By Alexandra Holyk
Former Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) campus groups coordinator Dawn Murray said she was terminated without cause from her part-time position and officially terminated from her full-time position on Nov. 6, according to her emailed testimony to The Eyeopener.
Murray was one of five full-time staff members that were temporarily laid off in May and June. Along with graphic designer coordinator Vanessa Lee, Murray was offered a part-time contract which she stated she signed “under duress” on July 6.
“This caused a significant impact to my income, and I had to make drastic changes to my lifestyle and [am] now applying for a rent reduction in order to survive,” stated Murray. When she became a part-time employee, her hours were reduced to 24 hours per week.
At the RSU’s Board of Directors’ (BoD) meeting on Sept. 16, a motion to extend the temporary layoff period was tabled until January 2021. However, the full-time staff members were terminated before the motion could be re-addressed.
Murray worked at the RSU for over 20 years across four positions. “I have been a loyal, dedicated employee with an excellent record that assisted in many extra duties as assigned over the years,” she said.
According to her testimony, Murray received eight weeks of part-time severance pay as per her part-time contract—adding that she received none as part of her full-time contract agreement.
“My union rights were abused and denied in many forms when [I was] terminated from my full-time position,” said Murray.
In an emailed statement to The Eye on Tuesday, RSU president Ali Yousaf stated that once Murray was temporarily laid off from her full-time position and became a part-time employee, she was no longer part of the bargaining unit represented by CUPE Local 1281. This means her part-time contract was separate from CUPE Local 1281.
After her four-month temporary layoff period was up, Yousaf said Murray’s full-time position was terminated according to the collective agreement between the RSU and CUPE Local 1281.
According to Article 18 of the collective agreement, “the employer will be required to make a decision whether to rehire an employee on layoff within four months of the effective date of the layoff. Four months following [the] layoff, the employee’s employment with Ryerson Students’ Union will cease, and no further benefits or payments will be due.”
As for the termination of her part-time role, Yousaf said Murray was provided with pay in lieu of notice of termination, in accordance with the Employment Standards Act and her part-time contract.
“The RSU’s payroll is not large enough to require it to pay statutory severance pay,” said Yousaf.
Yousaf also said the RSU did not need to provide Murray with “just cause” for her termination, since she was a non-union employee. “The standard of ‘just cause’ refers to a level of misconduct that justifies summary dismissal without notice or pay in lieu,” his statement reads.
Murray’s testimonial comes after the RSU’s Nov. 24 BoD meeting, where a motion to reinstate Murray as the campus groups coordinator failed while in-camera, according to Yousaf.
Yousaf said he called for the board to go in-camera because they were discussing the employment of individual staff members, which is a legal matter. Yousaf previously told The Eye that he cannot provide live commentary on the matter, since he anticipates that the RSU will be in arbitration as a result of the layoffs.
Both Board of Governors’ student representative David Jardine and Faculty of Arts director Alexandra Nash pleaded for the RSU to have an open discussion surrounding Murray’s termination—there were many students and student group representatives in attendance at the BoD who deserved to know what was going on, they said.
“This is an issue that students are worried about…I absolutely think we can have a conversation without compromising information about individuals’ employment,” said Jardine.
“Things don’t look good right now,” Jardine added, mentioning that the more that is closed off to students the worse the RSU looks as an organization.
Nonetheless, the motion went in-camera.
In her testimonial, Murray said all grievances were denied by Yousaf and the staff members were “forced to file our arbitration” on Aug. 20.
Yousaf confirmed in an email that the union filed grievances related to the layoffs which have since been referred to arbitration.
“The RSU’s position is that the grievances will fail, as the collective agreement (which is publicly available) expressly authorizes the RSU to reduce its workforce as needed,” Yousaf said in his statement.
“It is morally corrupt to not take this seriously,” Murray stated. “The structure of [the] RSU as an organization providing valuable services to students has been destroyed.”
“I feel betrayed and mistreated by an employer that I was committed to for many years.”
Murray also pointed out that as of Dec. 31, 2020, she will no longer have access to her benefits, ”which causes me great anxiety and stress to be job searching during a global pandemic.”
CUPE Local 1281 said they supported Murray in an emailed statement to The Eye on Nov. 30.
“The [RSU] has stable funding and is funded from students’ ancillary fees, so there is absolutely no reason for these terminations,” its statement reads. “These workers have been supporting students for years and to see them brushed aside and terminated so quickly by the new RSU executive team is cruel.”
In his emailed statement, Yousaf called Murray’s testimonial “unfortunate,” saying the executives “disagree with its content.”
Yousaf referred to Article 11.1 of the collective agreement between the RSU and CUPE Local 1281, which states that the subject matter of any grievance will be kept confidential.
“While the Union and certain grievors have decided to breach this provision of the collective agreement and give their view publicly, the RSU is confident its workforce reduction complies with the collective agreement and Ontario law,” Yousaf’s statement reads, “It will reserve its legal argument for arbitration.”