It is extremely important that student union executives hold ourselves to the utmost degree of transparency and accountability to our membership. We are paid and elected by our members to execute what they ask of us. This, more often than not, requires us to work unconventional hours.
On any given day, I can have a meeting in a different city with another student union, be on the phone with a parent at 3:00 am, or attend academic appeal sessions with students at 9:00 am.
I am grateful to hold the position I do, and to be trusted by our membership to serve in the capacity that I am.
In 2016, The Varsity published an article comparing student union executive salaries across Canada. According to The Varsity’s article, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU)’s executives are paid less than other student union executives who represent similar undergraduate populations.
I wholeheartedly stand by the idea that executives need to be properly compensated for the time and emotional labour they put into their jobs.
The UTSU pays its executive members $16 per hour. The Vice-President Professional Faculties is required to work a minimum of 10 hours. The Vice-Presidents Equity, External Affairs, University Affairs, and Student Life need to work a minimum of 25 hours. The President and Vice-President Operations need to work a minimum of 40 hours.
All Executives are paid up until 40 hours, after which their pay is cut off and they can no longer be paid despite working 10 or more hours over that in any given week.
The UTSU Executive Committee found that working more than 40 hours a week was difficult at the rate of pay of $16 per hour, where executives must sacrifice commitments to their academic pursuits, personal lives, and more.
The amendments to the Remuneration Policy stipulated that rather than instituting the 40 hour per week cap, “any additional hours worked shall be compensated at the same hourly honorarium.” There is an important distinction between straight hours and overtime. Overtime is when a corporation pays its employees a different rate for hours worked above 44, usually time-and-a-half pay.
The Varsity reported that the Executive Committee had approved overtime pay. This is false.
At a meeting of the UTSU’s Executive Committee on August 19, 2019 the Executive Committee voted to approve amendments to the UTSU’s Remuneration Policy, which can be found on page 34 of the UTSU’s Policy Manual.
This amendment was approved at the August 24, 2019 meeting of the Board of Directors. After consultations with the UTSU’s membership and Board of Directors, the Executive Committee realized that although we followed the UTSU’s outlined governance structure — whereby items are passed at committee meetings and then approved by the Board of Directors, then approved at the Annual General Meeting every October — we should have followed a different process when it comes to allowing executives to claim more hours. When it comes to something as sensitive as pay for executives, we have realized that transparency and consultation are key.
To all students who dedicate time to being involved at this level: your work is valuable. We can’t point a finger at institutions that offer unpaid internships, but turn our back when students ask to be compensated fairly.
As a low-income student, I would never have been able to even entertain the thought of going to a postsecondary institution without Ontario Student Assistance Program. With recent cuts to the program, I can only imagine how difficult it is for students to continue their studies.
With the hours that are demanded of this position, I don’t have enough time to take up a part-time job to offset the shortcomings of what I am paid. But I understood that when I ran for the role. I hope that, in the coming months, we are able to create a solution that is both transparent and supportive to future students who choose to get involved.
We need to create an incentive for students to get involved. We had an extremely low voter turnout in the previous elections, and we had many uncontested seats.
While we’ve created a First Year Council, expanded our Equity Collectives, and are working to increase our outreach to membership, prospective UTSU Executives can’t help but look at the rate of pay and judge whether or not they are able to run. To this point, we are looking at ways to consult our membership to ensure students wishing to run in our elections are free to do so regardless of any financial barriers.
But why should students get involved if their work isn’t valued? Why are we pointing the finger at students when members of our administration make six figures a year?
I want students to see themselves reflected in their elected representatives, and should they have the courage to leap into these positions, I want them to know that their time and work are valuable.
Joshua Bowman is a fifth-year Indigenous Studies and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College and current President of the UTSU.