Issues on the Table: Salary Part 4 – Salaries that aren’t on the Sunshine List

The 2021 threshold for public sector salaries to be on the Sunshine List is $136,805; the threshold for 2020 (the most recent year with data publicly available) is $135,317. Figure 1 illustrates salary distribution among ULFA membership using the most recent public data. The figure illustrates that 140 members (i.e., 24%) are above the Sunshine List threshold while 438 members (i.e., 76%) are below this threshold. Also shown is the ‘Reverse Sunshine threshold’, namely, the bottom 24% of earners. While the median salary of those above the Sunshine List threshold falls within the $150-$160k salary bin, the median salary of the bottom 24% of earners falls in the $0-$10k salary bin, well below the poverty line when this is the only source of income.

Figure 1. Histogram of ULFA Member’s annual salaries. Highlighted is the 2020 Sunshine List earning threshold separating the top 24% of earnings and a reverse Sunshine threshold for the bottom 24% of salaries. Due to the Sunshine List threshold dividing the $130k to $140k histogram bin, the total population of 42 in this bin is split into those below the Threshold (N=24) and those above the Threshold (N=18). Individuals who have been administrators are not included in the data illustrated. The lower threshold cuts through the $60k-$70k bin as not all of these salaries fall into the bottom 140.

Academic administrators (e.g., Deans and Associate Deans) are typically among the highest-paid members of academic staff, and these high salaries are not the result of Collective Agreement increases alone. Administrators often receive an increase to their base salary on appointment, in addition to a stipend in recognition of their administrative duties. Any salary increase (but not any stipend) is retained after they return to the ranks of academic staff. The salaries of academic staff who have previously served as academic administrators therefore skew the overall picture of academic staff salaries.

The 76% of academic staff members at the University of Lethbridge whose salaries fall below the Sunshine List Threshold (438 out of 578) include the 25% of academic staff members who hold contract positions at the U of L (121 Sessional Lecturers and 23 members with limited Term appointments). These employees have no path to long-term job security (more about this is in Improved Right of first Refusal for Sessional Lecturers and Sessional Lecturer vs. Term Appointee).

Many of our members are early in their careers, and are still paying off student debt after 10 years or more of post-secondary education and poorly-paid training (as discussed in Faculty Salary Structure). Across all career stages, collectively our members are buying or renting homes in the community, paying off mortgages, raising families, patronising local businesses, and securing federal and provincial grants whose funds provide significant support for training students. 

While the Sunshine List provides details on compensation for the highest-paid 24% of ULFA members, compensation for the bottom 76% is not publicly available. The full data gives a much clearer picture of the overall salary structure of the academic staff at the University of Lethbridge.

ULFA’s negotiating positions are built around a grave concern for the wellbeing of all academic staff members. In particular, the most precarious earners, whose income is left out of sensationalised statistics about salaries in academia, make up a substantial proportion of our membership, and are a majority at many institutions. The rights and needs of these members must be taken into account in the financial component of any settlement.