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 $14.00 that we paid to CFS goes.
If Turnbull and his executive have political issues with the mandates or services of CFS, then that should be discussed in a participatory and democratic manner with the student body. We are, after all, not only paying for missing CFS information; we are paying the UMSU executives’ salaries.
There are a number of mistakes with this comment.
1. No staff were used to rip out the pages.
2. It was done on the weekend, on the Executive’s free time (they are allowed to have free time). No one missed any work.
3. Yes, advertising money does help make up the cost of the agendas, however if you buy the agendas for 42,000$ instead of 60,000$, assuming you can sell the name amount of ad space, you have saved the union 18,000$.
4. Regarding consultation and unilateral decision making point you have made. You are assuming a delegate model of representation, where the Executive is only a mouthpiece of its constituents. However, the way most large democracies work is a trustee model where we elect individuals and trust their judgement on issues. While you will not please everyone , you cannot make the point that they have to consult the members one every issue. Not only is there nothing in the bylaws stipulating this type of consultation, there is also the problem of logistics in trying to gain the opinion of 25,000 people on every issue. They were elected, as long as their decisions do not breach the bylaws of the Union all of their actions are democratic, just because you disagree with their decisions does not make it undemocratic. UMSU saw the largest turnout in over 15 years at the last election, and the majority voted for “Fresh” (60% in fact), they have a strong mandate from the student body.
5. The contract for the agendas was signed in March/April, just as the term of the previous executive was expiring, that is not six months prior to July.
The Executive did NOT rip out the pages by themselves and the page ripping did NOT occur during the weekend. The pages were ripped out during the week in the UMSU Council Chambers by international students who volunteered to do it in exchange for pizza and pop. Not a single member of the executive took part in the ripping, they were out shopping together.
^^^^ All of that.
Also, one of the constant criticisms coming from the CFS of other student health & dental insurance plans is that they come in multi-year contracts, which the CFS’ National Student Health Network does not do. In that case, the federation prides itself on bucking “standard practice” because they believe it’s unfair to member locals.
Whether multi-year planner contracts actually *are* standard practice is also not a given.
This is in response to “A Friend” above:
1. It’s a known fact from some unknowing volunteers in attendance at these tearing parties that the executive used paid staff to coordinate the volunteers, and provided them with food and drinks and other rewards for their time.
2. The executive don’t have free time, they are representatives 24hours a day, and that’s the job they got elected to do, represent all students, not just their friends and those on “their side” of any petty squabble with the provincial or national student body. The executive have also been seen tearing out pages during the day time of weekdays, as recently as this week, and I’ve heard from many students who are frustrated that they are denied a daytimer just because the executive haven’t finished tearing out the pages yet.
3. Has anyone actually seen this cheaper quote other than the executive? How about Council or the Finance committee? If it’s cheaper, there must be a reason, such as it’s a lower quality and most likely not ethically and sustainably produced like the current daytimer. Also, were the businesses who bought ads consulted on the potential change? If they changed the printer, UMSU would likely have lost ad sales and it would cost them significantly more staff time to do the entire layout for printing. Not to mention, it’s a contract, so there should be penalties if UMSU decided to renege months after a deadline.
4. Regarding consultation and decision making, take a quick look at the UMSU website under the governance tab. You will see that it clearly says that UMSU is governed by an elected Council, which is composed of representatives from each faculty, school, college and residence, as well as five elected student community representatives. The executive are charged with overseeing and administering the day-to-day work, and making decisions as needed between council meetings, but it is ultimately the Council that is responsible for making decisions, especially major decisions that affect all fee-paying members. The executive reports to Council and should be getting approval from Council on almost everything. UMSU is not an autocracy as you and this year’s executive seem to be treating it. If you question how UMSU is supposed to operate, then you simply need to refer to the UMSU Act, which sets out the basic legal rights and powers of UMSU, and takes precedence over the Bylaws, Policies, and standing orders of council. Within the UMSU Act, it says this:
“The business and affairs of the corporation shall be managed by a Students’ Council, herein referred to as “the council”, consisting of such number of members as may be determined by by-law enacted by the council.”
5. Six months, four months, whatever. So the timing was a bit off. It doesn’t matter.