By Ramisha Farooq
Continuing Education Students’ Association at Ryerson (CESAR) President Shinae Kim has resigned one day after the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) was informed of an alleged illegal lockout.
A complaint was filed by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the workers union representing the two locked out employees, Feb. 12.
The complaint alleged that CESAR was engaging in an “unlawful” lockout of its two CUPE 1281 members.
The lockout, initiated Sept. 30, was legally resolved Jan. 31 when a new collective bargaining agreement was put into place. However, when CUPE 1281 asked CESAR executives how and when they would return to work, they received no response. They also wrote letters and emails to Kim over the course of two weeks, again with no response. The employees also attempted to return to the CESAR office, only to find the office locked.
Upon hearing of CUPE 1281’s application to the OLRB, CESAR’s lawyer, William Hayter, announced Kim’s resignation from the CESAR executive board in a press release sent out Feb. 19.
According to an anonymous CUPE representative, the union was unofficially informed of Kim’s resignation Feb. 13.
Upon reviewing the application the OLRB sided with CUPE 1281’s position.
The OLRB has said that CESAR should not only provide instructions for employees on how to return to work but also provide back-pay to employees for the illegal lockout period.
CUPE 1281 President Saira Chhibber is very pleased with the OLRB verdict.
“Our members have been keen to get back to work, in order to offer valuable services to students and the OLRB decision is clearly a step in that direction,” Chhibber said.
“We hope students will have a more functional and accountable CESAR executive in the near future, as they have in the past.”
However, it is still unclear what the back to work protocol is for the locked out employees as Chhibber was never in contact with Kim during the course of the lockout. CUPE 1281 has yet to receive any instructions from other CESAR staff.
CESAR locked out its two fulltime workers on Sept. 30 after weeks of unsuccessful discussion between CESAR executives and their staff on the topic of wage increases to a “cost-of-living standard.”
One of the two full-time workers had allegedly been on a wage freeze since 2010, but preferred not to be quoted.
During the initial negotiation period between the two parties, the two remaining full-time unionized office staff was presented with a choice: either accept a “0 per cent Agreement” or face the potential lockout.
Threatened with the idea of an Unfair Labour Practices hearing with OLRB, CESAR returned to the bargaining table Jan. 28 after a long hiatus with a new bargaining agreement put in place Jan. 31.
Chhibber did not comment specifically regarding Kim’s resignation but, hopes CESAR can now move past the lockout.
“It’s always the hope that employers act with accountability and in good faith so I hope that we see that with CESAR moving forwards,” said Chhibber.
Ryerson Students’ Union President Melissa Palermo was not able to make an official comment on Kim’s resignation but said that it’s important that students be adequately represented.
“I hope students are able to receive the representation they deserve,” Palermo said.
Michael Forbes, manager for media relations at Ryerson, says the university is aware of the issue but CESAR is a corporation that is separate from the university and independent with its own governance structure and bylaws.
“This is a unique and complicated issue and the university is monitoring the situation with the best interests of our students in mind,” said Forbes.
A source working for CESAR, who wished to remain anonymous, said that Ryerson President Sheldon Levy has been notified.
CESAR’s office remained closed on Tuesday though it is not yet clear why. However, over the past few days volunteers and a single front-desk worker were the only ones present in the office.
In spite of Kim’s resignation, CESAR continues to provide members with their services.
CUPE 1281 filed the original complaint to the labour board last October.
The application was pending until both sides worked out an agreement at the board’s office.
Both Kim and Hayter did not comment.