wages meet or beat the living wage standard."

In Kamloops, she said, $17 to $18 an hour is expected to keep a working family above the poverty line.

So far 22 out of the top 25 universities in the U.S. including all eight Ivy League schools, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of California at Berkeley, have passed a living wage policy, according to a campaign press release.

And more than 30 organizations in Vancouver employing over 6,000 workers and covering thousands more contracted service workers have been certified as living wage employers.

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