Here’s my WPIRG Pay Stub

WPIRG is known for its averseness to neutrality on a campus that often alienates students in their own space, treating them as a commodity. While not true to everyone’s experience, it is true to enough that the general feeling on this campus can be that students are taught to keep to themselves and let the higher-ups do the work of making this campus the best it can be. But it’s naive at best to believe that top-level administrators — who some, individually, make more than WPIRG’s entire budget — prioritize whether or not you are healthy over whether or not you will pay your fees.

I work for an organization that operates on a campus where the president makes more than the prime minister of Canada. Extravagant administrative spending — now that’s one of the kind of student concerns a community like WPIRG would enthusiastically support you and your peers in taking a stand against.

In the context of the WPIRG Fee Referendum, WPIRG’s finances have been grossly misrepresented to show that 75% of our spending goes to “non-student” salaries, “perks”, and administration. This number does not tell students:

  • WPIRG’s 2015–2016 total revenue was $259,148.62.
  • 56% of our budget went to salaries (incl. taxes and benefits): two full-time staff, one full-time co-op student staff, one full-time contract student researcher. This number is less than the norm for non-profits.
  • 14% of our budget went to administration and marketing. This includes an office space, IT, printing, and a student library, all of which directly benefit students and their initiatives.
  • Perks: What perks? While working with students is incredibly rewarding, there is a lot of difficult conversations that we can’t leave behind at our desks. (But really: materially, I don’t know what this means).

The basic assumption is that student money needs to be spent on buying things and not paying people to do things. To say a human resource is not a resource, that we are useless in making students feel supported, profoundly undermines the students that have used our service. In the case of the Schembri Property Management issue in 2014, very little money was actually spent on things to make the campaign a success — the WPIRG fee was instrumental in securing three months of tireless staff work — work without which students would not have been informed of their rights and options, would not have been encouraged and supported to get organized into an effective group capable of putting enough pressure on Schembri that they settled before the Landlord and Tenant Board even ruled on the case. To see that campaign be reduced to us organizing “a little march” in front of Schembri’s offices — simply because that was the most visible point of the campaign — is misinformed, belittling and shows great disrespect for everyone who worked so hard in that campaign, not least the students at 1 Columbia themselves.

Just this past Tuesday, WPIRG co-hosted (uniting UW Black Association for Student Expression (BASE), FemPhys, Women in Science, GLOW, the Women’s Centre, and the Institute for Quantum Computing) a talk with Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a University of Waterloo alumnus and one of the world’s leading astrophysicists. Staff were pivotal in bringing these different areas of campus together for an incredible speaker, and took care of the grunt work and logistics involved with bringing Dr. Prescod-Weinstein to campus. Nisheida, while on stage representing UW BASE, remarked that it would be her first time as a University of Waterloo student that she’d see someone at a podium that looked like her. To hear that from a student is disheartening, but also inspiring of change. I am also disheartened at the prospect of seeing a campus where students may lose an independent resource that lets them decide what issues they want to shine light on.

Ultimately, the digital commentary around WPIRG has reduced us to an acronym. We are real people, volunteers are real students, and it is frustrating and unfair for people to misrepresent an organization that has empowered thousands of students in its 43 year history. We are transient — ”we” is you, is me, is anyone who has come to WPIRG knowing its independence is the very thing that lets it do real things with real panache, ovaries, balls, whatever the hell. Removing the refundable WPIRG fee would fundamentally destroy the mechanisms needed by the only organization at UW where you can walk into an office without needless bureaucracy or An Appointment, #rant about anything, and be heard and guided into doing something about it. The irony of this, is our critics have a very fundamental thing in common with the students and staff here. We are all frustrated. But keeping the WPIRG fee is essential in upholding this community that will be frustrated with you, and will take action with you. Not above you, not behind or in front of you, not for you. With you.

EDIT:

There were some comments on social media that implied we lowered our wage after Winter term. Here’s a stub from January 1st. We also can’t change salaries as we please: the pay is locked into a multi-year agreement with our union.

To clarify: the stub in the original article belonged to a full-time contract student. The stub in this edit belongs to our most senior staff, full-time, permanent.

Note that our co-op position starts at the same wage. Our board upholds its standards of equity.