That pesky union

Volume 27, Issue 4
April 2017

Bob bolf, president


I had not planned on writing this article. However, when the notes from the most recent Board of Governors (BOG) meeting held March 28, 2017 came out, I just had to respond. The note in question is titled “Executive Compensation” and is found about half way down on page five of the March 28 notes. The entire note is as follows:

Executive Compensation
The President acknowledged the recent media coverage related to the college sector’s posted Executive Compensation Plans. It was noted that the media attention was generated as a result of a letter sent from OPSEU to Minister Matthews and the College Board Chairs raising concerns related to the plans. As a result of the media attention, the Minister held a press conference and released a statement.”


For your information

Last December, all 24 colleges posted notices on their websites proposing various degrees of increasing the pay of college presidents. This was construed as “public consultation”. At Humber, there was no public announcement of this posting that I could find. By law, the colleges had to post the notice for 30 days, which they did. However, as far as I can tell, neither the general college community nor the public was notified of the intent to raise college presidents’ compensation. The increases were different for each college and ranged from $21,600 to $172,800, equating to increases of 6% to 54%. College president salaries would have ranged from $325,000 to $494,000. In their justification for the sought after increases, the colleges compared themselves to much larger, more complex organizations and began to seek parity with the executive compensation within those organizations.

Subsequent to this, when the union inquired about Humber’s posting of this notice, we were given the exact dates but could not get an answer as to where on Humber’s website it was posted.

Now, please take a minute to assess the sentiment that would give rise to the wording of this BOG meeting note. Somehow, the college executive compensation plan got the attention of Deb Matthews, Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, the media and the public. The Minister wrote the College Council indicating that the sought after increases were not justified and asked the colleges to reconsider the plan. Essentially, colleges are public institutions and receive public money and need to act responsibly.


To quote from the Minister’s letter,

“The expectation is for colleges to revisit specific aspects of the plan to ensure the Ministry’s concerns are mitigated prior to making any recommendations to the Board for final approval.”

…we believe a number of the comparators do not meet the majority of selection criteria contained in the regulation. As a result, the draft programs as posted are unacceptable…College boards of governors are responsible for setting transparent executive compensation caps in line with the Framework. We expect that the boards will strike the right balance between attracting and retaining talented executives and the responsible management of public dollars…”

So, my question is, if the Minister and the public immediately reacted negatively to the executive compensation plan, where was our Board of Governors? Is their role to engage in a critical analysis and discussion on the college’s plans; to provide steering input, or just rubber stamp whatever is presented to them?

According to the BOG notes, it was that pesky union that drew everyone’s attention to these increases. My interpretation of the college’s sentiment is “If only there was no union, we would have got away with it.” I don’t know how many BOG members actually feel that way. Maybe a few, maybe more. Apparently, the colleges do not understand the concept of checks and balances and the need for free and open communication. The union is here, and we are here to stay.

All of our faculty are subject matter experts. They are professionals. Most have related industry experience where many held highly responsible positions, including management positions. Many of our faculty have PhDs. We are the subject matter experts.

The union’s role is to advocate for the integrity of the public post-secondary education system in Ontario and our faculty (and support staff) who deliver on the promise of publicly funded education. The BOG meeting for the college is one of the few places where the college is held accountable to the public. The BOG note in the meeting minutes does not reflect the whole conversation. However, deflecting public concern about requests for large raises by blaming the union for raising the alarm should raise alarm bells for all stakeholders at Humber. Why do college presidents want compensation that places them well above the Premier of the province or the Director of the Toronto Board of Education? The colleges also did not explain the secretive approach to what was supposed to be public consultation.

And finally, your Humber Faculty Union had nothing to do with the Bombardier executive compensation debacle.