KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – A collective agreement signed earlier this week will ensure that all employees of Adsum for Women and Children will earn at least a living wage.
Adsum is a Halifax-based organization that supports homeless women, children and transgender persons. It has locations in Dartmouth, Lakeside and on the Halifax peninsula. Including casuals it has about 40 employees.
A living wage reflects the reality of what it costs to live a dignified life, rather than face an ongoing struggle of making ends meet. In 2015 the Nova Scotia chapter of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculated the living wage for Halifax to be $20.10 per hour.
This commitment to a living wage by an employer is almost certainly a first for Nova Scotia.
It is also very much what Adsum wanted, says Sheri Lecker, its executive director.
“This was our informed proposal, it was what we wanted to do. It speaks to the value we place on people who work here, and the respect we have for the work they do,” says Lecker.
“What we wanted to do is have everyone working here feel welcome, and allow them to participate in life and the community,” Lecker says.
The unionized workers are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). But the commitment to pay at least a living wage will apply to all employees, including casual workers and other non-unionized employees.
“This is very uncommon,” CUPE negotiator Todd MacPherson, much more used to dealing with reluctant employers, tells the Nova Scotia Advocate.
“It is very impressive for an employer to want to recognize the work that is being done, and to really want to improve the lives of the people who work there,” says MacPherson.
For Lecker it is a matter of principle.
“In Nova Scotia and elsewhere upwards of 80 percent of workers in the not-for-profit sector are women. We really love our work, but that doesn’t mean that we should be compensated any less than anybody else,” Lecker says.
“Adsum has to be a place where women want to work. To accomplish that we acknowledge them in their bank account, because that is how in our culture we recognize value,” she says.
Lecker emphasizes that this is not a new attitude. Workers at Adsum have always enjoyed fair wages and benefits, and many Adsum employees already earn more than the living wage, she says. Actually, non-unionized casual workers in particular will reap the benefits of the new commitment.
That said, Adsum, like so many not-for-profit organizations, is always scrambling for money. Paying a living wage will not be easy.
“It will be a challenge, but it is a commitment we simply will fulfill,” say Lecker. “I’d like to think we will continue to be very careful with money.”
“We will work it out. Across the community there are lots of great programs and buildings that exist because people simply took the plunge. Sometimes you cannot wait until all pieces of the puzzle are there. This is one of those times.”
Lecker hopes other women will understand and show their support.
“I would love to see women who are in a position to contribute to say, when I am making a gift this year I want to support an organization that not only works with women but also actively promotes women.”
“We have allowed society to function on the backs of primarily women doing unpaid work and care at home, and taking care of children and elders.”
All this work by women has never been recognized and appropriately compensated, and that‘s got to change,” says Lecker.
All photos by Adsum for Women and Children