By Alexandra Holyk
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has officially laid off five of its former full-time staff members after temporarily laying them off due to reduced workloads during the pandemic, according to an email obtained by The Eyeopener.
This comes after a motion to extend the temporary layoff recall period put forward at the Sept. 16 RSU’s Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting was tabled until January 2021. It is not clear if the board was part of the decision-making process to determine whether the five people would be rehired.
In the months of May and June, the RSU temporarily laid off its events coordinator, CopyRITE printing service manager, Good Food Centre coordinator, campus groups coordinator and the graphic designer coordinator. Campus groups coordinator Dawn Murray and graphic designer coordinator Vanessa Lee were reinstated part-time in July with reduced hours.
In June, RSU president Ali Yousaf told The Eye in an email that the RSU’s staff was reduced due to concerns about low enrolment numbers and lack of work. However, Ryerson’s Board of Governors confirmed during a June meeting that student enrolment remained relatively the same for the 2020-21 year.
In an email obtained by The Eye, Yousaf explained that the collective agreement between the RSU and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1281 includes a four-month period during which those who are temporarily laid off still have access to their benefits, including health and dental insurance. Since the four-month period is up for the individuals, they are no longer employed by the RSU and have lost their benefits.
“The RSU is run by students—not the employees’ union, which has its own interests and agenda: including financing itself from the dues it receives when full-time employees are paid,” the email reads.
“The RSU cannot use students’ fees to pay for services that are not being utilized. The RSU exists to provide services to students using their fees responsibly. It does not exist solely to pay salaries,” Yousaf continued in the email.
The email also states that the five employees were notified of their termination.
In July, CUPE 1281 released an open letter addressed to the RSU calling on them to restore student services and reinstate its employees.
“CUPE 1281 sees these layoffs as very problematic as we recently supported the RSU in their legal battle against Ryerson University, which the RSU won,” the letter read. “Now seeing the RSU cut full-time unionized positions is beyond frustrating.”
CUPE 1281 also started a petition in support of the demands.
In October, the Ryerson Campus Coalition penned an open letter to the RSU, requesting that it reopen the Good Food Centre for the 2020-21 academic year. The coalition is comprised of the RSU, the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), CUPE Local 3904, CUPE Local 1281 and the Ryerson Faculty Association.
“Some of our organizations have made our positions known regarding the labour dispute, but the purpose of this letter is to focus specifically on the necessity of the Good Food Centre in building a campus that values food security, poverty reduction and anti-stigma for students and workers accessing food banks on post-secondary campuses,” the letter read.
When the letter was addressed at the Oct. 22 BoD meeting, Yousaf said “We do not represent CESAR. We do not represent CUPE. We represent the Ryerson students.”
Yousaf previously told The Eye that “each of the five positions will be dealt with separately on a case-by-case basis.”
“The management team will be looking at the demand for work that each position brings in and incorporate that into the decision-making process,” Yousaf added.
The RSU did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. This article will be updated with the RSU’s response.