By Ramisha Farooq and Sierra Bein
Ryerson’s Continuing Education Students’ Association (CESAR) is finally getting back on its feet after a year of lawsuits, lockouts and low funds.
Last year, CESAR’s executive board resigned following an illegal lockout of two full-time CESAR employees. After first appointing an interim executive last winter, CESAR elected a new leadership team, tasked with patching up all the problems from last year.
CESAR’s financial woes were still in the spotlight at the end of last semester, according to the interim executive report from April 2. But the union has addressed these problems head-on and is starting fresh.
CESAR’s prior president failed to deposit thousands of dollars into a union chequing account, the report said, which had left the association cash-strapped.
Former president Shinae Kim was given the first instalment of health and dental fees paid to the union by the university.
Kim did not deposit the cheque, the report said, and as a result the union was forced to transfer $241,000 from its chequing account into the health and dental account.
CESAR then owed outstanding fees to the Canadian Federation of Students.
There has been no response from Kim despite multiple attempts at contacting her by CESAR’s legal team, according to Denise Hammond, CESAR’s current president.
“[We] have contacted Shinae a number of times requesting everything from passwords, property, documents, you name it, to be returned to the students’ union office. And she has never returned a single correspondence,” she said.
“It’s been like recreating an entirely new students union,” Hammond said.
She said they’ve been putting the union back together “by resolving the labour dispute, hiring staff and ensuring services were above, or at least meeting the standards student members deserve.” A large portion of the money in the account — $55,106 – was used for legal fees in negotiating an end to the labour dispute last year.
The conflict between the union and its staff, who are unionized with the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 1281, lasted 16 weeks.
The lockout, initiated Sept. 30, was legally resolved Jan. 31 when a new collective bargaining agreement was put into place.
In April, the university also held fall and winter fees and would not process them due to the mass resignation of CESAR staff and the union’s unstable structure.
“[The school] indicated and expressed that if the student union wasn’t operating to their liking that they wouldn’t stop withholding our fees, which obviously is a great concern and we view that as an encroachment on student union autonomy,” Hammond said.
Vice-Provost Students Heather Lane Vetere said, upon speaking with Ryerson’s legal counsel, that once CESAR held a general election and proved that it services the student body, fees would be released to them in compliance with the Ontario Corporations Act, according to Hammond.
Now that CESAR has regrouped, Ryerson has released all fees to the executives, but are continuing to monitor the situation and building of the union.
The executive report also stated that there was an overpayment of
$13,000 in bursary money to various accounts within the CESAR administration along with “missing data” in the form of payroll entries, credit card information and photocopying expenses, among others.
Hammond said record keeping stopped, which created a backlog of work during last year’s lockout.
“Whether they were additional individuals or applicants we have no idea because when the last executive left they left no transition documents, no passwords,” Hammond said.
“We essentially had to negotiate to get access to our website. Like everything was running from ground zero. It’s been a bit of a rebuilding, but I think our execs are doing their best to service students.”
With files from Jake Scott