A campaign to raise the minimum wage in Newfoundland and Labrador

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Alyse Stuart is an organizer with the Canadian Federation of Students. Keith Dunne is the campaigns and communication coordinator with the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees. Both are active with the Fight for $15 and Fairness -- Newfoundland and Labrador, and they speak with Scott Neigh about how that campaign is fighting to increase one of the lowest minimum wages in Canada to $15/hour.

The struggle to raise minimum wage rates to $15/hour has been one of the most broadly resonant campaigns in recent years across many different jurisdictions in North America. A number of these have won total or significant partial victories -- including in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario -- and in many places the campaigns are ongoing.

The version of that campaign in Newfoundland and Labrador is being organized under the umbrella of an existing broad coalition called the Common Front NL, which brings together many labour and community organizations. It originally formed in 2015 to fight a harsh austerity budget from the then-newly elected Liberal provincial government. After that initial fightback, the Common Front turned to doing townhall meetings in communities across the province to engage as many people as they could on the question of what kind of province and what kind of economy they wanted. A lot of what they heard was related to good jobs, good public services, and basic fairness. From this consultation, the Common Front prioritized three main things they wanted to push for: progressive taxation, progressive budgeting, and a $15/hour minimum wage.

The first task for the working group focused on the minimum wage was to do some research. They found that approximately 70,000 workers in the province currently make less than $15/hour. As is true everywhere these days, minimum wage workers in Newfoundland and Labrador mostly do not meet the stereotype of high school students working for pocket money -- most are older than 20 and most are not students. In addition, most minium wage earners are women, and a surprising number are adults over 65.

By late fall 2018, it was time to act. Partners in the coalition developed core messaging for the campaign. They have been growing their social media presence and having organizing meetings with volunteers. And more recently, with an eye to the provincial and federal elections due to happen later this year, they've moved into a new phase with a two-pronged approach. One is an emphasis on meeting with political representatives and pushing them to sign pledges of support for a $15/hour minimum wage. The other has involved providing online tools to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to tell politicians that they support a minimum wage increase.

They are also building towards having a visible presence at local events -- fairs, concerts, and so on -- where they will have petitions signed, connect with potential supporters, and enhance the visibility of the campaign. As well, an important priority for the group is ensuring that supporters of the minimum wage campaign in more rural and remote areas of the province have what they need to be active as well. In contrast to the rallies and other publically visible manifestations that will be part of the campaign in St. John's, they suspect that online tools and kitchen-table conversations will play a more significant role in smaller centres.

There has been some predictable push-back from business associations, but it has largely not been terribly vocal or public to this point -- a recognition, they suspect, of the popularity that a minimum wage hike enjoys in the province. When talking with skeptics, the campaign points to evidence from other jurisdictions that, contrary to what business groups often claim, significant increases to the minimum wage have largely resulted in little or no job loss. With the broad support the issue already enjoys and the leverage provided by upcoming elections, they are very hopeful for what a concerted push in 2019 will be able to achieve.

Image: A St. John's rally for a minimum wage increase in 2017. Used with permission of the Fight for $15 and Fairness -- Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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