Stop the Salaries, a new grassroots campaign, claims that employees at the University of Toronto Students’ Union have given themselves an increase in pay while cutting key student service.
At the campaign’s helm are students Taylor Scollon and Brett Chang. Both have affiliations with SPAC, a group that prepared to field candidates against the UTSU in the last election before dropping out.
Based on financial statements distributed at the UTSU Annual General Meeting last November 15, the group alleges a 35 per cent increase to salaries, wages, and benefits, from $543,567 in 2010 to $735,260 in 2011. On the other hand, spending on student services, which include clubs funding, subsidized ticket purchases, and the annual book exchange, have decreased.
“These services are the most important things for our campus, the most important things the student union should be doing,” Chang said.
In an email to The Varsity, UTSU president Danielle Sandhu called the website “terribly misleading.”
She stated that the increase in salaries, wages, and benefits does not represent an increase to the salaries of those serving as executives. Salaries of executive members can only be changed by a vote of the UTSU Board of Directors. “The increase seen in the Salaries and Wages line item is due to a change in how the costs of administering our services are represented in the budget,” Sandhu wrote. “Previously, expenses related to staffing costs for administering each service were posted to the line items for each of those services, rather than the general Salaries and Wages line item. The UTSU decided to change that practice in the 2010–2011 fiscal year, and because of this change, there was a decrease in expenses incurred for services and an increase in Salaries and Wages.”
She also wrote that the decreases in funds spent on UTSU services are due to a decrease in the actual cost of administering some of the services. “This is a good thing for members and for the union as a whole, because it costs us less to operate our services, and we can look at expanding the depth or number of our services,” wrote Sandhu, adding that this year, the union has extended office hours and reduced black-and-white printing and photocopying price to two cents per page.
Sandhu also dismissed the allegation that clubs funding has been cut. She attributed the decrease in club fundings to “the amalgamation of two events, [The Unity Ball and a club awards ceremony], not because of a decrease in funding going to our clubs.”
The Stop the Salaries team is not satisfied with this response. “The U of T Students’ Union’s spending on salaries is up and their spending on student services is down. They are trying to explain this fact away with creative accounting and fuzzy math,” Scollon replied in an email. “The UTSU needs to come clean about how they’re spending our money.”
The Stop the Salaries team is also putting together a guide for students interested in running for UTSU positions in the upcoming spring election. Organizers will be hosting information sessions next week to introduce potential candidates to the election process. More than 200 people have signed up for the website’s newsletter and about 50 of them have expressed interest in running.
“It’s a difficult process. It’s complicated. A lot of people have said they are interested and they just don’t know how,” Scollon said. “We are not endorsing specific candidates right now, but we’ll help them as much as we can.”
“Our student union is a multimillion–dollar organization. It’s important that people on campus feel they can run for student union positions, get involved, and get engaged,” he added.
UTSU is the largest employer on campus after the university itself. It employs six executives, nine full-time employees, and more than 110 students as casual and part-time employees throughout the year.