Langara students voted this week on sweeping changes to the bylaws of the Langara Students’ Union that would bar students from attending student society board meetings, prevent in-camera meeting minutes from being taken, and prevent students from making copies of student union records.
The proposals have roused much intense debate on campus. Quorum is 150 voters, or just 1.5 percent of the 9,000 students in the society. The polls closed at 2 p.m. last Wednesday, but the results were not available as of the Courier’s print deadline Thursday.
In the proposed LSU bylaws, point 13.2 states that members may view union records, but “a member of Council or a Staff member must oversee the inspection to ensure that records are not reproduced or noted in any way.” The B.C. Societies Act, which overrides student union bylaws, states in section 37 that all society members have the right just to “inspect” records, but is silent on a right to reproduce them.
Each semester, the LSU collects $390 in mandatory fees from every student, for an income of more than $2 million per year. The LSU does not post its budgets, but reporter Jana Minor of the Langara student newspaper The Voice obtained these from the LSU’s annual general meeting in September and provided them to the Courier.
The figures show the LSU spent $360,604 in wages and benefits for unionized staff in 2011/12, and held $1,082,073 in cash, term deposits and bank shares that year.
The LSU refused comment to the Courier. Longtime LSU staffer Gerald Hornsby, resource coordinator, answered the main switchboard and twice ended the call as soon as the Courier identified itself.
LSU shop steward Donna Rainford-Cayenne told the Courier the LSU had no need to talk to the media because “we’re going to get our own reporters and publish our own newspaper.” She suggested talking to an LSU media contact, but would not provide that person’s name and hung up. The Courier emailed questions to 14 elected LSU board members who are posted online but received no reply.
The LSU refuses to publicly name its staff members, even the ombudsperson, which stands in stark contrast to other students unions such as those of Vancouver Community College, Capilano, Camosun and other colleges which post photos of all their staff with contact data on their websites.
As for board meeting minutes, LSU minutes are not posted today, although they were prior to 2010. In comparison, Kwantlen College posts such minutes online today with archives back to 2000. The Langara College Board goes a step further, posting minutes even of their closed session meetings (after the matters are no longer thought confidential), as well as the yearly remuneration for its governors.
The Voice reports that, after the LSU refused to release it, the paper obtained a leaked copy of the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the LSU and Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 15 (CUPE). Voice reporter Sam Reynolds wrote that the agreement gives some full-time LSU staff a wage of $30 an hour, with full medical and dental benefits for their families.
The LSU is not a member of the Canadian Federation of Students, so Katie Marocchi, chairperson of the B.C. branch of the CFS, declined to talk specifically about the LSU. But she had never heard of any of the B.C. CFS’s 16 local student societies trying to ban students and media from all their meetings or forbid them to take notes on their records.
A student blog called Langara Published at langarapublished.posterous.com urges students to vote No. “The new bylaws set term limits and eligibility restrictions on students’ union elections,” it states. “This would give even more power to the staff to keep students out of their own organization.”
Another recent controversy involves the protests of Emma Leigha Munro, who was disqualified from three out of four previous LSU elections, despite receiving the most votes each time ballots were cast. Munro is a fourth-year bachelor of business student and president of the Langara Business Association. She was elected environmental issues coordinator in October and held the seat for two weeks before being told by the LSU she was disqualified due to various “irregularities.”
Other changes to the LSU’s elections and governance rules are posted at lsu.bc.ca/cms/wpattachments/wpID207atID36.pdf. The LSU’s announced reasons for changing the bylaws include: “To achieve a higher level of accountability.”