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Majority of SFU contract workers make below living wage: study

Hundreds of Simon Fraser University's lowest paid employees aren't able to afford the basic necessities for their families according to a new report from the Living Wage Campaign for Families.

In a press release issued today, the Campaign says the report, which won't be released until Feb. 20, found 73 per cent of custodians, rsearch assistants, and childcare and food service workers made less than $19.14 an hour, the living wage calculated for the Lower Mainland.

The report relies on reviewing collective agreements for contracted workers, as well as a survey of close to 40 contracted workers. Campaign director Michael McCarthy Flynn said the number surveyed was so low because workers were afraid to speak out.

"We did general outreach with all the unions about interviewing, but the barrier we came across was people were very reluctant to talk to us because of fear of upsetting their employers," he said.

"The facts pf the wage levels and benefits of people are based on the collective agreement. So that's hugely representational because it covers all of the workers."

Of those surveyed, 57 per cent said they worked overtime, sometimes as much as 12 additional hours per week, and half did not receive employee benefits. The Campaign says survey results also show workers experience mental and physical stress from trying to make ends meet, and often resorting to using food banks to feed their families.

Calculated by the Living Wage Campaign, the $19.14 per hour rate covers the cost of food, clothing, transportation, housing, education, childcare, health costs and incidentals for a two parent, two child family. It does not cover the cost of paying down a student loan or credit card debt, saving for retirement, extra health costs such as caring for a disabled family member, or family vacations.

Today's media release and the upcoming official report release are part of the Campaign's strategy to make Simon Fraser University (SFU) the first living wage employer university in the country. At least 22 universities in the United States, including M.I.T., University of California at Berkeley, and the eight so-called Ivy League universities have adopted living wage policies, as have 13 in the United Kingdom.

McCarthy Flynn says SFU was invited to meet with the Living Wage Campaign for Families last week, and although the University has yet to respond he hopes they will be receptive to the idea.

In a phone interview with The Tyee, Scott McLean, SFU's public relations director, said the University was taking some time to review the report before getting back to the Campaign.

"I don't think we have a timeline yet (on responding,) because there's a lot of data to pour over," he said.

In the meantime, the Campaign is starting a living wage dialogue on campus beginning with the launch of the report on Feb.20 at the SFU Burnaby campus with McCarthy Flynn, SFU Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen, and John Bannister, CUPE 3338, discussing the issue.

"(Attendees will) get to hear in more detail how we did the research, what the actual research says, what a living wage policy would mean," he said. "We have detailed proposals of how this would be done. So what we're looking at is having a number of dialogue events with various stakeholders at the University, and this is the first event we're holding."

Katie Hyslop reports on youth and education issues for The Tyee. Follow her on Twitter.

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