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.
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.
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.
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.
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