Labour Day Picnic

George York, with School District 23 and CUPE Local 3523 looks up burgers and hotdogs during the Labour Day Picnic at Mission Creek Regional Park on Monday.

The minimum wage in B.C. should be higher than the $15 promised by the NDP government, a union leader says.

People who live in the Okanagan are particularly disadvantaged by low wages compared to other parts of the province, Louise Gibson of the North Okanagan Labour Council said on Labour Day.

“Okanagan wages stink,” Gibson, a member of the council’s executive, said at a picnic hosted by the NOLC at Mission Creek Regional Park.

“My son came here and, like so many other people, he is struggling to get by,” Gibson said. “By the time the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour, we’re going to need it to be $20 an hour.”

The NOLC has representation from about 27 unions that employ a total of 9,000 people in the Vernon and Kelowna areas. Ron Dunn, the NOLC’s vice-president, said the rate of union membership among workers in the Okanagan is less than the provincial average.

“I think that’s partly because the economy here is not as diversified as it used to be,” Dunn said. “For example, there’s less manufacturing than there use to be, and that tends to be a field with a relatively high level of unionization.”

About 600 people were expected to attend the picnic, reflecting a rise in the event’s profile since 2014 when only about 100 attended.

Looking forward, Dunn said he hoped the NDP government would make it easier for workers to unionize, replacing the secret ballot that’s currently used with a sign-up sheet in which certification becomes automatic once more than half the eligible employees have agreed to join.

Another objective for the union movement, he said, is to see the federal government increase Canada Pension Plan contributions to ensure higher payouts when workers reach retirement age.

“With a little bit more now in the way of deductions, it will make the CPP more efficient in the long run,” Dunn said.

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