CUPE Ontario posts open letter template in support of laid-off UTSU staff

CUPE 1281 still trying to get positions restored

CUPE Ontario posts open letter template in support of laid-off UTSU staff

 

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario has posted an open letter template on their website calling on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) to reverse its decision to eliminate two full-time staff positions. The letter, released October 20, is addressed to UTSU President Mathias Memmel and UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh and is intended for members of the U of T community to send to the UTSU.

The UTSU’s decision to lay off Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez last spring was met with protests and criticism. Critics have argued that the decision was unfair and would negatively impact student services. The UTSU also eliminated the position of Financial Coordinator, which has been unoccupied since August 2016.

“The labour movement will unite to hold the UTSU accountable for these unnecessary and unfair cuts,” reads the letter. “We strongly urge you to reconsider your decision, and call on you to do the right thing and bring back Vita and Maria.”

Orion Keresztesi, President of CUPE Local 1281, the union representing Carlino and Galvez, called the UTSU’s decision to cut the positions “illegal” and in defiance of the collective agreement CUPE 1281 has with the UTSU.

CUPE 1281 is still working to get the positions restored. Keresztesi said that CUPE 1281 will file grievances against the UTSU, which will be heard by a third-party arbitrator, if Carlino and Galvez are not given back their positions before the arbitration dates. CUPE 1281 and the UTSU are currently in the process of setting the first arbitration date. Keresztesi is “pretty confident that all the positions will be reinstated.”

“Unfortunately, that process is long, and it will be expensive for us and the UTSU,” said Keresztesi, who asked CUPE Ontario to release the open letter in support of Carlino and Galvez.

“I think [the open letter template] is getting the message out that the UTSU has clearly become anti-worker, and from what I’m hearing and seeing, I would even say a right-wing employer,” said Keresztesi. “So I think it’s very important that students and unions and other progressive organizations become aware of the direction that Mathias and Daman are taking the UTSU in.”

The UTSU has defended its decision, arguing that the staff cuts were made because of future financial concerns related, in part, to the development of the Student Commons. A UTSU statement released on May 30, 2017 addressing the elimination of the positions stated that the UTSU would have a “carried-forward deficit of $2 million by 2022” if the three positions were not eliminated, compared to a “carried-forward deficit of $250,000 in 2022” if the positions were eliminated.

The letter template also questions the reputability of Kokobi, the non-profit consulting firm hired by the UTSU to provide a report on the Student Commons project, and it states that “their conclusions are based on many deeply pessimistic assumptions.” The letter also says that “the UTSU’s financial documents indicate the UTSU is not in any immediate financial trouble.”

“We strongly believe, that one worst-case-scenario report cannot justify these drastic staff cuts that have such a negative impact on student services,” reads the letter.

Memmel said the letter’s claim that the UTSU “is not in any immediate financial trouble” is a “lie” and that bankruptcy was and is a “very real possibility.”

“Kokobi had nothing to do with the decision to reduce services,” said Memmel. “CUPE should stop indulging in childish conspiracy theories and start engaging in the grievance process.”

Adrian Kaats, Kokobi’s founder and Operations Director, told The Varsity that the firm “isn’t and has never been involved in UTSU’s HR decisions,” and that their work was limited to the Student Commons.

Memmel and Singh each reported receiving three copies of the letter, which is still available to send, but the changes are not being reconsidered.

“The UTSU exists to serve students; CUPE exists to serve its members,” said Memmel. “We’re not going to accept the subordination of students’ interests to the needs of full-time employees.”

UTSU lays off two full-time staff amid controversy

Over two dozen students protest decision outside union building

UTSU lays off two full-time staff amid controversy

On the afternoon of May 30, protestors rallied around the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) office in response to the union’s decision to lay off two full-time staff members.

The decision to lay off Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez was the culmination of what started as a contentious campaign issue for many members of the UTSU executive. Five of the seven executives, now a month into their tenure, ran on the Demand Better slate and vowed to cut staff in the coming year for a more secure financial future for the union.

The students gathered around the union to criticize its decision, arguing that eliminating the two staff members and their respective services was both unjust and a detriment to the total services offered to students.

Former Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino (left) and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez (centre) were laid off by the UTSU today. TOM YUN/THEVARSITY

Former Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino (second from left) and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez (third from left) were laid off by the UTSU today. TOM YUN/THE VARSITY

“I came here because I’ve been part of this protest since it began on March 31,” said Emmanuela Alimlim, a former Vice-President External candidate with the We the Students slate. “I’ve been with them because I believe that most students, especially those who do not have money to pay for $700 or $1000 [for Health and Dental services] — they depend on Maria and I came here to support that.”

Mathias Memmel, President of the UTSU, told The Varsity that “there will be no coverage changes or funding changes to the health and dental plan or reduction in clubs funding or resources made available to clubs and service groups.”

The UTSU subsequently released a statement on the elimination of the two positions and their respective services.

“On March 31, 2017, the Board of Directors of the University of Toronto Students’ Union approved the elimination of two services,” the statement reads. “While the UTSU will still be able to support clubs and service groups and assist students with the Health and Dental Plan, the service of a specific ‘point person’ for each will be eliminated.”

Many of the students engaged with the issue, of which there were a number present on May 30, knew this would be the outcome of the debate over staff and services. “This was [Memmel’s] decision, he didn’t try and talk with students or the CUPE 1281,” said Alimlim, referencing the union representing the UTSU’s full-time staff. “We saw it coming.”

Memmel disputed Alimlim’s comments, saying “we’ve done our part in terms of fulfilling our obligations in the collective agreement, with meeting with CUPE a number of times to provide the rationale that there’s a shortage of work for these positions.” According to Memmel, one of the meetings was specifically to discuss the shortage of work, while the others were for discussing the union’s financial situation more broadly. The shortage of work, according to the UTSU President, is “a result of service reductions, which are as a result of a dire financial position for the organization.”

Andre Fast, a UTSU presidential candidate in the 2017 UTSU elections and an active campus organizer, was also present at the rally.

“I think it’s a shame. I think it’s a big loss for students,” Fast told The Varsity. “A lot of the students here today that I had the opportunity to meet were sharing how much they rely on the Clubs Coordinator and the Health and Dental Plan Coordinator.”

Fast also raised concerns about the transparency of the union and the way it communicated with students on the reduction of services.

Moving forward, Fast says that a new campus group called ‘Save Our Services, Support Our Staff,’ which is entirely student-run will be advocating for the continuation of services that they say are important to students. The UTSU “is proposing to cut services that are important to students. We are calling on the UTSU to rethink their plan,” states the group’s Facebook page.

Fast said they have been working to collect petition signatures on campus. The group currently boasts almost 500 signatures.

“I know many of the members who were outside today. I’ve made at least five overtures to meet with them individually, and I will continue to do so,” Memmel said. “As well, I am happy to meet with any member who has a grievance on these issues and talk through it with them. Unfortunately, no one has taken me up on my offer to meet with them.”

Although the decision to cut the jobs previously held by Carlino and Galvez has already come to fruition, it remains unclear whether the debate surrounding their jobs and the services connected to them is over.

This is not the first time the UTSU has been met with protests for its decision to eliminate the two staff positions. Protestors disrupted board of directors meetings in March and April as well as during the Annual Ratification Meeting in April.

Carlino and Galvez declined The Varsity’s request for comment at the rally. The Varsity has reached out to CUPE 1281 President, Orion Keresztesi, for comment.

Motions to drop lawsuit, postpone services cuts, on agenda for final UTSU board meeting

Meeting to take place April 29

Motions to drop lawsuit, postpone services cuts, on agenda for final UTSU board meeting

The University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) final board of directors meeting of this school year, scheduled for April 29, will feature two highly contentious motions concerning the union’s lawsuit against former Executive Director Sandy Hudson and the proposed cuts to services provided by two UTSU staff members.

The motion to end the lawsuit against Hudson was submitted by Jackie Zhao, Vice-President Internal for the UTMSU and the UTMSU designate for the UTSU. Zhao’s motion, if approved, would have the UTSU offer to drop its claim in exchange for Hudson dropping her counterclaim. Zhao also ran for Vice-President Internal with the We the Students slate during the most recent UTSU election cycle.

The UTSU commenced legal proceedings against Hudson in September 2015, alleging that Hudson was improperly issued severance pay amounting to $247,726.40. In addition to that amount, the union is also seeking $200,000 in damages, claiming that Hudson deliberately destroyed confidential information. Hudson filed a countersuit against the union in December 2015, alleging hostilities from the incoming UTSU executives at that time.

In the motion, Zhao characterizes the lawsuit as one that “perpetuates and contributes to anti-Black racism within the UTSU, UofT, and the broader community.” Zhao also calls for an independent review and “critical analysis” to “involve communicating with Black students and student groups for the purpose of understanding the way the lawsuit has negatively impacted them.” Similar requests have previously been made by the Black Liberation Collective, a group that held a protest regarding the lawsuit at the UTSU office in October 2016.

UTMSU Director Felipe Nagata has also filed a motion to “postpone the cessation of services” provided by Clubs and Service Groups Coordinator Vita Carlino and Health and Dental Plan Coordinator Maria Galvez, who are two of the UTSU’s full-time staff. The UTSU’s Services Committee voted to end these services on March 27 and the union intends to eliminate these positions.

Vice-President Internal and incoming President Mathias Memmel has claimed that the union would reach a deficit of $1.5 million by 2022, and $2.5 million by 2027 if these positions are not eliminated. The preamble of Nagata’s motion states, “the incoming board members have not been brought up to date on finances of union and the role of these services,” and that the union “has not shared or consulted ANY divisional groups and stakeholders of these services.”

Opponents to these proposed cuts held protests against the union at the Annual Ratification Meeting and the March 31 board meeting.

The April 29 board meeting is scheduled to take place at 10:00 a.m. at Woodsworth College.

UTSU Annual Ratification Meeting disrupted by protests

Protesters oppose union's plan to end services provided by two staff members

UTSU Annual Ratification Meeting disrupted by protests

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.

Protests erupt after UTSU board meeting

CUPE 1281 members, supporters protest reduction in services provided by two staff positions

Protests erupt after UTSU board meeting

Protests broke out at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors meeting following a vote to approve the minutes of the Services Committee which had decided 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.”  

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.

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. Amidst shouts of “Shame!” and “Support our workers!” the motion was passed and immediately after, a motion to adjourn was brought forward and passed.

Just before the minutes of the Services Committee were to be debated, Mathias Memmel, VP Internal and Services and UTSU president-elect, brought forward a motion to call for orders of the day, which would have effectively made the items non-debatable and the allotted time for debate for the items have passed. He cited time pressures as the UTSU only booked the room until 9:00 p.m.

Various people raised issues with the motion, many making points of personal privileges and points of orders to argue against the proposed lack of debate. Eventually Memmel relented and brought forward a motion to extend debate on the minutes of the Services Committee to 10 minutes.

Susan Froom, who is the Vice-President Internal of the Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students, spoke first, saying that UTSU members had been coming to the APUS office asking about the the recent change in health insurance providers that was made last year. Froom says that they refer these students 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.”

A motion was also called to extend time to Nour Alideeb, President of the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), to speak on the Services Committee minutes, but 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.”

Protests continued after the meeting was adjourned as the UTSU directors left.

The Varsity is awaiting comment from Memmel, who declined to comment in-person and requested that The Varsity reach out via email. The paper has also reached out to UTSU President Jasmine Wong Denike.

This story is developing. More to follow.

—With files from Kaitlyn Simpson and Tom Yun

Clarification: An earlier version of the article stated that Memmel motioned to limit debate to zero hours. Although this is how Graydon described the motion, the article has been amended to clarify that the motion was for orders of the day.