The following are my thoughts and reflections and may not represent the official position of Volunteer Alberta.
The Government of Alberta has pledged to increase the minimum wage to $15/hr by 2018. The plan includes an increase this fall from $10.20 to $11.20 for most workers, and from $9.20 to $10.20 for employees serving liquor (the two-tiered minimum wage will be eliminated in 2016).
Since the announcement, there have been arguments made both for and against minimum wage changes:
- Research shows that a living wage in Edmonton is $17.36 and in Calgary is $17.29 – in 2015, not 2018. An increase to $15 may bring people closer to the basic level of income necessary to support themselves and their families.
- Higher costs to employers may lead to layoffs, failed businesses, and, ultimately, greater unemployment – earning a lower wage is preferable to earning no wage.
While the minimum wage changes are relevant to us all as Albertans, the Calgary Herald published a piece last month that hit even closer to home: ‘Non-profits raise concerns over NDP plan to hike minimum wage.’
Will an increased minimum wage leave nonprofits unable to continue their valuable work in Alberta communities? Funding is already tight, and, after all, we aren’t making profit on the backs of our employees – we are making change! …Right?
Prior to the minimum wage announcement, CCVO shared the concerns and challenges for the sector with the government and on their website. Some of their recommendations, including to phase in a minimum wage increase, were reflected in the government’s announcement. Many voices from the sector have since spoken up in favor of the wage increase – read what they had to say:
I am adding my voice as well.
I landed my first paid nonprofit job in 2010 when I was in university. At $15 an hour, my wage was much higher than the $8.80 minimum wage at the time, but working 20 hours a week only brought in $1200 a month. My rent and utilities alone were $950, nowhere near the affordable housing guideline of 30% of my income. The bus ride to my job took 45 minutes, adding an hour and a half to each short shift. I was in school full-time, and I was volunteering more hours per week than I worked.
Luckily, thrift store fashion was in and I really liked frozen pierogis. Equally lucky, I didn’t have dependents like many Albertans do.
While I was earning my $15 wage and spending 80% of my income on housing, I was working in affordable housing. The irony should be obvious. Nonprofits provide these services, we should know the value of them.
Alberta’s nonprofits exist and are funded to improve the quality of life in our communities and to create a better society. This is our shared mission. We have many ways of doing it: engaging kids in sports, sharing art and theatre, caring for our environment, supporting religious communities, teaching our future leaders, feeding the hungry, and more.
What if we strived to meet this shared mission by ensuring our staff could afford the same quality of life that our organizations attempt to create?
Nonprofit staff would have enough money to eat, live, and care for their families. They would have enough time to enjoy recreation, arts, and community. They would have enough of both to meet their true potential through support, education, volunteering, and travel. And the nonprofit sector would attract (even more) qualified people!
Alberta’s nonprofits are creative, smart, frugal, and adept at conquering challenges. We have the amazing power of volunteers on our side. The minimum wage increase sheds light on the economic complexities of our sector. I recognize that an increase in minimum wage will create real challenges for some nonprofits – but I also know that an increase in minimum wage has the potential to improve the lives of those working in the sector and in our communities. I think we should embrace it!