Minimum wage increase meets the bargaining table

UFCW 1518 members working at Kootenay Market in Elkford, BC ratified a collective agreement with a wage grid tied to the minimum wage – the first of its kind for the union. Since taking office last year, the BC NDP has raised the minimum wage once, with more increases expected this year.

About 22 UFCW 1518 members overwhelmingly voted in favour of a five year deal that saw the start rate jump sharply from $12 an hour to $13.60. More importantly, it included a minimum wage spread. “What it means is that when the minimum wage goes up – as the BC NDP has promised – so will wages. It’s an important achievement for our members,” said union representative Lorraine Ausman.

Instead of increases based on a fixed wage rate, Ausman explained, the various steps on the wage grid will be tied to the minimum wage: when the minimum wage increases, members’ wages will rise accordingly. “So for example, if the minimum wage goes up by a dollar, our members’ wages will increase by one dollar,” she said. What’s innovative about the concept of a minimum wage spread is that it distributes the benefits of a rising minimum wage across the wage scale, allowing the collective agreement to be responsive to legislative changes while providing the security of a union contract.

“We finally have a progressive government that understands the reality that working people need to make a decent living in order to foster a productive economy,” commented President Ivan Limpright. As the labour representative on the Fair Wages Commission, President Limpright advises the government on how to move towards a $15 an hour minimum wage as well as how to close the gap between the minimum wage and a living wage. “The minimum wage is going up, there’s no doubt. So it’s good to see an employer being proactive,” said President Limpright. “It will enable them to remain competitive in attracting and retaining experienced workers, which will in turn increase their productivity and bottom line. That’s good for business and good for our members.”

The success of the Fight for $15 campaign is a victory for the labour movement and an example of why it’s important for unions to engage in political action, President Limpright added. “Because of our activism and education, we are on the path toward a $15 an hour minimum wage for our province’s most vulnerable workers. We’ll take that victory to the bargaining table in order to win wage improvements for all workers – as we’ve just seen with Kootenay market.”