Commentary

The Gift of Gainful Employment

The $30,000 increase Mayor Bratina gave his chief of staff is actually higher than the median income in Hamilton. We need to do something about that.

By Michael Borrelli
Published December 15, 2011

Hamiltonians aren't dummies, and it didn't take us long to do the math.

Though Mayor Bob Bratina's honesty and integrity have been severely undermined by his misleading statements and half-hearted apologies, the developing controversy over the enormous 33% pay raise awarded to Peggy Chapman, the Mayor's Chief of Staff, is really about numbers.

At the end of the day, the extra $30,000 that Ms. Chapman will earn next year is actually greater than Hamilton's median income.

You read that right: the Mayor's top aide will collect more money in one raise than the majority of Hamiltonians earn in an entire year.

According to the Social Planning & Research Council of Hamilton's 2009 Incomes and Poverty in Hamilton report, the median income among individuals over the age of 15 in the City of Hamilton was $26,404 in 2005 (the last year from which Census data is available). That means 50% of income earners in Hamilton made more than that, and 50% earned less.

Perhaps that explains the indignation of the Mayor's colleagues in Council Chambers as they struggle to rescind the additional salary awarded to Ms. Chapman.

Something Wrong with Huge Raise

Councillors have been fielding angry calls from their constituents about the pay hike, and the loudest of them are surely coming from an aggrieved majority that are making less than Ms. Chapman's $30,000 raise.

These citizens recognize that in an economic climate where workers face unemployment, stagnant incomes, and cuts to government services, something is seriously wrong when the Mayor is handing out huge pay raises that will bring his chief of staff up to around $120,000 a year.

To put that in perspective, that's as much as the Mayor himself earns, putting them both in the top 2 percent of Canadian income earners.

This is the same Mayor who once said he would be "the champion of careful use of taxpayers' money." It would appear that "careful" is a fluid concept.

Cost of a Living Wage in Hamilton

Coincidentally, as the Mayor showered his most loyal aide with riches, Living Wage Hamilton (a coalition of community partners that includes the SPRC) released a report that calculated the cost of a living wage in this city.

A living wage is one that enables workers living in a household to feed, clothe and provide shelter for their family, and includes transportation and personal care costs, but not household debt, childcare, or even social activities. A living wage is just what Hamiltonians require to get by, while skirting poverty.

It's calculated by individual communities using local costs, and in Hamilton, it is $14.95 an hour.

Coincidentally, $14.95 an hour works out to a little less than $30,000 on the 37.5hr/wk schedule used in the calculations.

Living Wage Hamilton

The Living Wage Hamilton partnership has begun looking for employers to champion the living wage in this city, citing benefits such as reduced absenteeism, decreased turnover rates, and increased morale.

But perhaps this controversy is a good opportunity for the City, headed by our Mayor, to lead the way on an initiative that could bolster the well-being of thousands of Hamiltonians.

The Mayor and Ms. Chapman can turn this bushel of lemons into lemonade by recognizing that awarding a $30,000 raise in a time of fiscal constraint is not leading by example - not by a long-shot.

The Mayor is right in insisting this whole issue is an "unfortunate distraction," but it is incumbent on him to put it to rest. If Ms. Chapman is under-paid (or over-worked), then the Mayor's Office should hire additional support staff. At a living wage.

Instead of throwing more money at an already well-compensated aide (at $90,000 a year, Ms. Chapman is in the top 5 percent of income earners in Canada), why not give the gift of gainful, fairly-compensated employment to a worthy job-seeker? 'Tis the season, after all.

Michael Borrelli is a social researcher living with his family in Hamilton's North End. He tweets @BaysideBadger.

14 Comments

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 16:58:03

I'm not sure about this. The chief of staff to the mayor, were she someone doing a good job and properly massaging the mayor's communications, is a vital position. Mayors are in the top 2 percent, sure - they also lead billion dollar organizations - or rather the city manager does, and they're paid a pittance of what comparative positions are in the private sector.

In contrast, the bulk of workers that make up the middle class of the public sector are extravagantly paid in comparison to what similarly educated and skilled positions would be making in the private sector. Check out police, fire, and teachers: all start at twice your living wage and work up to quadruple. Go to the sunshine list and you'll see that police and fire and school board management dominate the list, with most at management levels surpassing Chapman.

Yet try to even hint at cutting a benefit these workers have, and see what happened to David Miller, a progressive, and see who's in power now.

Over to you, A Smith...


Hamilton police salaries (firefighters are very similar)

Constable 3rd Class (start of 2nd year)
2008 $57,055.00

Constable 2nd Class (start of 3rd year)
2008 $64,662.00

Constable 1st Class (start of 4th year)
2008 $76,073.00

Senior Constable (8-16 years)
2008 $78,355.00

Senior Constable (17-22 years)
2008 $80,638.00

Senior Constable (23+ years)
2008 $82,920.00

Hamilton teacher salaries

2 46,310 48,970 53,143 56,183
3 48,585 51,435 55,991 59,216
4 50,861 53,901 58,840 62,259
5 53,143 56,372 61,690 65,294
6 55,425 58,840 64,540 68,328
7 57,701 61,309 67,382 71,362
8 59,984 63,773 70,226 74,399
9 62,259 66,240 73,072 77,441
10 64,540 68,709 75,922 80,479
11 69,849 74,025 83,521 89,214

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted December 16, 2011 at 09:32:32 in reply to Comment 72307

I have no trouble with people being fairly compensated for high performance, but you can only increase government by so much before things get top-heavy. This is especially evident when the rest of the economy lags. Inefficient government and strategy-free spending generally impairs the economic health of its host community.

As far as the current round of Hamilton's public sector raises go, trifling raises are reflective of the reality of Hamilton's private sector. So are layoffs or reduced hours. Anyone who's lucky enough to be half-way happy doing their job and is able to live comfortably off of it should consider themselves blessed.

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By shaddupsevenup (registered) | Posted December 16, 2011 at 08:59:14 in reply to Comment 72307

I am a public sector worker. Our current contract is zero raise for 2011, and 1.9% for the following three years. That's $0.75 an hour raise. So basically, we took nothing for four years. The police and teachers got healthy raises, but the average public sector worker in Hamilton pretty much got nothing. Just wanted to put that out there. On the whole, we agreed to the contract because we understand that everyone is experiencing economic woes. We get that we are well paid, so we agreed and voted yes. The City Manager was sending us emails six months before negotiations, telling us that it wouldn't behoove us to ask for more. I noticed he got a healthy raise though. As a city worker, you work for the public, knowing full well that management or council will throw you under the bus when it's necessary. The ONLY benefit is the pay - and as we've seen through some of the talent lost at City Hall this past year or two, people aren't even sticking around for that anymore either.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 17:07:22 in reply to Comment 72307

So why not follow one of those career tracks?

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2011 at 17:12:40

I have a problem with the mayor straight up lying about the origin of the raise - but I don't have a problem with the actual raise.

The bottom line is 120k is not out of line for a professional (even if she is really just a glorified secretary - its a crappy job with a limited lifespan that needs a very specific skill set).

We can complain about lousy politicians - but we have to understand that if you want good people - you have to offer competitive compensation.

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By bob (registered) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 17:49:51 in reply to Comment 72309

glorified secretary is a pretty condescending term. Sometimes there's not that great a difference between administering an office and administering an organization.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted December 15, 2011 at 22:07:24 in reply to Comment 72311

Couldn't agree more. From a pure work standpoint, I also think someone working for minimum wage at Tim Hortons does much, much, much, more work and works much much much harder on a daily basis, than say an engineer or a doctor. But they also have no real responsibility and are interchangeable and therefore command limited compensation.

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 17:47:44

"In contrast, the bulk of workers that make up the middle class of the public sector are extravagantly paid in comparison to what similarly educated and skilled positions would be making in the private sector."...Bob Lee

Good to know. I'm just wondering what a similar skill set to educator or firefighter entails? The lumping together of teachers with firefighters and police seems bizarre, since those latter two do not require a minimum of 5 years post-secondary. Some teachers and most new administrators have 7 equivalent years of education (B.A, B.Ed, M.A/Ed/Sci). Lumping teachers in with firefighters and police is as specious as lumping them in with nurses and doctors. They are different jobs with different skill sets.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2012 at 10:21:54 in reply to Comment 72310

I have to take umbrage at your statement that police or firefighters don't require post secondary education and that its somehow specious to lump teachers in with them. Try getting hired by a police or fire department today with a grade 12 diploma. See what happens.

I've been a professional firefighter for the City of Toronto for 22 years. To get hired on that job when I applied 23 years ago my post secondary education of degrees in Military History and Religion went a long way. Today the trend is toward hiring candidates with techincal degrees or diplomas in fire science and firefighting from universities and colleges. The techincal, practical, and theoretical knowledge required to complete these programs and indeed work as a firefighter today is vast and complex.

It is incredibly competitive and kids that spend two or three years in these programs spending tens of thousands of dollars are not guaranteed a job when they graduate. They must compete for a job with thousands of other applicants from across the country usually. I'm not sure many other professions in the private sector can say that.

Once hired, the training and education does not stop. Advances in building technologies, automotive technologies, medical technologies require firefighters to be constantly training, upgrading our skill set, passing certification requirements on a yearly basis. The myth that we sit around drinking coffee, eating and watching tv is just that .... a myth. Do those things happen? Yep. We essentially "live" in our workplace. Again other than maybe ER doctors and nurses I'm not sure many other people can say that.

It is incredibly frustrating as a person who has spent most of my adult life protecting the people and property of a community from harm and intervening sometimes at great risk to my person to do so, to read and listen to the attacks on what I do and how I'm compensated by people who are largely ignorant of how skilled firefighters are and need to be, what they do on a daily basis, and how fire departments work in general.

A straw poll in any firehall in any large city in Canada will find that firefighters have backgrounds in trades, education, the military, medicine etc. Unlike most occupations firefighters in general (but not always) are drawn to the job out of a desire to serve. In other words it's not just a job.

These attacks usually come from people in the private sector who are applying a business model to a public service that has no basis in business what so ever. The Sue Ann Levy's of the world just don't get that firefighters, police officers, paramedics et al... ARE NOT PRODUCTION workers. We don't make anything. We don't get paid to make anything. We are not there to add to the revenue stream of a municipality's bottom line. (True police do contribute through issuing citations, but that is not their prime reason for being.)

At the root of it. I get paid to show up and if necessary implement the training and skills that I have. A good day for the community is when my truck doesn't roll out of the hall. ( Which in citities like Hamilton and Toronto almost never happens).

To lump firefighters and police in with say janitorial staff, parks and recreation, sanitation workers, etc to me is specious. I would never minimize or make light of the work of those other jobs or the people that do them but to compare them and and generalize us as all public sector workers, with low skill sets, and holding jobs for life that could be privatized is a joke.

Try privatizing a police or fire service and paying the people that do that work "a living wage" and see what happens. It's actually been tried in several U.S. communities by a company called Rural Metro who basically sold these cities a "monorail". It's been an abject failure and most of those communities ended up rehiring their professional public saftey workers.

I am also a taxpayer and a business owner, so I have absolutely no problem with cities getting their finances in order. But to simply point fingers at public sector workers as the root cause of fiscal challenges is the cowards way out and disingenuous to the people that keep cities running.

Comment edited by Shempatolla on 2012-01-12 10:31:07

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By Bob lee (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 18:03:48

Henry and Joe you're right, it's not a fair comparison. But the point is that these are all fairly accessible jobs not demanding a long term narrow focus, as would be the case for engineers, doctors, trades. As such they would be equivalent to a fairly low-middle job at a big organization, say an account officer at Bell or something like that. I know this goes against the professionalism credo teachers get drummed into them all the time, and I won't say anything about the usefulness of the bachelor's degree to a B.Ed.

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By lets attack teachers (anonymous) | Posted December 15, 2011 at 20:03:38

Actually the usefulness of a bachelor's degree to a B.Ed is that it allows someone to teach in the public school system.

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By JBJ (registered) | Posted December 16, 2011 at 15:48:00

Public sector workers make a very easy target for the right-wing to blame as to why the economy is going down the toilet. Most public sector workers know that comparable positions in the private sector generally pay much better based on the same qualifications, years of education and so forth. A day or two ago, CUPE put out a very interesting research paper that basically rebuts the arguments put forward by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) saying that shows public sector and private sector workers are basically receiving, on average, similar pay increases.

Yes teachers, police and firefighters have done well economically in recent years. However, ask teachers about the 8 years of Harris-Eves government; ask all public sector workers about Bob Rae's Social Contract in the 1990s. In those days, the public sector took a heck of a beating financially. It is no wonder that the same workers tend to get higher wage and benefit increases to make up for the years of zero percent increases.

As to the $30k raise for Peggy Chapman, the issue is transparency, not whether or not she deserves such an increase in pay. Why wasn't Council allowed to debate the merits of the pay increase? What criteria were used to determine the increase? The Mayor's deceit on this whole issue speaks volumes about his incompetence to be a leader of Hamilton.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted December 16, 2011 at 18:54:01

Though Mayor Bob Bratina's honesty and integrity have been severely undermined...

You must have honesty and integrity before it can be undermined.

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By what is the truth (anonymous) | Posted January 06, 2012 at 15:50:46

Corruption, plain and simple.

Public sector workers are under attack and I find the right wing agenda of labelling all unionized workers as terrorists, frightening.

People fail to look at history. Soon, if we all do not stand up and really start pay attention, that anyone who trys to fight for fair wages, benefits and pensions to be spirited away.

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