The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) has distanced itself from the neighbouring Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) following a restructuring of the RSU’s staff on December 1.
The controversial move involved laying off long-term executive director of communications and outreach (EDCO) Gilary Massa and her replacement, Dina Skvirsky, while she was on parental leave, in order to create a new position for a general manager.
The UTSU released a statement on January 14 in which they condemned the RSU’s treatment of Massa and Skvirsky, as well as their decision to hire Natasha Campagna to fill the general manager’s role.
“It is important for students’ unions to demonstrate a commitment to open and equitable hiring as part of our commitment to fighting oppression and promoting equity. It is the UTSU’s position that the RSU has acted in violation of the core values of equitability and hiring in restructuring their organization,” read a portion of the statement.
Andrea Bartlett, RSU president, explained that the “organization faced serious operational challenges,” which prompted the restructuring. Bartlett pointed to issues such as inadequate human resources training, lack of a formal system to track overtime, and an absence of an objective person to negotiate collective bargaining with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 1281, the union representing RSU staff.
“These issues costs [sic] the RSU thousands of dollars of student money each year,” she remarked.
According to Bartlett, an independent third-party conducted a staffing review, the results of which recommended changes such as hiring a non-unionized general manager and eliminating the position of EDCO.
“Reviewers found the position to be redundant as many of its functions were being done by other employees and work was simply being passed through the EDCO,” she stated.
The UTSU criticized these actions for perpetuating structural oppression, referring to the firing of Massa, who is “black, visibly Muslim and a new parent.”
“In a labour market demarcated by race and gender, the firing of these two women effects their further marginalization, especially in the absence of equitable and open hiring practices,” read the statement.
The statement further condemns the RSU’s hiring of “a political ally and close friend to fill their new general manager position.” While the statement acknowledged the temptation to hire people with whom organizations have existing relationships, the UTSU said that it is more often in the interests of students to hire people who can bring different experiences and perspectives to the table.
Bartlett said that the restructuring happened without regard to specifics and that it was about the position, not the employees who held them. “Fired/Terminated and Laid Off have two completely different meanings,” she argued. “It is also extremely important to understand that these two items are separate from one another; the elimination of a role, and the hiring of a non-unionized general manager. Unfortunately, the statement of the UTSU Executive demonstrates a lack of understanding of this fact.”
“I don’t think there’s a misunderstanding [on] the UTSU’s part,” said Ben Coleman, UTSU president. “The point we’re trying to make is that when you view things as positions and not as humans… and you don’t think about who those humans are and what their experiences might be and you don’t view it in the context of your hiring practices and whether those are equitable the end result of all of those actions, if you don’t think about them critically altogether is that you will start building your organization in an institutionally racist way.”
When asked about future collaborations with the RSU, Coleman responded that the UTSU would not want to collaborate on projects that are a “branding exercise” or that serve to elevate the executives.
“[Our] goal in this is to call them in and hopefully they can understand what our position is and maybe think about the ways they can change how [they’re] managing the organization, and manage it in a more equitable way.”