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Canada's largest credit union adopts a living wage

Next year's increase in BC's minimum wage to $10.25 an hour marks an improvement for the working poor, but it still falls far below the $18.81 experts say marks a "living wage" in the city of Vancouver.

But thanks to an ongoing campaign for a living wage, an increasing number of public and private sector organizations are signing on to pay their employees and contractors well above the provincially mandated minimum.

Last week, Vancity Credit Union announced it has become a living wage employer, joining a growing list of firms, unions, and municipal governments that are already on board. Vancity is the largest private sector employer to become an official living wage employer.

One of the key elements of the living wage initiative is that Vancouver-based employers who sign on must ensure that all of their service providers, including food services and janitorial staff, are paid a living wage.

"It's not terribly surprising that [Vancity] would do it, but it took them a long time to get everything in order, because they have so many contracts that they have to wade through to be compliant," Seth Klein from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives told The Tyee.

Though the majority of Vancity's direct staff were already making a living wage or above, Klein estimates that there were more than a thousand service contracts that had to be assessed for compliance. "Some of those bigger service contracts in particular were below the living wage and now they have to come into compliance, that's going to impact a lot of workers," he said.

Getting Vancity on board is something that Klein thinks is going to add to the momentum of the campaign.

"They're the largest private sector employer to become an official living wage employer," he said. "I think the campaign is starting to hit its stride now, where if you get a few high profile employers who are prepared to be champions, like Vancity , like the United Way of the Lower Mainland, it just opens the door for others to follow."

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has been working on the living wage campaign for four years, in collaboration with various groups from Vancouver and Victoria. Their campaign, A Living Wage for Families, is something that Klein says is unique across Canada, and it is already having tangible results.

The cities of New Westminster and Esquimalt have already started to pay a living wage to their employees and contractors, and local groups from Abbotsford to Williams Lake are organizing to raise the issue during November's municipal elections.

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