2020 USU Board candidates weigh in on decision to cut staff pay

Only three supported the decision

We asked this year’s Board hopefuls about the USU Board’s recent decision to cut their staff pay by 40%, which was made in a closed meeting.

1. Do you support the cut to staff pay?

Yes: Vikki Qin, Belinda Thomas, Nick Rigby

Of the ten candidates running this year, only three expressed support for the wage cut announced on Wednesday: Vikki Qin (Independent), Belinda Thomas (Unity) and Nick Rigby (Liberal).

Belinda Thomas makes clear that a staff pay cut must be an “absolute last resort” but gives the benefit of the doubt to the USU Board, assuming that, in this case, it was. “I would like to think that in this circumstance the Board has exhausted every single option possible to cut spending elsewhere, before turning to staff wages.” Like almost every other candidate asked, Thomas says the University should support the USU financially.

Nick Rigby, who Thomas cited as the candidate closest to her in her Honi interview, also sees the cuts as necessary. Despite the USU making no public calls for support from the University or elsewhere before announcing the decision, Rigby says he is “confident that the USU would only ever reduce the hours of staff as a last-resort decision to prevent the USU from becoming insolvent and thus completely laying off all employees of the Union.” Rigby believes that the “decision made by the USU [was] one to prevent the inexistence of the Union altogether,” though later in his statement asserts that the University should offer greater financial support for the USU. The USU has made no public calls for increased support.

Finally, Vikki Qin told Honi that: “I do support wage cute [sic] due to much lower level of workload and financial difficulties,” though she also noted staff should have been consulted.

No: Prudence Wilkins-Wheat, Ruby Lotz, Jiale Wang, Ben Hines

A surprising grouping of candidates disapproved of the decision: Prudence Wilkins-Wheat (Switchroots), Ruby Lotz (NLS), Jiale Wang (Panda) and Ben Hines (Liberal). 

Wilkins-Wheat states that she would have argued, and voted, against the motion, labelling the USU “increasingly out-of-touch” with students and its own staff. While she expressed support for cuts to pay, were it hypothetically necessary, in her Honi interview, she has since clarified that this was meant if “the continuity of the USU relied upon it.” Unlike Thomas, she does not believe this was the case.

As evidence, Wilkins-Wheat cites the fact that the USU has not made its financial situation public, has not publicly called on the University to bail them out and has not reached out to the SRC for “assistance or collaboration in their Defend Our Education campaign” — which she supported at this week’s council meeting. She states that she would have used reserves before resorting to staff pay cuts, if she were on the Board.

Lotz expresses disapproval of the decision along similar lines. “I think that the Board should have launched a public campaign to lobby the University for financial support.” “In saying that,” Lotz qualifies, “I think anger should be directed to the University for not supporting the USU, and to the current government.”

Ben Hines, who is running as an “Independent” but is a member of the Liberal Party and SULC, is a surprising addition to this list. Although Hines’ response puts him dangerously close to the bullshit category of response below, he believes, though it was “possible” the decision was necessary, “I would find it hard to justify.” Like Lotz and Wilkins-Wheat, Hines cites the fact that it does not appear the University was asked to bail out the USU. For Hines, consultations with staff prior to the decision being made would have been “non-negotiable.”

Finally, Wang states he doesn’t support the decision because he has “no idea where the number of 40% came from.” 

Non-Answer: Eitan Harris, Ada Choi

Training themselves well for their future Board careers, Eitan Harris (Labor) and Ada Choi are less than forthcoming with their answers. 

Harris tells Honi that “without the publication of the USU’s current financials, I am not able to make a comment on the necessity of the decision.” But he does believe that “further steps should have been taken to prevent this regrettable action.” Specifically, Harris cites the USU’s grocery boxes as being a poor choice. Apart from staff cuts, the boxes appear to be the only action the USU has taken to raise revenue in light of the campus closure.

Choi states similarly that she cannot comment given she has “limited information on how the decision has been made and a bigger picture of the current financial situation of USU.”

Total Silence: Amir Jabbari

Amir Jabbari is the only one of this year’s candidates to not respond to our questions. If you’re reading this Amir, we’d love to hear from you!

2. Do you think the Board vote should be made public?

Yes: Prudence Wilkins-Wheat, Belinda Thomas, Eitan Harris, Ruby Lotz, Ben Hines

This mixed bag of candidates all indicated to Honi that transparency and accountability are pressing issues and that the Board vote should have been public. 

No: Vikki Qin

Despite campaigning on a policy basis of making USU funding more transparent, Qin appears not to extend the meaning of this buzzword to publicly documenting USU Board meetings. “I’m leaning towards not making the vote breakdown publicly available. Although transparency is important… making it publicly available might direct hate and resentments [sic] at certain board directors that voted yes/no.” Questions remain as to whether Vikki is ready to deal with the public scrutiny a USU Board position entails. 

Non-answer: Ada Choi, Nick Rigby, Jiale Wang

Ironically, these three candidates gave us pretty opaque answers as to whether they think the breakdown of the USU Board vote should be made public.

Like his interview, Rigby’s response is a masterclass in spin. “There is value in a board having robust discussion privately and having a vote…as a measure of unity and of teamwork and collaboration”. But staff pay cuts were a “divisive, important, out-of-the-ordinary issue, and the membership is insisting to know how their representatives voted.” Ultimately Rigby would not commit strongly either way, stating simply that the Board should “seriously consider” making the breakdown public.

Choi tells us that Board meetings should be “more transparent,” but did not respond to whether the breakdown should be made public. 

In response to our question, Wang states that he is “focusing on that if usu has ways to publish its financial report(usu is not a corporation but even corporation publish their financial reports).” If anyone knows what he means by this, let us know.

Total Silence: Amir Jabbari

Seriously Amir, we’re here if you need to chat x.

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