Explaining the CSA Salary Structure

March 15th, 2015

One day in the fall of 2013, your correspondent was seated by the fireside of a sprawling luxury home in Cochrane, Alberta.  It was a posh place, swanky furnishings, and the view of the Rockies through the expanse of windows was amazing.  I was the guest of a semi-retired executive and we were talking about CSA’s little war against my company.  At the time of this meeting, it had been a year since CSA launched their lawsuit against PS Knight Co Ltd. 

This executives’ opinion was clear and compelling; the CSA’s lawsuit had no hope of success and the CSA was vulnerable on multiple fronts, if they were smart they’d have settled already, if they were even passably intelligent they’d settle before Christmas. 

Yet here we are, nearly three years into the fight and over a year since that meeting in Cochrane.  From the outside it seems inexplicable.  With every month that passes the CSA’s liabilities pile up, their expenses increase, their chances of success diminish, and the coercive disentanglement of their little empire becomes more probable.

But its not inexplicable.  In a series of discussions with CSA staff, both current and former employees, we’re gradually getting a clearer picture of the culture of the place and why it’s so poorly managed.  Along the way, we’ve received internal payroll information and personnel files.  The CSA’s conduct isn’t inexplicable, and we’ll do our best to explain it, but some of the following information will be generalized, not only to protect our sources but also for reasons of privacy of the personnel affected.  Here’s the explanation.

“These guys [the board members] are all directors for their own companies,” said one insider.  “What they’re really using [CSA] for is to test new ideas, if they work at CSA then they take them back to their own company.”  So CSA is like a “guinea pig program” for the larger member companies.  All sorts of wacky ideas are tried out within CSA, its a place where risks are taken that would never be tolerated in a real company. 

Lets explore an example.  The CSA “went through a big exercise about [X years ago] looking at salary structure, [making remuneration] based on what decisions you made.”  In other words, the more signing authority you have, the more money you make.  It makes sense on paper.  In practice however, “what it came down to is [that] we don’t make any decisions, everything is signed for above us, so leaders get all the money.”  Follow that?  The board tried a new idea, tying salary to signing authority.  Within a few months, the leaders corralled all signing authority to themselves, ensuring that their own money was maxed out. 

This is why CSA leaders’ salaries are so much higher than industry average while CSA staff are paid ~10% lower than industry average.  The CSA has been transferring dollars from the lower ranks to the upper ranks.  Incidentally, it’s also why the CSA has become such a bumbling bureaucracy; increasing the paperwork increases the signings required, which increases the remuneration of the manager who multiplies the paperwork.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Gerrymandering of salaries has been going on with board acquiescence for years now, and its resulted in some really screwed up remunerations.

Leaders salaries for instance, while already bumped up from the signing authority rule, are further subject to political allocations.  That is, if you’re friends with the right person your salary will shortly reflect that friendship.  “Management salaries aren’t set,” said one informant, “they’re awfully arbitrary, [it] depends on who’s deciding.”  Said a former CSA leader, “I have buddies at Toronto who’ve been there for [X years] and they’re at the max range but they [were] making less than me.” 

All this tampering with remuneration means that, for some CSA management, it’s too costly to leave the Agency.  The “only people left are two classes;  One is ‘pension jail,’ they’re within five to six years of their pension [and] if they leave now they’ll have [a] severe reduction, and;  Two [are the] unemployable or brand new people.”  The problem is “that good people have now left, only those with jail time [are] remaining, legacy knowledge has largely left the building.”  A current insider summed it up as “total mismanagement.”

So, the board experimented at CSA, resulting in leadership corralling cash for themselves, but CSA’s problems with remuneration aren’t confined to senior management.

Total remuneration rates for non-management staff suggest a lot of political interference.  For instance, taking two employees in the same department and in the same role, one earns $36,713 less than their coworker, even though the poorer of the two has fourteen more years of experience.  That’s a lot of difference!  Another employee makes $21,850 less than their coworker, even though the poorer of the two has thirteen years more experience.  Going by date of hire, one often finds that the most experienced staff are paid substantially less than recent hires in the same department and in the same role.

It’s the same with qualifications.  For example, an employee with a Bachelor of Sciences degree makes $15,531 less than another person in the same role, in the same department, who has no degree at all.  In another department, there are seven staff with equivalent qualifications and degrees.  Their manager however, has no degree of any sort and has none of the required qualifications.  The seven qualified staff earn an average of $6,531 less than their totally unqualified manager.

Annual raises are also the most generous to the highest paid employees.  And not just in real dollar terms.  The percent of raise is highest among the highest paid employees.  By way of example, in one year an employee received a raise of more than double the percent of a lower paid employee in the same department, in the same role.  Curiously, the employee with the highest raise was the lowest qualified employee in that department, the lowest raise recipient was one of three staff with the highest qualifications.

Throughout the Agency, one employee is treated generously, another poorly, and the valuation difference between them is pure politics.  In some cases the deciding factor is throughput.  Moamar Mustafa got fabulous bonuses from CSA for increasing the pace of testing, mainly it seems by skipping the testing itself.  Julie Weis authored engineering reports without any qualifications to do so, while in the role of a secretary.  And for her risk and flexibility she was promoted into a higher salary band.  Then there’s the staffer who we can now verify has no qualifications whatsoever, yet is the second highest paid staffer in their department and received the largest raise in the department.  What was his work?  Well, he “fakes product testing, ignores certification requirements, sells [blank certifications] and […] sees only money, competency is irrelevant.”  Getting the picture?

We spoke with one recent CSA manager, a longtime employee, and he seemed almost shellshocked when we met.  “It really does amaze me that they stay in business, […] they’re there in spite of themselves.”  Yes, in a way, but really they’re still there because Industry Canada won’t rein them in. 

In all of this, the employees of CSA have a lot of incentive to push for change.  They’re facing personal legal liabilities for aiding and abetting CSA conduct and they’re paid a pittance for their risk.  It’s this CSA context, the underpaid reporting to the overpaid, the capable to the incapable, the clean to the dirty, that makes for a steady stream of information flowing to RestoreCSA.  If you want to wash away the dirt, then let the river flow.