A $15 min­i­mum wage makes sense for busi­ness

An econ­omy can’t grow when a quar­ter of the work­force has less to spend each year

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - DAMIN STARR Damin Starr op­er­ates Pre-Line Pro­cess­ing, a man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany in Lin­coln, Ont. He lives in Hamil­ton. A cer­ti­fied Liv­ing Wage Em­ployer and a part­ner of the bet­ter­way­al­liance.ca, Damin pre­sented on Bill 148 be­fore the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on

When I first en­tered the world of busi­ness own­er­ship, I as­sumed that keep­ing wages low was one way to max­i­mize profit — but then again, noth­ing cheap is truly cheap.

Although I kept up with the re­quired min­i­mum em­ploy­ment stan­dards, it wasn’t long be­fore I found my­self sur­rounded by very ca­pa­ble peo­ple who felt un­der­paid and un­mo­ti­vated. Sales were high, but so were my em­ployee turnover rates. I was spend­ing more and more time hir­ing and train­ing new staff and scram­bling to cover shifts. It’s amaz­ing how dis­tant you feel when it seems you’re the only one who cares, but also, dare I say, the only one who ben­e­fits.

Even­tu­ally, I hit an eco­nomic cross­road. I had to take some time to re-eval­u­ate where things were go­ing wrong. That’s when re­al­ity grounded me. I re­al­ized my temp staff didn’t feel se­cure, my per­ma­nent staff had sec­ondary jobs, few within the work­place had any time to spend with friends and fam­ily, and most were strug­gling to pay their bills.

I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated that my em­ploy­ees would be fa­tigued from work­ing mul­ti­ple jobs, and couldn’t give me their best. With­out a doubt, their prob­lems be­came an an­chor weigh­ing down my busi­ness. I needed to change things — and do it quickly.

To­day, my wife and I con­tinue to own and op­er­ate a small busi­ness in Ni­a­gara. We cham­pion the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit, but strongly en­cour­age the de­vel­op­ment of good job strate­gies. Join­ing busi­ness part­ners through or­ga­ni­za­tions like The Bet­ter Way Al­liance and Liv­ing Wage On­tario, we are com­mit­ted to cre­at­ing de­cent work op­por­tu­ni­ties and en­sur­ing wages re­flect no less than the “ba­sic” re­al­i­ties of day-to-day life.

In ex­change, we have a pro­duc­tive work­place in a highly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. I’m proud of our re­li­able, fo­cused staff and re­spect their need to know there’s shared value in the com­pany’s suc­cess.

Is that too 2017 of me? In my view, Bill 148, the Fair Work­places, Bet­ter Jobs Act, is sim­ply catch­ing up with re­al­ity and I’m confi- dent many work­ing On­tar­i­ans would agree. Af­ter all, the term ‘work­ing poor’ is very real and its im­pact on ev­ery­one is mea­sur­able. Poverty brings with it a di­min­ished sense of self-worth, puts a chronic (and costly) strain on our health sys­tem, and per­pet­u­ates a neg­a­tive cy­cle through gen­er­a­tions.

With nearly 25 per cent of On­tario’s work­force be­ing pos­i­tively im­pacted by im­proved em­ploy­ment stan­dards, I need not im­plore one’s so­cial con­science; just com­mon sense and a few ba­sic math­e­mat­ics skills should suf­fice. Heck, you can’t truly grow an econ­omy when a quar­ter of the work­force has had less and less to spend each year.

To­day’s de­bate over min­i­mum wage is pre­dictably cycli­cal. His­tor­i­cally, we have heard the same ar­gu­ments ever since we de­cided to end child labour. I would have hoped by now that de­cent work and wages would be widely un­der­stood as the foun­da­tion of a strong econ­omy.

Knee-jerk re­ac­tions be­come highly prob­a­ble in the face of change, but we all must re­mem­ber that the laws of sup­ply and de­mand keep prices in check. Pos­i­tive stim­u­lus into lo­cal economies by work­ing On­tar­i­ans who would (have the abil­ity to) spend more in lo­cal busi­nesses should give naysay­ers pause.

Be­yond scratch­ing the sur­face, I feel that Bill 148 is a nec­es­sary ad­just­ment to keep the play­ing fields of our econ­omy f air, strong and healthy. Some will con­tinue to claim this dis­cus­sion is ‘sud­den and un­ex­pected,’ but those earn­ing $11.40 an hour know it’s ‘long over­due.’

Those em­ploy­ers who model them­selves on min­i­mum stan­dards are con­tin­u­ally re­ly­ing on the gov­ern­ment to do the home­work for them. Iron­i­cally, this bill should be a wel­comed piece of leg­is­la­tion. If stan­dards are meant to re­flect com­mon so­ci­etal ex­pec­ta­tions, then protest com­ing from those un­likely to be earn­ing less than $15 per hour, screams hypocrisy.

Sim­ply put, it’s the gov­ern­ment’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­ter­mine and im­ple­ment cur­rent stan­dards. I, for one, en­cour­age them to do so in a timely and ef­fec­tive man­ner. What would be the point oth­er­wise? By def­i­ni­tion, en­trepreneurs are in­no­va­tive and or­ga­nized. They get ahead of the chal­lenges. They evolve, they don’t pack up and run. So, in the spirit of busi­ness, let’s be in­no­va­tive, or­ga­nized, and make our econ­omy work for ev­ery­one. Let’s not be afraid to raise our ex­pec­ta­tions.

I hadn’t an­tic­i­pated that my em­ploy­ees would be fa­tigued from work­ing mul­ti­ple jobs, and couldn’t give me their best.


Ac­tivists in Ot­tawa demon­strate out­side hear­ings on the pro­posed in­crease to On­tario’s min­i­mum wage. Ni­a­gara busi­ness op­er­a­tor Damin Starr sup­ports pay­ing his staff a liv­ing wage, and has seen the ben­e­fits him­self.

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