The current University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) president Al Turnbull and his fellow executives seem to think they can make unilateral decisions on behalf of over 25,000 students without their consent. The incident regarding the removal of all Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) material from the student agendas makes this apparent.
Members of UMSU are also members of Local 103 of CFS. Unions are democratic organizations in which the paying members’ dues not only entitle them to elect their representatives, but also pay those representatives’ salaries. Members are entitled to be consulted and vote on any policy or governance changes. However, the executive has ignored students’ democratic rights by making changes to the student health plan and removing all CFS materials from the agendas.
In an interview with the Manitoban last week, Turnbull discussed the rationale behind the removal of CFS materials from the agendas, saying, “After we were told that we legally could not provide the cheapest and best service for our students, we the executive decided that in an act of protest towards the egregious clause [contractually binding] our organization, and the needless wasting of our students’ money [ . . . ] the federation should be removed from all the handbooks.”
Let’s revisit the facts. It was the former UMSU executive that made the order for the agendas, as had been done in years previous. And yes, perhaps it did cost the cited $60,000 to place the order.
However, there are numerous advertisements in the agendas, from MTS, Booster Juice, Manitoba Hydro, Waverley Dental Centre, and Manitoba Public Insurance, just to name a few. These advertisements generate revenue and would probably have allowed UMSU to break even on their $60,000 investment. For Turnbull to claim that he wanted to provide “the cheapest and best service for our students” is confusing, when likely UMSU made money through the ad revenue of these agendas.
If we want to talk about saving money, we need a serious wake-up call here: ripping pages out of about 20,000 agendas takes time and effort, which means we, as fee-paying members of the student body, likely had our money wasted by this executive, and whatever additional staff were required to rip pages out of agendas.
Furthermore, any contract has terms and conditions, and opt-out fees are standard legalities. Turnbull deciding in July, roughly six months after the orders for the agendas were placed, that they should no longer be ordered, should come with a financial penalty – that’s standard procedure. What he fails to realize is that he may have wasted students’ money had he not gone ahead with the order for agendas.
This action carried out by UMSU was not only undemocratic to the students but also a waste of our money. We paid UMSU to rip out information that was paid for by students, in agendas that were also paid for by students.
Students have the right to be provided with the CFS information they paid for. If we want to argue for saving money, it is instructive for students to know about services such as the ISIC card, employment standards, National Student Loans, and where our $14.00 that we paid to CFS goes.
If Turnbull and his executive have political issues with the mandates or services of CFS, then that should be discussed in a participatory and democratic manner with the student body. We are, after all, not only paying for missing CFS information; we are paying the UMSU executives’ salaries.