Conservative MP office workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your status as the lowest-paid political staffers in the precinct!
That's the gist of an anonymous mass email that hit Tory inboxes last week, courtesy of the same mysterious Gmail account that blew the whistle on an aborted attempt by the all-party Board of Internal Economy to impose a sweeping gag order on political staffers last December.
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"Dear Conservative Staff," the latest missive from "Nanker Phelge" begins.
"Are you being paid fairly for the work you do for your member of Parliament? Here are some things to think about to help you figure that out."
The email points out that MPs have seen their salaries go up by over $5,000 in the past two years, with the basic pay for a backbench MP currently sitting at $163,700.
"Interestingly for those MPs who don't like unions, this increase was based upon the average wage increase that over 500 Unions and bargaining units negotiated," Phelge observes.
"At the same time, members' office budgets [MOB]" — which, the email notes, cover staff salaries — "have remained frozen."
That, Phelge warns, will result in "the squeeze being put on your wallet, as "failure to increase the MOB means your wages do not keep pace with the costs of living."
"Don't let the Board of Internal Economy make these decisions in secret any longer!"
NDP staffers paid more than Tories?
According to Phelge, staffers working for other parties likely pull in higher salaries than those toiling in the trenches on behalf of the government backbench — particularly those employed by the NDP, the only caucus with a unionized workforce, which pays a minimum annual full-time salary of $48,929.
As evidence, the email cites Sun parliamentary bureau chief David Akin, who crunched the numbers last year and concluded that "the average NDP MP" spends $222,000 a year on office salaries.
The Liberals, according to Akin's calculations, came in second, with MPs spending an average of $220,000 on staff expenses, and the Conservatives, at $210,000, came in third.
"$48,929 really isn't a huge sum of money when you look at our costs of living, and when you compare the work we do across the spectrum of similar areas of employment," Phelge asserts.
The email closes by urging Tory Hill staffers to stand up for their "collective rights."
"Ask your bosses why you can't at least make as much as other government employees," it suggests.
"Or at least ask why they aren't paying into the Public Service Pension Plan like you are, and why they have a separate gold-plated pension that no other Canadians could ever dream of."
Phelge has also issued an open invitation to anyone who has "issues with [their] MP" to share their stories.
"We all know the MPs make decisions about our livelihoods in secret, and we have little to no recourse," the email notes.
"Please speak out. I will keep your information totally confidential, and am looking to compile an anonymous list of tales of woe from MP staffers."
Email went out to all staffers, says NDP
It's not clear just who is behind the virtual rabble-rousing.
Phelge — whose pseudonym was originally used by the Rolling Stones as a credit for group compositions — states that he or she is "not working to take down any one political party," but for "fairness for all parliamentary staff."
The reference to the NDP base salary, plus the slam at the all-party Board of Internal Economy for operating in secret seems to hint that the email may have come from the Official Opposition side of the House.
The president of the NDP employees' union told CBC News that similar emails went out to all Hill staffers, although he confirmed that the budget freeze would not affect scheduled NDP staff salary increases.
"We have a collective agreement in place that sets out raises for most staff over a period of several years, irrespective of whether MPs or their [office budgets] received increases from the House of Commons," said Anthony Salloum, who also works as an assistant to New Democrat whip Nycole Turmel.
"It also eliminates the huge discrepancies found in Liberal and Conservative offices by closing the gap between the highest paid and lowest paid staff."
A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office, meanwhile, seemed distinctly unmoved at the notion of rebellion within the Tory ranks.
"Conservative staff is hard at work advancing taxpayers interests, unlike the NDP who are beholden to big union bosses," Stephen Lecce told CBC News.
In any case, as unlikely as a staff-wide mutiny may seem, Conservative MPs would be wise to keep an eye out for any sign of labour unrest on the office front.
It was, after all, an email from the very same Nanker Phelge that sparked the all-party furor that ultimately forced the Board to back down on that Hill-wide confidentiality clause.
Will his or her attempt to rally Conservative staffers to the House office budget barricades succeed?
The full text of the email (all emphasis and punctuation in the original):
Dear Conservative Staff,
Are you being paid fairly for the work you do for your Member of Parliament? Here are some things to think about to help you figure that out
MP's Receive Big Union Based Salary Increase
In 2013, your MP had his/her salary increased to $160 200 (+ $2469), and in 2014 their salary was increased again $163 700 (+ $3500) or $5769 over two years!
Interestingly for those MP's who don't like Unions this increase was based upon the average wage increase that over 500 Unions and bargaining Units negotiated
Frozen MOB (Members office Budget) Means Frozen Salary for you
We are told that it is too politically sensitive to talk about increasing the MOB, and in fact your MP's tried to reduce the MOB. The majority of MOB spending is comprised of our salaries. Reductions to the MOB only mean the squeeze is being put on your wallet! Failure to increase the MOB means your wages do not keep pace with the costs of living. Don't let the Board of Internal Economy make these decisions in secret any longer!
Costs of Living
The average rent for a 1-Br Apartment per month (source:CMHC) is:
The reality is that our expenses are increasing, yet many of our colleagues remain at relatively low wages. Once we factor in transportation and donations to the party we work for, and other regular expenses, we are living to work. These costs are increasing, yet parliament has not reflected this by increasing your pay or the MOB
Other Parties Pay MP Staff More Money
In most cases, this is likely true. Conservative columnist David Akin crunched the numbers and tweeted: "The average NDP MP spends $222K a year on staff salaries for his/her offices. #LPC: $220K. #CPC $210K. #BQ: $187K"
This difference is not that significant when divided up among 4 Full-time staff members.
Did you know that the NDP staff have a minimum salary for a full time worker of $48 929? What is the minimum salary in your office?
$48 929 really isn't a huge sum of money when you look at our costs of living, and when you compare the work we do across the spectrum of similar areas of employment.
What may be more likely in your office is that one person is being paid $70 000, while the rest of the staff are making under $40 000 a year -- with no guarantee of holidays, sick days, or any other time off. Is this fair? Is your labour worth that little?
On a daily basis we help to manage the affairs and business of the government and Members of Parliament. We deal with Budgets, Immigration, Taxes, Pensions, Policies, Bureaucrats, Businesses, and so much more -- yet we are paid so much less when compared to other people who work for the government of Canada and when compared to our bosses we don't even come close -- yet we do all of the work.
Many of us are university educated,with Masters, PhD's, and with many years of experience, yet we are not compensated fairly.
Why do we work for less?
Because we share a love of politics, and a belief that the work we are do is making a change and making a difference. We are willing to suffer to climb the ladder, and to make it to the top. The reality is that very few of us will make it to the top, only a select few will. So why accept long hours and little pay?
Minister Jason Kenny sent out a tweet saying he is glad that his staff isn't unionized after he had meetings with them that lasted late into the night. Imagine what a union would have meant for these staff! Maybe a little overtime pay? Or maybe some extra time off? We'll never know, and there is no standard. Your MP can work you 75 Hours a week and you will be no further ahead.
Many of us are young, and eager and see opportunity. The reality is that governments change. Members lose their seats and staff lose their jobs. There is no security. No long term career. This is precarious work.
Stand up for your collective rights now. Ask your bosses why you can't at least make as much as other Government employees. Or at least ask why they aren't paying into the Public Service Pension Plan like you are, and why they have a separate gold plated pension that no other Canadians could ever dream of.
Are we in a race to the bottom? Do we want to see everyone paid poorly and working longer hours? I surely hope not.
Talk to your MP tell them that you want to see change now. You want to be paid fairly! It is time the Board of Internal Economy open their doors and stop making secretive decisions that effect your livelihood. The MP's could not do without you. You are the talent. You deserve better.
P.S., If you have issues with your MP I would love to hear your story. I am not working to take down any one political party, but to gain fairness for all parliamentary staff. We all know who holds the power. We all know the MPs make decisions about our livelihoods in secret, and we have little to no recourse. Please speak out. I will keep your information totally confidential, and am looking to compile an anonymous list of tales of woe from MP staffers.
An earlier version of this story stated that MPs receive $163,700 as take-home pay. In fact, that is the base pre-tax salary. The story has also been edited to clarify Anthony Salloum's position.Aug 26, 2014 12:10 PM ET