University of Toronto Students' Union layoffs violate contract, union says

University of Toronto student union building. Photo: Skewe Too/flickr

The union representing workers at the University of Toronto Students' Union (UTSU) says recent layoffs violate the collective bargaining agreement and put students' services at risk.

Vita Carlino, clubs and services' groups coordinator, and Maria Galvez, health and dental plan coordinator, worked their final shifts in early July. Carlino has had the position since 2008; Galvez since 2015. The UTSU voted to eliminate the positions in April, along with the financial coordinator position. The financial coordinator position has been vacant since August.

The reasons were purely financial, UTSU President Mathias Memmel said in a May 30 press release, explaining the union's current level of spending could send it to bankruptcy.

CUPE 1281, the union representing the workers, has filed grievances against the students' union, saying these layoffs violate the collective agreement.

The collective agreement lists these three roles as permanent, unionized positions. The contract lists seven such positions. The contract between CUPE and the students' union says both are committed to providing full-time jobs, as long as it is feasible and both parties agree to it.

The agreement also says there will be no layoffs "without a corresponding reduction in work required."

Students will still need these services, even without dedicated staff to provide them, said Orion Keresztesi, CUPE 1281 president. There are more than 350 clubs and service groups at the university. Among other things, the coordinator ensures they receive funding and training. The health and dental plan coordinator helps students make insurance claims, or opt out of the plan.

"They're eliminating the coordinator but they're not eliminating the health and dental plan. They're not eliminating clubs and service groups," he said. "And they're certainly not eliminating [their] finances."

The students' union may need to contract out the services, Keresztesi said, increasing the amount of precarious employment. Clubs are already complaining about delays in receiving needed paperwork from the union, and this will only increase that, he said. These layoffs will also make the process harder for students to opt out of the health and dental plan, meaning they'll be "paying extra for coverage they don't need."

These layoffs will reduce the interaction between students and their union. This puts UTSU "on a track where it is less and less relevant to students," said Keresztesi.

In an email to rabble.ca, UTSU president Memmel said there wasn't enough work to justify keeping these positions. There are no plans to bring these positions back. If the students' union's financial situation changes, it may consider re-instating these roles, he said.

Memmel called the clubs and services coordinator position "entirely redundant" because other people have always done some of the tasks assigned to this role.

Many believe these positions provide essential services. More than 500 people, including university alumni, have signed an online petition urging UTSU to restore the positions immediately. The petition launched three months ago. Online, one former UTSU executive called the positions the "glue" that keeps student services running. A current student said it's hard to be engaged in student life when the students' union keeps cutting services. Fred Hahn, CUPE Ontario president, has also written UTSU to express concerns about the layoffs.

Keresztesi said the union will continue to inform students throughout the summer and into the fall about the cuts and how it will impact them.

Meagan Gillmore is rabble.ca's labour reporter.

Photo: Skewe Too/flickr

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