Memorial University student blasts beer boycott

Student union says it’s standing up for young workers


 

“How does a bar in the middle of a university in the middle of Newfoundland lose money?,” says Noah Davis-Power. “That is absolutely astounding.”

Last year when Davis-Power was running for a spot on the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union executive, he pushed to see its budget. At first he was first told he couldn’t have it, because he might take it out of context. That’s an argument often used by Canadian student unionists who don’t want their budgets publicly available. Mid-election, MUNSU relented. It turned out the $1.1-million organization, financed mostly by a mandatory $40-a-semester fee, had lost $120,000 that year at The Breezeway, a campus bar it owns. This year it budgeted for a $161,000 loss.

Davis-Power says he expects future losses to be even higher now that MUNSU has decided to boycott Labatt’s beer to show solidarity with about 45 striking brewery workers in St. John’s.

“When you [remove] Labatt products you’re taking away choice and adding to the amount of people who aren’t going to go to The Breezeway,” he says, “you’re going to see the deficit increase.”

Not only that, MUNSU’s boycott has caused Labatt to vow it will stop sponsoring MUN student groups, which annually receive tens of thousands of dollars in cash, beer and other merchandise.

“There is no shortage of people out there looking for sponsorships and only so much money to go around,” says Wade Keller, Labatt’s director of corporate affairs in Atlantic Canada. “If you have a group that’s boycotting your product it makes no sense to spend your cash that way.”

MUNSU is undeterred. “We have been paying close attention to feedback from our members regarding this decision and many have expressed their support of the boycott,” writes Candace Simms, the director of external relations (to whom Davis-Power lost in last year’s elections).

“Since many of our members are, or soon will be, entering into the workforce, we feel the Students’ Union has an important role to play in defending the rights of young workers,” she adds. “During discussions on the boycott, members cited the importance of acting now to ensure current and future workplace equality.”

The average striking Labatt worker earned $81,000 last year, says Keller. Average earnings in Newfoundland were $48,000. He says the union and Labatt are at odds over a demand that employees start contributing to their pension plans in 2016 and pay 20 per cent of benefit costs.

As for The Breezeway’s deficits, Simms writes this: “The number one goal of the Breezeway is to provide a safe, accessible space where students can come and purchase affordable products. The Breezeway provides space for students to host free or low-cost events, employing over 40 students annually, and complimenting the other advocacy and campaigns work of the Students’ Union … Over the past year MUNSU has continued to make strides in reducing the subsidy the Breezeway receives and is committed to seeing further reductions.”

Davis-Power thinks MUNSU should start by dropping the boycott and staying out of such disputes. “Unless students are going to see benefits from it or it’s going to directly impact students, the student’s union should have no comment or position on outside political organizations or actions like a strike,” he says. “It really doesn’t matter to students if Labatt workers are on strike or not.”


 

Memorial University student blasts beer boycott

  1. If only Noah’s opinion spoke for multiple students at Memorial. This is just another attention grabbing act by Mr. Davis-Power. He lost to Ms. Candace Simms in a landslide because his views on things such as the Breezeway’s deficit were so increasingly radical from the greater part of students on campus that the student body said “Hey! We don’t want this guy in charge, he in no way represents our views or the views of the greater part of this generation.”

    Noah doesn’t even go to the Breezeway, he’s never seen there! He just takes every opportunity he can to blast decisions the union is making and the decisions the representatives were elected to make. His vision is to turn the union into something it is not, such as for profit entity and uses these public opportunities to sarcastically and vindictively attack not only Ms. Candace Simms but the entire elected board, including each individual faculty representative.

    These kinds of decisions are not made by one single person at the top as he so oftenly presents it, but are carefully discussed and decided upon by an elected board which he was not voted on to – because his views were so radical from the greater part of campus.

    • It doesn’t matter if Noah goes there or not. That has nothing to do with anything.
      Even if the union isn’t “for-profit”, it should be able to balance a budget, just like every other organization, individual and family in the world.
      The idea of a boycott to support people who make 81k because those people don’t want to have to put a cent into their pensions, that’s just loony. And of course, it’s just as loony that an organization that is supposed to help the students is doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with the students, no matter how they wish to spin it.

  2. It’s been almost 30 years since I graduated from MUN. Things have clearly changed if the Breezeway is losing money; the place was always packed with students – and hard drinking students from Thurs-Sat. Even at the low prices charged, it had to be pulling in a good penny. Apparently the place isn’t being run by economics or commerce majors (or at least I sure hope not!).

    • Keith, have you enjoyed the products from the Quidi Vidi Brewery? Awesome beer! Especially the Iceberg beer. If someone could have that, why drink Labatts?

      • I’ve had some but wasn’t too thrilled; would rather a Blue Star. Plus my brother bought a house off the owner some years back and they ended up developing bad blood over something to do with that transaction (I forget exactly what) so the brand is kind of frowned upon in the family :-)

      • Just remembered: Blue Star is a Labatt product. Might get in trouble for breaching the boycott ;-)

    • Given we have an economist running the country into the ground and creating a deficit, maybe the economists are in charge of the bar?

  3. My question is… Why did Maclean’s On Campus not write this article from the viewpoint of Candace Simms, the Director of External Affairs that we ELECTED? Perhaps if Noah was so concerned about the deficits surrounding the operation of the Breezeway, he should have proposed some alternative options as to how to decrease this deficit rather than just running to the media to criticize every decision MUNSU makes in a feeble attempt to embarrass the union. In result, he only ever ends up embarrassing himself and proving that he does not represent the views of MUN students. I expect if he runs again in next year’s election he will lose by an even greater margin.

  4. Even Davis-Powers doesn’t credit the current deficit to the boycott so it would seem to be a separate issue that should be considered on its merits. Decide on your own story, and test the claims that are made, rather than being manipulated into publishing someone’s list of grievances.

  5. “How does a bar in the middle of a university in the middle of Newfoundland lose money?,” says Noah Davis-Power. “That is absolutely astounding.”

    Noah, get a map. St. John’s is not the middle of Newfoundland, it’s on the East Coast.*

    I guess that clears up how Noah could get this issue so wrong: If he can’t figure out a map to know where St. John’s is in Newfoundland, how can we really expect him to figure out the bigger picture that defending workers’ rights is absolutely connected to defending students’ rights?

    * If you’ve never seen a map of Newfoundland, here’s one that even points out St. John’s for you. I suggest you check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Newfoundland_map.png

    PS: Sales have gone up 15% since the boycott – the majority students clearly aren’t mad about the boycott.

    • When he ways the middle of Newfoundland, 99% of normal people know what he means, and then there’s you.

      • OK, give me one logical explanation as to what he means when he says the middle of Newfoundland?

        I admit, the validity of that statement is not a big issue in the context of this article, I just get frustrated when people have or seem to have a St. John’s centric view of Newfoundland and Labrador.

        The main problem with this article is that Noah clearly has no idea how protecting workers’ rights now helps students now and in the future. If we sit back and let workers’ rights be deteriorated, what kind of work environment will be left for students when they graduate and enter the workforce? (Assuming they aren’t already in the work force during school to try and keep their student debt at or below the average $20,000 in NL).

        Supporting workers is supporting students and vice versa. Kudos to MUNSU for taking a stance on this issue – you made the right choice.

        • Paying into the pension plan is hardly “rights be deteriorated”.

          In fact, it probably reduces the chances of ending up like Detroit’s pension scheme.

          • The pension plan is not the only issue, Labatt also wants to implement a two-tier wage system which would disadvantage future workers.

            Asking for a two-tier wage system has been an increasing occurrence among big business in an attempt to divide the current workers from future workers (often the current students) but luckily students and labour have worked together over the years and have been able to block a number of these two-tier plans.

            This letter doesn’t include all the facts about the situation, as opinion letters often don’t. I suggest researching all of the issues before making a decision on whether you’re for or against the workers and the students.

          • Unions have always been strong proponents of ‘old vs new’ employees, installing deliberate discrimination against newer workers regardless of how hard they work, how well they work, how capable they are, or how much time and effort they’re willing to put into their jobs.

            It’s called ‘seniority’, and in heavily unionized industries seniority determines just about everything in terms of opportunities for workers to improve their position.

          • Major difference between seniority and a two-tier wage system.

            In a seniority level, all workers are put on the same level based on the amount of experience they have. If two workers are both new, they make the same. If one worker is new and the second has 15 years experience, then the second employee makes slightly more as a recognition of their experience and commitment to the company. If the first worker stays within the company for 15 years, they’ll make about the same as the second person did when they had only 15 years experience.

            In a two-tier wage system, a new worker starts on a lower scale than workers who joined the staff earlier. In other words, if one worker starts in 2013 under a new two-tier wage system, they will make significantly less than someone who started in 2012, even without counting the seniority of that 1 year difference.

            Essentially, in a seniority system, everyone is on the same scale and can work to get themselves higher on the scale to match their fellow workers. In a two-tier wage system, new workers start out in a significantly disadvantaged position and, even if seniority is included in the new wage scheme, the new workers can’t ever work their way up the scale to the same position as another worker who happened to join a little sooner.

        • Since when is supporting people who make 81k, twice the average salary, who refuse to contribute to their own pensions, a just cause? Since when is that supporting workers’ rights? That’s supporting greed. You think that union gives a fig about students? The first thing that any union will do is lower the salary and benefits of any new hires to come in the future to benefit the current members. If any Memorial student ever gets a job at Labatt’s they’ll be getting far less than any of the current workers did when they were hired. Getting pensions without contributions of any kind is unheard of for any student graduate these days, no matter how educated you may be, because the money’s not there anymore, it’s paying for the gold-plated benefits of workers hired long ago who’ve been the beneficiaries of gainful employment for many years at Labatt’s.

          • If you want to talk about greed let’s not forget how we got to this situation in the first place. The company is pulling in billions with higher than ever profits but they’re demanding cuts from their workers.

            Also, instead of saying we shouldn’t support Labatt workers because they make more than other people, why aren’t we looking to keep them where they are and help raise up everyone else? Why are we trying to pull others down instead of bring everyone up?

            And yes, I do think that they care about the new workers. It’s a pretty common trend in labour unions to not support two-tier wage systems. If you actually had a clue what you were talking about with how unions work and their past you’d know that.

  6. Maybe places like the Quidi Vidi Brewery and other closer to home breweries (with awesome tasting beers) would be willing to sponsor events for the pub and by sponsor, I men provide very cheap beer for the chance to be the only beer served at functions.

  7. The stupidity of student unions aside, removing Labatts (and Molson while you’re at it) from a bar can only improve the quality of the product served.

    • LOL…

    • That may be true, but students don’t pay the extra dollar for beer that tastes good.

  8. When one considers how much student loan money goes down the drainpipes at the Student Union pubs, how indeed can it manage to operate at a loss?

    Are there no commerce students available to set the place on the right track?

  9. “Unless students are going to see benefits from it or it’s going to directly impact students, the student’s union should have no comment or position on outside political organizations or actions like a strike,” he says. “It really doesn’t matter to students if Labatt workers are on strike or not.”

    This quote illustrates the real motivation behind this whine. The guy doesn’t think unions should have a voice beyond what he deems suitable. It’s an attempt to divide and conquer by preventing people from coming together to address a grievance. In short it’s an attempt to prevent community building and to stifle empathy for people being ordered to do something without genuine communication and co=operation.
    It’s the way this government views the ordinary people of Canada, we’re either a nuisance or fodder for industry and if we are the latter then we better keep our head down and shut up or we’ll be classified as the former.

    • The students’ union needs to look after issues relevant to the students and to the university community, not go about looking for extraneous political issues upon which to spend the students’ money.

      • Believe it or not the university is part of the community at large and as such has the duty to be as involved as the students wish them to be. Being a student union doesn’t lead to isolationism and clearly votes were taken to elect people on the agendas they put forward. This simple democratic act dumped the whiny Noah and elected the people who organised the boycott. A student union does as its members ask and clearly the members have spoken. Just because the average non-student doesn’t agree makes no difference.
        Ah the joys of elections hey?

        • The students have not spoken, and have not even been asked.

          let the leadership put their policies to referenda, particularly when it comes to meddling in outside issues.

          • Elections are the way we elect our government and there is no difference here – an election was held. Hustings are held and positions put forward. This is clearly illustrated by the comments below regarding Noah’s non-election. He was deemed to be on the fringe.
            As with Parliament referenda are expensive and completely do away with the whole idea of elections; do you advocate referenda for all governmental decisions too?
            This is not an outside issue. Students have an interest in social issues in their community. Rent, fair trade coffee, sourcing organic food and drinking beer that is from more enlightened companies are all issues close to many student’s hearts. I bet there is even a University section for all the major parties, is that defined as meddling in outside affairs too?

          • Whether there is a ‘university section’ for something or not is only relevant to the extent to which student money is expended on it.

            No student union leadership has an automatic mandate to extend the student union activities outside the university.

            Students elect a student union administration with the idea that they will spend their money wisely and in ways that benefit the students. And not, as in this case, seek to benefit a small group of already prosperous whiners.

            To start to take extraordinary and extramural measures requires an extraordinary mandate, and it is clear that the SU has not sought such a mandate. Claiming that ‘many of the students’ support the policy does not constitute a majority of students, nor even a majority of those taking enough of an interest to vote on the matter.

          • It’s clearly been a while since you’ve been a student. Student’s today are not obedient little lap dogs who are content to ignore social injustices and other communal wrongs. Admittedly N American students are a very placid bunch compared to their peers in Europe, with the exception of Quebec; but they are part of the community in which the college is located. They also contribute a lot of cash to the local economy and to want to have some say in how that community responds to them is only natural and to be expected.
            A minority of people elected the current government, but that seems not to worry you much, no you’d rather look at student unions. A lot of unions are elected by proportional representation, I know I was when elected and that results in the most popular choice of all. Are you advocating that that be the way we elect our national government? Because if you are not, then you have no real interest in democracy and representation just shutting down those who you don’t agree with.
            That is all this is – sour grapes and whining by those who didn’t get their way and a throwing up of a barage of pseudo-reasons for why it wasn’t fair.
            The process was fair, those elected were elected fairly on a platform and they are enacting that platform. Unlike the Harper Cons who cheated to win committed fraud, immediately broke promises and steal daily from the people.
            Your and those like you’s shortsighted, goal post shifting hypocrisy is why this country is going to hell.

            If you don’t agree it must be wrong is your motto.

  10. I think this is a bad move on Labatt’s part. University is a time when many people develop brand loyalties. This strike will end as they all tend to do and with it the boycott but for Labatt to pull out of any association with the university in the future will only cost them in the long run. Had Wade Keller been smart he would have just quietly ridden it out. I wonder who Labatt’s new director of corporate affairs in Atlantic Canada will be?