Protests broke out at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting on March 31, following a vote to approve the minutes of the Services Committee, which resolved to reduce the services provided by the Health and Dental Coordinator and the Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator.
The motion that was passed at the Services Committee states that the UTSU would “cease to offer the services of a designated member of the full-time staff to recognized clubs and service groups” and “cease to offer the services of a designated member of the full-time staff to students seeking assistance with the Health and Dental Plan.”
When asked to clarify what the wording of the motion meant, Mathias Memmel, UTSU Vice-President Internal and Services and UTSU President-elect, said that the “UTSU would no longer have specific members of staff for those services, although the services would still exist in a reduced form.
“There’s more than one way to implement that change, and the President, the Executive Director, and I will be talking to CUPE 1281 about how to move forward,” said Memmel.
The Health and Dental Coordinator and the Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator are represented by CUPE 1281, like most full-time staff positions within the UTSU. If the motion to approve the minutes had failed, the decision would have been sent back to the Service Committee.
As the vote to approve the minutes was being called, members from CUPE 1281 and several students, including Amanda Harvey-Sánchez, an incoming board member, and Andre Fast, who ran for UTSU President with the We the Students slate, began chanting and shouting down the vote.
The motion passed amidst shouts of “Shame!” and “Support our staff!” Immediately after, a motion to adjourn was brought forward and also passed.
Just before the minutes of the Services Committee were to be debated, Memmel brought forward a motion to call for orders of the day, which would have effectively made the items non-debatable since the allotted time for debate for the items would have passed.
He cited time pressures, as the UTSU booked the room only until 9:00 pm.
Various people raised issues with the motion, criticizing the proposed lack of debate. Eventually, Memmel brought forward a motion to extend debate on the minutes of the Services Committee to 10 minutes.
Susan Froom, Vice-President Internal of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students (APUS), spoke first, saying that UTSU members had been coming to the APUS office asking about the change in health insurance providers that was made last year.
Froom said that they refer these students to the UTSU Health and Dental Coordinator and warns that cutting this service would result in “a lot of dissatisfied students and [the UTSU] may be creating tension this year between APUS and UTSU.”
Orion Keresztesi, President of CUPE 1281, urged the board to reconsider cutting the positions.
“I want us all to remember that we’re talking about folks’ livelihoods here,” Keresztesi said at the meeting. He also said that “the people moving this motion are trying to be clever,” adding that “[the UTSU is] trying to frame this as a layoff, when they know very well it is not a layoff… it’s an attempt at a backdoor firing.”
Responding to questions from The Varsity, Keresztesi explained that layoffs are defined according to the Collective Agreement between the UTSU and CUPE 1281 and the Employment Standards Act. “The collective agreement also defines the mutually agreed upon process for initiating layoffs,” he said.
“A layoff requires the intent to rehire, which is lacking in this case. Further, the employer would have to prove that maintaining the position would cause the organization considerable hardship, and that they have no other option. Given that the UTSU is not eliminating their health and dental plan and not eliminating student groups, the work associated with those services still needs to get done,” Keresztesi said.
A motion was also called to extend time for Nour Alideeb, President of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, to speak on the Services Committee minutes, though the motion failed.
“Today’s meeting, I think, could have gone in a different way had people not had previously made up their minds, who were willing to listen to people’s perspectives,” said Alideeb. “It’s hard when it comes to things like this because we’re not only talking about the service itself but we’re also talking about people’s lives.”
“If the UTSU executive do attempt to eliminate [Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator] and [the Health and Dental Services Coordinator] they will be violating the collective agreement that provides UTSU workers job security and protects them from arbitrary firing,” Keresztesi said. He added that the union “will challenge their actions through our mutually agreed upon grievance procedure and other appropriate legal steps, but in the meantime students will be suffering.”
Protests continued after the meeting was adjourned as the UTSU directors left. Memmel confirmed to The Varsity that Vita Carlino and Maria Pilar Galvez — who are the Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator and the Health and Dental Services Coordinator, respectively — are still full-time employees of the UTSU and will still be receiving full salaries.
The Varsity has reached out to Carlino and Galvez for comment.