Creating a Living Wage University

2014, Future of Work

Most universities in Canada, including SFU, have people working within campuses who, because of low wages, are living at or near the poverty line. This can lead these families to make impossible choices — buy food or heat the house, feed the children or pay the rent. The result can be spiralling debt, constant anxiety and long-term health problems. In many cases it means that the adults in the family are working long hours, often at two or three jobs, just to pay for basic necessities. They have little time to spend with their family, much less to help their children with school work or participate in community activities.

This lunchtime talk, hosted by Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen of SFU, will give you the opportunity to learn what a Living Wage University is.  Many universities[i] around the world have passed a ‘Living Wage Policy’ ensuring that all staff and contracted service staff receive a Living Wage; that is a wage to ensure a family can cover its basic needs. By taking on this leadership role they have demonstrated how universities can lead by example in a very practical and inspiring way in tackling issues of growing inequality and rising levels of child and low wage poverty in our communities.[ii]   This talk will hopefully stimulate discussion and debate about how universities in Canada can take similar leadership positions on this issue.

Professor Jane Wills from Queen Mary, University of London, UK, will speak about how and why so many universities in the UK have become Living Wage Universities. She will tell the story of her own University becoming the first living wage campus in the UK.

Ellen Pekeles, Senior Vice President of Operations in Vancity will speak about what how Vancity  become  the largest Living Wage employer in the Metro Vancouver. She will explore what the impact of this decision has been and how universities can adopt a similar process to become a Living Wage Employer.

Thu, 27 Feb 2014

12:30 p.m. (PT)

Halpern Centre 126
SFU's Burnaby Campus

We respectfully acknowledge that this event takes place on the Unceded, Traditional, Ancestral Territories of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, səl̓ilw̓ətaʔɬ, and xʷməθkʷəy̓əm First Nations.


Professor Jane Wills

Professor Jane Wills has led a number of research projects to explore the development of the UK living wage campaign and its roots in  community organizing. This work includes; exploring evidence of the business case for the living wage and calculating the impact of the living wage campaign (in relation to employers, jobs and the redistribution of money and health impacts on workers). She has also been involved in dissemination of the living wage as a public policy response to the growing problem of in-work poverty in the UK.

This work has been widely cited in television, radio and press coverage in the UK but has also been picked up by journalists and activists in Australia, Canada, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States of America. For examples of her articles please see

Jane is a trustee of London Citizens and sits on the policy committee of the UK Living Wage Foundation. She is also a member of Queen Mary’s Centre for Public Engagement and was involved in persuading her university to become the first Living Wage University in the UK, in 2009.

Ellen Pekeles 

Ellen is the senior executive in Vancity tasked with implementing Vancity’s commitments as a Living  Wage Employer since 2011.  Ellen joined Vancity in 2006 as Vice President of Community Leadership and took on the role of Senior Vice President, Strategy in November 2007 where she was responsible for leading all aspects of corporate-wide strategy to move us towards our long term vision of Redefining Wealth.

As Senior Vice President, Operations, Ellen’s mandate is to ensure that Vancity has the capacity and clarity to enable the organization to achieve impact, inspire confidence and demonstrate integrity. Ellen’s accountability is to develop and implement an integrated service delivery model that will align our people, processes, facilities and infrastructure, while growing our capacity and capability to redefine wealth. The areas within the Operations Division include Information Technology, Facilities & Environmental Management and Human Resources.

Ellen holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physical Therapy from University of Toronto (1979), a Master in Health Administration from University of Ottawa (1987) and is a Certified Health Executive (1992). Ellen was a CCHSA Health Systems Surveyor from 1997-2002.

Ellen is currently an elected member of the Board of Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC). Previously, she was a Board member of Shareholder Association for Research & Education (SHARE), the Co-operative Management Education Co-operative (CMEC) at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, the Vancity Community Foundation (VCF), and the Credit Union Foundation in BC.

Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen 

Professor Marjorie Griffin Cohen has written extensively in the areas of political economy and public policy with special emphasis on issues concerning, the Canadian economy, women, labour, electricity deregulation, energy and the environment, and international trade agreements.  She was the principle investigator of a five year SSHRC Community-University Research Alliance Grant (CURA).  This project (called the Economic Security Project) focused on the study of the impact of government policies on vulnerable populations and how to construct policy to meet the needs of these people.

Her most recent books are Public Policy for Women and Remapping Gender in the New Global Order.  Professor Cohen was a director of NewGrade Energy (Sask) and has served on several boards and commissions in British Columbia including the B.C. Industrial Inquiry Commission on the Fisheries; Board of Directors of B.C. Hydro; Board of Directors of B.C. Power Exchange.  She was also instrumental in establishing the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in B.C., was its first Chair, and is on its Board of Directors.  She currently is involved in two research projects related to global warming and gender and a project on the gender and economic crises.  She is organizing committee member of the SFU Living Wage Campaign