Last week, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), went ahead with a controversial 40 per cent cut to their staff positions, telling two young women, Vita Carlino, Clubs and Service Groups’ Coordinator, and Maria Galvez, Health and Dental Plan Coordinator, to pack up their things and go home.
Mathias Memmel, the new president of the UTSU, is terminating Vita and Maria and refusing to fill the UTSU’s Financial Coordinator position which is currently vacant. Memmel’s decision was met with surprise and anger from University of Toronto (U of T) students who have expressed concerns about staff cuts impacting services. Students have joined with Vita and Maria’s union in the Save our Services, Support our Staff campaign to call on the UTSU to reverse the cuts.
“There are thousands of students who rely on Vita and Maria’s work every day,” said Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, a concerned student and member of the UTSU board of directors. “We’re left wondering, what about us? How will our health and dental plan and our clubs and service group programs continue effectively without staff to do the work?”
“It is irresponsible that the UTSU has been operating for over a year without a Financial Coordinator,” said Jose Wilson, a member of the UTSU Board who represents students at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus. “We understand Mathias is being advised by a consulting firm, Kokobi, without an established reputation whose credibility has been questioned in the past. Mathias has not made the case these layoffs are necessary.”
Local 1281 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the UTSU staff, has filed grievances against the UTSU alleging their actions are in bad faith and violate the collective agreement. The grievances could result in the reinstatement of all three positions, as well as back‑pay and any damages an arbitrator deems appropriate.
“We were interested in working with the UTSU to find solutions to any issues,” said Orion Keresztesi, president of CUPE 1281. “But the employer cut that conversation short after a single meeting. Vita and Maria have worked at the UTSU for a combined 14 years providing valuable services to U of T students. They are experienced professionals who deserve respect.”
Michelle Mabira, a U of T Rotman Commerce student, said, “The UTSU should be mobilizing our resources for collective action on student issues. Most students’ unions know that staff and quality services are crucial to doing that. But Mathias doesn’t get it. His vision is to charge us all the same membership fee, but deliver us less. Students that voted for him expect better.”
CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn has offered his strongest support to the UTSU staff, “Our 260,000 members are here to support Vita and Maria. When job security and respect at work is attacked anywhere, it effects workers everywhere.”
The Save our Services, Support our Staff campaign has started a petition and is collecting signatures and endorsements throughout the summer at https://www.change.org/p/utsu-don-t-fire-vita-maria.