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UTSU Annual Ratification Meeting disrupted by protests

Protesters oppose union's plan to end services provided by two staff members
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On April 19, protesters disrupted the UTSU’s Annual Ratification Meeting (ARM) in support of Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez — two full time UTSU staff members who administer services that the UTSU intends to eliminate in the upcoming year.

Under the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA) and the UTSU bylaws, the union is required to hold a general meeting to ratify the results of the results of the elections.

An information picket outside of the meeting was organized by members and supporters of CUPE 1281, which represents staff workers at the UTSU; the demonstrators held posters and chanted: “The students, united, will never be defeated!” and “solidarity!” during their demonstration.

Representatives from CUPE 1281 allege that the UTSU may be violating the collective bargaining agreement between the two entities should it choose to move forward with the reduction of staff. Article 15, subsection 00 of the agreement states that, “There shalt be no reduction in the workforce without a corresponding reduction in work required.” In an interview on CIUT 89.5 FM’s We Are U of T, CUPE 1281 President Orion Keresztesi said that “the collective agreement clearly lays out that any kind of layoff needs to be a last resort.”

Mathias Memmel, the UTSU’s Vice-President Internal and Services and incoming President, said in an email statement to The Varsity that “the UTSU won’t be able to provide the same level of service–we can’t afford to,” in reference to services provided by the Health and Dental Coordinator, Clubs and Services Coordinator, and now-vacant Financial Coordinator roles.

He confirmed that coverage provided to students under the Health and Dental plan would not change and that clubs would still receive the same amount of funding.

“[While] having multiple people provide the same service is convenient and better for students, but we can’t afford to do it anymore,” he said.

The decision to cease to provide these services was approved at the union’s Service’s Committee on March 27 and the minutes of the committee were approved at the March 31 board meeting, which was also met with protests.

Memmel claimed that the UTSU would reach a deficit of $1.5 million by 2022, and $2.5 million by 2027 if the Clubs and Service Groups, Health and Dental, and Financial Coordinator positions are not eliminated.

Full-time staff salaries account for 20 percent of the UTSU’s total operating budget: $483,000 out of $2,391,063. The Financial Coordinator position has been vacant since August 2016, and CUPE 1281 has asked the UTSU to fill it.

After the meeting was called to order, Aidan Fishman, a member of the Elections and Referenda Committee, applauded the UTSU for its transparency and fairness during the recent elections.

Andrew Thomas, a student who is a member of the UTSU, subsequently criticized the union for its cuts to full time staff that he says he and other students rely on.

Speaking to The Varsity, Thomas said, “The staff positions that they are cutting affects me directly, affects plenty of my friends directly who access health services, and they don’t seem to care about our voice in the matter.”

He continued, saying that he “found that exceptionally disturbing given the fact that they’re supposed to represent all the students, and they’re not even allowing any dissent. It seems to me that they have already come here with minds already made up.”

Yasmine El Sanyoura, incoming UTSU Director for Architecture and Visual Studies, was introducing herself when the protesters walked into the meeting chanting and drumming at around 6:20 pm. The protesters made their way to the front, blocking the panel, while continuing their chants of “Support our staff,” and “Save our services.”

In light of the protests, Ryan Gomes, outgoing Vice-President Professional Faculties and chair of the meeting, declared a recess just before 6:30 p.m., in accordance with U of T’s Policy on the Disruption of Meetings which states that if protesters “refuse to leave and it is not possible to remove them without risking violent resistance, the meeting should be recessed or adjourned.”

At 8:17 pm the UTSU posted on the ARM Facebook event, saying that the meeting would resume at 8:20 pm.

Gomes confirmed that the recess was in accordance with the CNCA as there were 43 members present while 35 constitutes quorum, and that the meeting had well over the 50 in-person votes required due to members proxying their votes to attendees of the meeting.

“I’d also note that even if there was the concern regarding it, section 164.3 of the CNCA states that if you start a meeting with quorum, you have quorum for the rest of the meeting, but just covering all our bases, we did have the required quorum at the time of the vote,” continued Gomes.

Amanda Harvey-Sánchez, incoming UTSU Social Sciences Director, was one of the student organizers of the protest. She said that “thousands of students” use the services provided by the Carlino and Galvez “in order to have their clubs function smoothly and get the support they need and also to get the health and dental coverage that they need.”

“So if these two positions are eliminated, students are going to notice the difference in their services, the quality will go down and that’s not fair to all the students who depend on it. So, first and foremost, we’re here to show that students depend on these services, and we’re not ok with them just removing them without any input from students,” Harvey-Sánchez explained.

Harvey-Sánchez denies that the protesters were trying to force the meeting to go to recess, saying that stopping the meeting “wasn’t that important.”

“We were here really just to make a statement and to show that students are aware of what’s happening, that we care about what’s happening, that we’re not okay with it,” she said.

The Varsity attempted to speak to Carlino, who declined to comment and directed the paper to Executive Director Tka Pinnock. The Varsity has also reached out to Keresztesi and Galvez who were not immediately available for comment.

This story is developing, more to follow. 

With files from Tom Yun

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to clarify that CUPE 1281 would only accuse the UTSU of violating the collective agreement if the UTSU moves forward with the proposed staff reductions, which it has yet to implement. In addition, a previous version of the article stated that the protests were organized by CUPE 1281 and supporters. In fact, CUPE 1281 only took part in organizing a picket outside of the meeting as was not involved in the protests inside of the meeting.