‘Clearly there is room for savings’: Canadian Taxpayers Federation calls for post-secondary staff to share in financial burden

LETHBRIDGE, ALTA. — A new report from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) highlighted pay hikes at Alberta’s post-secondary schools during the most recent economic downturn.

The report found that more than 11,500 post-secondary employees from across the province got a raise in 2020 which came with a total price tag of more than $29.2M.

“That doesn’t reflect the fiscal reality facing Albertans and that means a higher tax bill for families, and that means a higher tuition bill for students,” said the CTF Alberta director Franco Terrazzano.

“Let’s not forget that Albertans have been struggling through a downturn for about five plus years. It’s not just COVID, so why are they still handing out pay raises?”

The University of Lethbridge gave raises to 563 employees last year which totaled $1.37M.

Since 2016, nearly $9.5M in pay hikes has been awarded to faculty members at the U of L.

‘ROOM FOR SAVINGS’

At the University of Calgary, more than $10.5M spread out among 4,352 staff members who saw their salaries bumped up in 2020 alone.

“Clearly there is room for savings and the government is right to be pushing universities and colleges across the province to save some money,” said Terrazzano.

“The government should also be pushing the employees at universities and colleges to share in the burden and take a pay cut.”

The University of Calgary is proposing to jack up tuition for certain programs by as much as 32 per cent.

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING

At the University of Lethbridge, tuition increases aren’t expected to be quite as dramatic, hovering around the seven per cent mark in the coming year.

But, U of L officials said easing the financial burden on students isn’t as simple as handing down pay cuts to staff.

“Any increase in pay union employees may have received has been done so through collective bargaining. The U of L Board of Governors is currently bargaining with the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association (ULFA) and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) on new agreements,” said the University of Lethbridge in a statement.

“The board negotiating team’s goal is to arrive at an agreement that reflects the fiscal realities of the province and allows the U of L to be financially sustainable for the future.”

Non-bargaining employees on the U of L campus make up 24 per cent of the university’s total staff and none have received a raise since 2016.

The University of Lethbridge Students’ Union (ULSU) highlighted the difficulty in addressing the finical pinch without sacrificing the quality of students’ education.

“To cut salaries would be to minimalize what students are actually experiencing. The budget cuts we’re facing, the fact that we’ve seen a reduction of over 15 per cent of our overall budget in three years, that has to sadly be made up somewhere,” said ULSU V.P. External Ryan Lindblad.

“The reality is most of that gets put on students in the form of tuition increases. I don’t think it’s necessarily possible to share the burden equally and that’s why the student voice needs to be paramount.”

MORE EQUITABLE SYSTEM

Lindblad said what he wants to see is tuition rates tied to the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to allow for a more equitable system.

He said the responsibility falls on the provincial government to address the issues and not the university.

“I don’t agree with the connotation that the upper administration is trying to wring every last penny for their own pockets. I think some of that could be a little bit misleading to the budgetary reality that the university actually faces.”

The University of Alberta handed out more than $11.7M in raises for 2020 which was the most given out province-wide.

In total, more than $29.2M in salary hikes was awarded to post-secondary employees last year across all of Alberta.

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