Some rec centre staff slipping through Halifax's living wage policy cracks

·4 min read
Rob Styles has worked as a security guard at Cole Harbour Place for more than a decade (Brett Ruskin/CBC - image credit)
Rob Styles has worked as a security guard at Cole Harbour Place for more than a decade (Brett Ruskin/CBC - image credit)

After the pool, rinks, and gym at Cole Harbour Place have emptied for the day, Rob Styles has the place to himself.

The overnight security guard is 54 years old. He's worked the same job for more than a decade. He lives with his parents in their nearby home, and makes $13.12 per hour.

This April, a new supplier code of conduct took effect in Halifax, ensuring that city contractors pay their employees a living wage — $21.80 per hour.

"Quite a few of us were excited that it might apply to us," Styles said.

But Styles works at Cole Harbour Place, one of the city's eight "multi-district facilities" (MDFs), where the contractor hired to operate the site is exempt from paying a living wage.

According to a 2016 staff report to Halifax Regional Council they are:

  • Alderney Landing.

  • Canada Games Centre.

  • Centennial Pool.

  • Cole Harbour Place.

  • Dartmouth Sportsplex.

  • Halifax Forum.

  • Sackville Sports Stadium.

  • St. Margaret's Centre.

'The question is, why doesn't it apply?'

Farrel Huculak, a business agent for the Nova Scotia Union of Public & Private Employees, recently began renegotiating the collective bargaining agreement between workers he represents at Cole Harbour Place like Styles, and the not-for-profit organization hired by the city to operate the site: Community Builders Inc.

"Although the code of conduct [and living wage policy] says it doesn't apply, I believe it should," said Huculak. "And the question is, why doesn't it apply?"

Brett Ruskin/CBC
Brett Ruskin/CBC

Jen Heddon, president of Community Builders, declined CBC's request for an interview, saying HRM would provide comments.

Brynn Budden, a spokesperson for the municipality, responded to CBC's list of questions with links to the agreement between the HRM and Community Builders Incorporated, as well as a link to a 25-page staff report to council from September 2020 which includes two sentences explaining that MDFs are exempt from the living wage policy.

5 km away, $8/hour more

Less than five kilometres away from Cole Harbour Place, HRM recently awarded a new contract for janitorial staff at another city-owned facility.

As part of the bidding process, companies had to prove that their cleaners earned at least $21.80 per hour.

The janitorial staff at Cole Harbour Place (also city-owned), hired by a contractor to do exactly the same type of work, according to Huculak, make $13.12 per hour.

CBC
CBC

"I don't think I would put the blame on Community Builders Incorporated," said Huculak.

"They manage the property, and this happened in the middle of their contract. I think they should take some action on it. But it wasn't Community Builders that passed the [living wage] motion."

An oversight?

One of the main proponents for the supplier code of conduct, which includes the living wage stipulation, was District 8 Coun. Lindell Smith.

"As a city we provide a lot of contracts," he said. "Making sure, as much as possible, that we're requiring a living wage was very important."

Brett Ruskin/CBC
Brett Ruskin/CBC

Smith said he was surprised to hear about the wage gaps between employees at the multi-district facilities like Cole Harbour Place and other HRM-owned sites.

"I can't say particularly if MDFs were excluded. But I can say, if that is the case, it was an oversight and I wish we could've had further discussion at the time at council," Smith said.

"But, the beauty of being a councillor is, if we want to make changes, I can put that forward," he said.

Brett Ruskin/CBC
Brett Ruskin/CBC

Smith said he wants to talk to staff.

"It'll be important to reach out to the MDFs that have the concern. That won't deal with the current negotiations now. But being able to understand what the issue is, and if we can deal with that in the future, is important," he said.

'This one is perplexing'

Across the country, one of the main advocates for employers paying a living wage is the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Christine Saulnier, the organization's provincial director, said HRM's supplier code of conduct is a move in the right direction, but could've been handled differently.

Brett Ruskin/CBC
Brett Ruskin/CBC

"It's good for some workers, and leaves many many workers out," she said.

"When the living wage policy passed, I think most people assumed that it meant everybody who worked for the city, whether contracted or not, would be paid a living wage," Saulnier said, clarifying that that obviously is not the case.

She explained the stark situation facing workers at multi-district facilities: "Even though the building's owned by the city, and they're contracted workers, they won't be paid a living wage.

"Obviously employers are making different choices on how they implement policies. This one is perplexing."

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