Renew Waterloo is one of two parties running in the upcoming WUSA elections. Their platform advocates for students’ employee rights under the co-op program, reunifying a fractured campus culture, and adjusting the current WUSA governance model to ensure students’ needs remain a priority.
Led by Nick Pfiefle as its presidential candidate, party members include Rida Sayed, Nush Majra, Theresa Nguyen, Emma Lee, and Daud Khan. Each member brings a wealth of grassroots advocacy experience within the science and engineering faculties. As Pfiefle explained, “We all are in a way a bit outside of the inner circle of working WUSA, so from our perspective it was a case of ‘hey, if we’re going to get in there, we might as well get in there as a team so we can work together.’”
When describing his own co-op experience, Pfiefle emphasized how he endured unjust and exploitative work conditions multiple times in order to meet his co-op requirements. “Student work must be treated as the service it is, rather than seen as a source of free effort,” his official candidate profile reads. His party demands basic respect from employers towards students regardless of their abilities, something they say is not effectively facilitated.
Majra, director candidate for Renew and current director for the Waterloo Engineering Endowment Fund, highlighted in WUSA’s candidate Ask Me Anything (AMA). hosted on r/uwaterloo on Jan. 30, how regulatory loopholes are currently exploited by employers within WaterlooWorks. “While companies have been posting in the mandatory pay and benefits section on [WaterlooWorks], it’s often some variation of ‘We provide competitive compensation with a lively workplace’ with not many actual numbers… Being forced to take a co-op that you can’t afford is a real possibility,” he said. “Unlimited NIs [not interested] would go a long way, both in letting students make the best decision for them, and lowering the amount of reneges.”
For Nguyen, director candidate for Renew and advocate for the faculty of engineering wellness program, improving student well-being through stronger campus culture is a top priority. In her AMA replies, she brought up social atomization — the phenomenon of social groups breaking down into ever-smaller units until they cease to exist — as a major post-pandemic issue that must be addressed. “We need well-maintained and open student spaces where students can stop the grind for a second and just be – events and activities that can cater to Waterloo students’ demanding schedules,” she wrote.
In terms of governance, Pfiefle asserted in his official candidate profile how the current WUSA structure is plagued by workplace harassment and confusing hierarchies that are ripe for abuse. “Renew wants to make sure advocacy in particular is simplified and accessible. We want more direct contact between the board and students. Getting on top of real issues quickly and relying less on intermediates,” he said in an AMA response.
“One of the big problems with the current governance structure is that board members and officers have a legal fiduciary duty to put WUSA’s interests first. That’s great, in theory, but it also means that WUSA’s interests as an organization come before their duty to students,” said Sayed, director candidate for Renew and current UW undergraduate senator, in an AMA response. In their platform website, Renew highlights WUSA’s inability to advocate against the recent WaterlooWorks renege policy changes, due to there being “no official stances on the books,” as an example of how WUSA’s excessive bureaucracy can get in the way of timely and effective advocacy work.
“We need to loosen that obligation to allow directors to actually talk to students and serve them properly,” Sayed concluded.
With files from Alicia Wang.