Student unions at post-secondary institutions have come along way over the past few years, which might be why a Vancouver Island University student union position is able to pay $27 an hour plus benefits for the position of resource coordinator for campus life.
Steve Beasley, executive director of the VIU students’ union, who posted the ad last week, said just because it’s a student union job doesn’t mean there aren’t considerable responsibilities.
“We’re a $2.5-million organization and I don’t think people realize that,” said Beasley, who has negotiated labour contracts for other universities. “We operate a full-service pub, we operate a system of health and dental benefits for all the students at VIU, which alone is almost $1 million, and we sell $500,000 worth of transit ever year. We’re a pretty hefty organization.”
It also sells about $250,000 worth of books annually, of which a commission is charged by the student union to help pay for staffing.
VIU’s student union employs about 20 people earning a total of about $500,000 annually, on par with other B.C. universities and university-colleges.
Beasley compares that with VIU’s annual $120-million budget, of which 80 per cent goes to staff wages and benefits.
“The students of VIU deserve as qualified a person as one that would work for the university doing the very same job,” he said. “Overall, the people here in the student union make less money than the university folks doing the same job.”
To advocate on behalf of the students, Beasley added that strong qualifications are needed by student union employees to bargain with university counterparts.
“We’re not going to hire a freshman at $10 an hour to advocate for a fourth-year student who is challenging a grade or something,” said Beasley. “We also have a qualified accountant to manage the $2.5 million budget, our health and dental plan requires a professional, and we need appropriately qualified people to sit down with a faculty dean or vice-president to advocate on students’ behalf.”
A key philosophy of the VIU student union is to pay students a living wage. Beasley, who has strongly advocated for improved financial situations, said the Canadian Union of Public Employees student union would be hypocritical if it called for decent wages but didn’t pay them itself.
“Some employees are students, and they start around $11 an hour, but nowhere is it written that students should work for a wage below the poverty line. We as an organization advocate for people to make a living wage,” he said.
The resource coordinator position requires post-secondary education and extensive knowledge of how student unions operate, as well as a strong background in event organizing. The unionized post is full-time temporary from Aug. 1 to Jan. 31.