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Opinion: Bill Walton, Share the sunshine

City to open coffee shop?
20220115 coffee walton

If letter-to-the-editor writer Rennick’s analysis of the latest City budget is correct, and I find most of his figuring accurate, if not as creative as some of our politicians, it is time for a change in our thinking.

Before the publication of the annual Sunshine List, as outdated as that modeling may be, raises the ire of those who watch government spending, we should change the way we think about municipal employees’ wages and salaries. And their generous benefits.

We all have heard the argument that to attract and keep good employees you need to offer a very good incentive in wages and benefits. It is hard to argue against that: what employer does not want to hire the best employee he or she can afford? The problem is who or what sets that attractive standard for wages in a community – a standard that influences not only union bargaining but wages offered in the private sector.

Don’s $104,000 average wage and benefit number for City employees may sound generous to people who are earning something just above the minimum wage but one must realize that the City is likely management-heavy, supervising specialty public programs, as well as having specific positions such as firefighters and policemen who are not found in the private sector. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to compare the wages of clerks, general labourers, truck drivers, custodians, and their straw bosses to the private sector.

Armchair accountants and pseudo bean counters will have already guessed that the private sector lags behind in wages in benefits for comparable work. (This might be a good time to refill your coffee cup). The problem might not be that the City pays too generously but that the private sector is not paying their people enough. If the City can simply find more money for wages and benefits by raising taxes, why can’t the private employers simply raise their prices for goods and services to cover the higher wages?

I understand that private companies compete with one another both in the quality of their product as well as the price of their services. If they all agreed to raise their employees’ wages to match public wages, wouldn’t they all end in the same position – with their employees making more money? All they would have to do is raise their prices so we could pay more for tradespeople, grass cutters and snow removal. The private sector could hire a spokesperson or get the Chamber of Commerce to explain the higher prices, sort of like the councillor who explains the budget increases each year.

After all, that is what the public employee system does: firefighters here want the same salary as firefighters in Toronto, police want similar comparable wages with Toronto or the OPP or the RCMP or whoever currently pays the highest. Tax clerks want the same wages as their counterparts in Barrie or Hamilton; a municipal truck driver is a truck driver; a custodian a custodian, a City Solicitor is a City Solicitor or so goes the song.

In a Utopian world, we might expect equal wages for equal work but there are too many disparities in play: the Municipal Act versus the Income Tax Act; public versus private; dare I say male versus female; gig versus contracted; temp workers versus full-time workers, and employees with or without benefits. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that private-sector wages will eventually catch up to public wages for those on the lower end of the skills set. As for those in the top end of pubic service, if you can find a better paying or more rewarding position in the private sector, go for it – share the sunshine by offering your old position to a new employee.

The good news is that North Bay has a lower cost of living than the average city in Canada. Some may find that difficult to believe but it says so right there on the internet. Don may want to investigate this claim because the authors may not have factored in the food bank usage or the number of citizens living in subsidized housing or in temporary tent shelters.

Here is the solution.

What we really need is for the City to open a coffee shop and a restaurant and maybe a hotel. We would soon have an excellent means of comparing wages in the service sector. Service employees would have a nearby efficiently-run enterprise where they can compare wages: the City-owned coffee shop will set the standard for not only wages but work conditions as well as good, always fresh, Keurig coffee. Sure, a Timmies Double Double or Starbucks Latté will triple in price but won’t it be worth it?

All we need is a couple of enterprising candidates advocating for a City coffee shop to run for council this fall.

Oh man, I’ve got to cut back on my caffeine. Or stop reading Don’s columns. Just saying.





Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

retired from City of North Bay in 2000 writer, poet, columnist
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