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BC Fed decries low McDonald's worker wages

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour (BCFL), lambasted McDonald's today for paying workers at a Hastings Street location a $6.75 starting wage, a mere $0.90 less than the $7.65 cost of a Big Mac combo with a small milkshake.

"Your company made $4.5 billion last year, it's time that you at least pay fair wages across the whole country," Sinclair told The Tyee as a message to McDonald’s Canada president John Betts.

"My other message to Gordon Campbell is 'you're letting him get away with it'."

Sinclair held a press conference in front of the Hastings and Penticton McDonald's storefront today to decry the low wage and to champion progress made in Newfoundland.

BCFL volunteers, some wearing placards and some dressed as McDonald's employees, handed out leaflets detailing the disparities in earnings for a McDonald's employee in St. John's versus Vancouver.

On July 1, Newfoundland will raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour. There, new McDonald's workers already earn $10.25 an hour, according to a BCFL news release.

A part time worker employed for 20 hours would make $1,750 less in Vancouver than in St. John's during their first 500 hours, according to the leaflet.

Customers sitting on the restaurant's patio looked on hesitantly as Sinclair told reporters that it's time to change B.C.'s minimum wage.

"The vast majority of people in this province agree. For the sake of these McDonald's workers we should do that. For the sake of tens of thousands of workers in B.C. we should do that."

Sinclair told the Tyee that increasing the minimum wage to $10 an hour is the first thing that he would like the government to do, but he also said that he supports the living wage campaign being promoted by the B.C. Hospital Employees Union.

According to B.C. Minister of Labour Murray Coell, the province introduced the first job/entry-level minimum wage to encourage employers to hire workers new to the paid labour market in 2001.

"The reality is that very few people are paid minimum wage," wrote the Minister via e-mail. "Only 2.3 per cent of employees earn minimum wage or less."

Still, the living wage for Metro Vancouver is $18.17 an hour, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

The CCPA living wage calculates the hourly rate that a family must work by to meet basic needs.

One couple having coffee within earshot of the press conference told The Tyee that youth starting at McDonald's aren't qualified to earn more than the $6.75 starting wage.

Pam A., a former McDonald's employee, said that with the HST coming, young workers earning basic wages at McDonald's and trying to go to school will be even more hard pressed to earn a living.

"I worked at McDonald's many years ago, I was making $8 an hour. I know," she said.

McDonald's was not able to respond to The Tyee for comment by deadline.

Justin Langille reports for The Tyee. This article was written with files from Robyn Smith.

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