First, we (staff leaders on campus and UW admin) don’t actually know what the budget means to U of Waterloo yet. There are some assumptions but no facts, not yet.
I wanted to write a post that would somehow allow me to vent my frustration with the Ontario Government (and our Premier, Dalton) and their move to freeze salaries in the broader public sector. My hope was to maybe release whatever it is about it that is making me frustrated to the point of actually dreaming about it and killing my sleep. That isn’t good by the way, I realize that dreaming about the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Staff Compensation is a symptom of madness. I do want to say that the administration at UW is hugely supportive of staff, the frustration is not towards anyone at UW — it is our Provincial Government.
Some perspective that keeps bouncing in my head
Over the last 10 years I have been in higher education I can’t recall a year when there hasn’t been budget cuts, problems getting jobs properly classified or even created, delays, organizational issues, and heavy workloads. The only silver lining is something that is built into the U of Waterloo salary system that allows for *merit* pay. This system allows for decent increases annually for new staff or longer term staff in new (higher ranked) positions. Our pay scales are actually set up with a job value along with a range that is roughly 20% either side of that value. When you start, you are 20% below job value. Over the years you move up to a target that is based on annual rankings.
Is the process fair? Not the point of this post. Is it more complicated than what I describe? Heck yes, it has all kinds of things to try and balance fairness. That is a novel though.
What is the problem? Simply put, newer staff or those that have been moving around positions on campus have a larger gap in pay with regards to the private sector and similar public sector jobs. That gap closes over the years but if you get frozen for a couple years you could loose out on significant increases. Even if your job value is close (5-10% below private sector) you could still be 10-15% below that value with your take home pay after a couple of years. Just say the gap with your job value is only 5%, that still places you a decent amount below similar jobs in town.
What would a freeze in pay mean to a very lean organization?
You get no increase for a couple years, then banks raise mortgage rates and now you know your monthly costs are going to go up, a lot, over the next two years (gas, other energy, consumer goods, etc). What are you options? It depends on where you are in your career. The younger staff have their first mortgages in a town where the average family house price is over $350k – a percent or two increase in rates adds up quickly. With no hope of an increase in pay your options are:
- find a different, higher paying, job on campus
- find a job off campus that pays more
- take a second job (a surprising number of staff do this)
- absorb any increase, I was smarter with my mortgage so I am ok… oh wait, property taxes are going up too. F.
My fear is that a freeze will push many of the people out of higher education that would be the future leaders on campus if the economy is on recovery mode. It just so happens that younger folks are the more portable of workers, so says everything I am told anyway. Lets be clear: people wouldn’t leave for money alone, just the money is the final straw.
Oddly Faculty are likely more locked in, there is no where for them to go (higher ed is in worse shape elsewhere) without a drastic change in lifestyle along with potentially much higher pay (which is always an option for some of them). Staff, in some cases, might actually find a better work experience where an organization isn’t running as lean as U of Waterloo is. We aren’t talking about an uneducated work force either. Many staff have graduate degrees. the majority have undergraduate degrees.
The freeze in pay is a political move and likely so is the size of the deficit
I don’t know what numbers for growth in the GDP they are using in Toronto for the budget but I have a suspicion the $3 billion drop just this month is a sign of how pessimistic the numbers are they are working with. It isn’t clear how pay freezes play a real role in a $21 billion deficit (with a GDP of roughly C$597.2 billion, that is around 3.5% of the GDP and what isn’t clear to me is what the real income of the government is or if it is much more than an educated guess).
Pay freezes across all the public sector including the broader bits was quoted to save $750 million over a period of two years. However, of that they would get back maybe 1/3 immediately to taxes, the rest would likely mostly be spent in Ontario with more tax (HST?) coming off the top along with job creation, etc. How much will it cost? How many contracts will be hired? How much anxiety will cause a drop in quality and quantity of work? What are they really saving that will have a real benefit to the $21 Billion deficit?
This is for votes: evoke a crisis, create a leader that will bring better times.
Votes, that is all. My guess is that within a year close to half the deficit is gone, the government will have picked some fights with the unions and won, unemployment will be lower. Dalton will call himself a champion and please the middle of the road conservative leaning folks (baby boomers who vote) with his tough stance and non nonsense approach with the people’s money yet he would have done nothing that really makes a difference. We will go to the polls and he will win because the media won’t ask: “What exactly did you do?” (or because the other parties have bad leaders) What Ontario will be left with is a battered and bruised public sector that will likely cost even more in the long run.
Need to move past this and look at what’s next
So I am frustrated. What I need to do is turn that frustration into focusing on how this situation can work to staff advantage as well as U of Waterloo’s. How can we take the positive parts of the budget and for higher education and improve our situation. Sure we may not gain monetary compensation but we could improve our situation in other ways.
There must be some opportunity in this madness and really at this point we just don’t know what this all means yet.