Why TRUSU fights for $15 while paying $11

Questions over TRUSU staff and representative pay came up after the union talked about Fight for $15

TRUSU Executive Director Nathan Lane says the union pays an honorarium for rep positions, and will likely scale with min. wage. (Marcela Arévalo/Ω)

To Nathan Lane, executive director of TRUSU, last Thursday’s annual general meeting met his expectations. While he admitted that the turnout could have been better, TRUSU’s AGM met quorum and most importantly encouraged discussion within its membership.

One of the questions that sparked discussion at the AGM had to do with why the students’ union pays their board members an honorarium of $11 per hour, while simultaneously campaigning to raise B.C.’s minimum wage to $15 per hour.

Lane, who spoke with the Omega on the Friday after the AGM, explained the reasoning behind this being simply a difference of definitions.

“The definition of honoraria is basically a gift in kind for the work that you do,” Lane said. “So in many organizations for example, if you received an honoraria, it might be for speaking, it might be for just being a board member. It is just a fixed amount.”

Staff at TRUSU, such as the front-desk receptionist and Common Grounds barista, are paid hourly for the work that they do as per B.C. labour laws. These employees are guaranteed to be paid the province’s minimum wage, and as such any increase to the current minimum wage will result in wage increases for these employees.

Unlike union staff, however, elected representatives are all volunteers who are governed by TRUSU’s honorarium policy.

The policy, which can be found on TRUSU’s website, sets out the remuneration to be paid to members of the board of directors.

While all members are paid the same amount, $11 per hour, your position in the union determines how many hours you can be paid for. Executive members can be paid $11 per hour up to fifty hours in a bi-weekly period, while advocacy representatives and directors-at-large are paid $11 per hour up to 20 hours in a bi-weekly period.

The reason why the honorarium policy works this way has to do with member availability, according to Lane.

“We have a sliding scale,” Lane said. “In September, in January, during different times for different programs people commit 15 to 20 hours a week. But if you have three midterms in a week, you are probably not going to be working for the students’ union. We slide the scale based on people’s availability in a week.”

TRUSU is still committed to the Fight for $15 campaign, Lane said, and if the minimum wage is increased, board members will likely see increases in their honorariums as well.

However, any changes to the current honorarium policy can only be ratified at an annual general meeting.

“It is basically the political precedent that you would never change the wage rate for yourself,” Lane said. “So a board would propose a new honoraria policy, but they would propose that policy and it would take effect the next year. So no one could give themselves a pay raise.”

While there is no requirement that TRUSU’s honoraria be equivalent to the province’s minimum wage, Lane believes that the board of directors will want the honorarium to stay close to the whatever the current minimum wage may be.

“The board is not going to want to have a situation where the minimum wage is $13 per hour and they are only making $11 per hour,” Lane said.