SAIT blasted over ‘obscene’ executive salary hikes and bonuses

Faculty and staff reps upset as contract talks loom

By Trevor Howell, Calgary Herald

CALGARY — Generous salary hikes and performance bonuses for SAIT executives have faculty and staff representatives warning it could poison upcoming contract negotiations.

The report for the 2011-2012 academic year reveals the school’s three vice-presidents each received a salary increase of 26 per cent, boosting their base pay from $182,000 to $230,000. Each VP also received a $58,000 pay-for-performance bonus.

Doug Spurgeon, president of the SAIT academic faculty association, blasted the school for awarding the salary hikes and bonuses while SAIT was in arbitration with both its faculty and support staff.

“There’s a bit of resentment on my behalf for the fact that they are claiming poverty and taking exorbitant — and in some instances just obscene — payments for themselves,” said Spurgeon.

SAIT’s outgoing president and CEO, Irene Lewis, saw her base salary increase nine per cent, from $224,000 to $245,000. Lewis also received a performance bonus and one-time retirement allowance worth $346,000.

The revelation likely won’t sit well with faculty members or support staff represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

Both union and association members went through prolonged arbitration with SAIT after their contracts expired in 2010. Collective agreements were finally signed last year, but are set to expire June 30, 2013.

News of the pay hikes and bonuses for SAIT’s top execs began trickling out among staff and faculty late last week. And it could have a detrimental effect on upcoming contract negotiations, said AUPE president Guy Smith.

“News of these kind of bonuses — and also the exorbitant pay that most senior management and executive teams get at these places — obviously that’s going to have an impact,” said Smith. “It’s going to make them angry and go to the table with the attitude of feeling disrespected and undervalued.”

A spokeswoman for the post-secondary institute said an independent survey requested by SAIT’s board of governors determined that executive salaries were under market value and adjusted accordingly.

“They were adjusted to keep them consistent and competitive with similar positions with comparative post-secondaries in Alberta,” said Melanie Simmons. “It’s really important to know that we continue to strive to be an employer of choice, which includes offering competitive wages.”

Meanwhile, the bonuses awarded to the vice-presidents are based on a tiered, pay-for-performance plan that is only triggered if the school reaches a minimum $2.5-million budget surplus.

SAIT’s deans, academic chairs and management also receive bonuses under the plan. However, those figures are not detailed in the annual report. And that lack of transparency is a problem, according to SAIT’s student association.

“The board at SAIT generally operates in-camera, so I don’t have any of the details of the bonuses and how it breaks down,” said Matthew Armstrong, the student association’s vice-president external. “That’s definitely something the students would like to see, a little more transparency and information about that.”

Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of advocacy group Public Interest Alberta, said bonuses at public institutions should be scrapped.

“They are hired at these very high salaries to manage and work within a budget,” said Moore-Kilgannon. “So to turn around and bonus them the equivalent of what an average family makes in a given year is a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk, who was sworn in as Alberta’s minister of advanced education and enterprise last week, declined to comment specifically on the salary hikes and bonuses given to SAIT executives.

However, he said that all public institutions will be expected to rein in excess spending as the government faces a possible $6-billion deficit in the March 7 budget.

“We are demonstrating restraint at the Government of Alberta level,” Lukaszuk said. “We are expecting a similar restraint to be shown by external agencies that are paid for by taxpayers.”

By Trevor Howell, Calgary Herald

thowell@calgaryherald.com

Twitter: TSHowell

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