By Carly Yoshida-Butryn
When Cory Wright finished his term as president of the Ryerson Students’ Union (then RyeSAC) in 2001, the affable social work student spurned his field to become a sales representative for Gallivan and Associates, the RSU’s insurance broker.
He found himself in the company of several other former student executives whose unions had signed up with the company.
And while Gallivan has been good to the executives who have signed their students’ unions up with them — offering them free trips and gifts — they’ve left others with a bad taste in their mouths.
In its eight-year history with Ryerson, the company has sued the RSU, shackled it to a five-year contract, and signed them up when the board of directors allegedly didn’t have the full price of the deal.
Gallivan takes a $17 commission off the $295 each student pays for the RSU’s health and dental plan, which works out to approximately $170,000 to the broker every year.
Next year, for the first time since 2004, the RSU has a chance to renegotiate its contract with the company, and executives are saying they won’t get fooled again.
“The RSU will not sign a multi-year agreement again,” said Toby Whitfield, the RSU’s VP Finance and Service-select, who ran on a platform of improving the union’s health and dental plan. “In the past, [multi-year plans were] what Gallivan wanted. By signing a one-year contract each year, we will be able to ensure we get the most competitively priced plan.”
Whitfield said that the RSU would start looking at brokers next spring and would put the contract up for bid. The RSU signed its first contract with Gallivan when Wright was president in 2000. Two years later, the union found a better deal elsewhere and broke the contract. In retaliation, Gallivan sued the RSU and the union was forced to pay $35,000.
This didn’t stop the RSU from signing up with them again in 2004. Chris Drew, outgoing VP Finance and Services, was on the board at the time and says the prices they were quoted didn’t include the full price with commissions and premiums taken into account.
“It ended up costing more,” he said. “We didn’t end up discovering that until after the decision had been rendered.” Once the full cost became clear, Gallivan turned out to be more expensive than the other companies that had given the RSU quotes.
The company stirred further controversy for taking then-RSU president Dave MacLean and then-VP Finance and Services Derek Isber on a company- sponsored retreat to Calgary that included time for karaoke and a rodeo. Around the same time, the company landed in hot water for giving three members of the McMaster Students’ Union tickets to the World Cup of Hockey while the union was deciding whether to sign with them.
MacLean defended his trip to Calgary at the time and still maintains that Gallivan was in fact the best deal for students.
“The choice was a clear-cut choice,” MacLean said. “It ended up saving us a lot of money. It was the best price for students.
“I don’t understand how the price would be different than the price we were quoted with,” he said.
Since then, the RSU has created a new policy banning it from signing multi-year agreements.
For his part, Whitfield isn’t necessarily opposed to signing a new contract with Gallivan if they can get a good, one-year deal.
And Drew hopes that next year’s board will be able to find students a better offer.
“We want to be able to shop around and get a better offer instead of being locked in for five years at uncompetitive rates,” Drew said. “Students don’t want to be in the position we’re in now.”
Gallivan could not be reached for comment.