‘Symbolic’ motion presented at emergency council meeting called to address status of new employee position
Photo by Tina Wallace
In an emergency meeting on April 30 called to take action on a one-year employee trial position with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD), the association’s council also faced motions to remove two of its executive members — about an hour before their term would end.
Now-former executives Seamus Wolfe and Gabrielle Bérubé were said to have failed to uphold a standing resolution from council regarding a new GSAÉD employee position called the grad house and internal coordinator (GHIC) introduced last year.
The two were accused of acting behind council’s back in dealing with the evaluation that would determine whether the position would be renewed, and of beginning the collective bargaining process with the association’s union without proper consultation with council, which listed the GHIC as a permanent GSAÉD position.
Council relied on the evaluation to determine if the new position was a helpful addition, or if it overlapped with other job descriptions too much and was therefore redundant.
“The problem is that it wasn’t really an evaluation, really just a reiteration of the job description,” Ben Campbell, council representative for graduate biology, said in an email prior to the meeting.
“It was clear that this decision to extend the contract was not unanimous amongst the exec or board members,” he said. “In addition, many members of council disapproved of the evaluation which was basically saying, ‘Trust us, but we don’t have any evaluation.'”
Wolfe was also accused of a conflict of interest because he’s employed by the undergraduate student federation’s bike coop, and had introduced a referendum to have graduate students pay into it.
The motion to remove him from office failed by vote, and the final motion to remove Bérubé was tossed as council moved to adjourn instead. Regardless, both have by this time been replaced by the new executives voted into office in March.
Bruno Cournoyer Paquin, the graduate political science council rep, said as he presented the motion that there was “a lot of misinformation” about the GHIC position and its status within the association at the council meeting a week prior.
“It’s not a very good working relationship when you know that the people in a position of power and responsibility actually don’t respect you enough to be transparent,” he said.
The GHIC position itself was the focus of long debate as council members discussed leaving the position vacant for the 2014–15 year so it could be properly evaluated, while avoiding any legal risks that may be opened up by its uncertain status within the collective bargaining.
Council found three options: leave the position vacant, renew the contract, or extend the contract until the GSAÉD could acquire proper legal advice on how to proceed. Members eventually voted to leave it vacant, since it was determined from the beginning that it would be a one-year trial run and because continuing the position may have also posed its own risks.
Council acknowledged the motions to remove the executives as “symbolic,” since their terms were about to end in about an hour. One council member said during the meeting that “there is some value in setting a precedent,” since it would show that the GSAÉD does take action on matters of policy infractions.
Cournoyer Paquin admitted that while he agreed with the bike coop referendum, “the way we do things is just as important as our objectives, and when we do things in a manner that’s not transparent, it doesn’t help our organization.”
Wolfe said the motion wasn’t “anything other than spiteful, and kind of absurd.” He suggested the motion was motivated by the fact that he speaks up a lot on behalf of other members of council because “they don’t feel like they can speak as much in these spaces, so I take on some of that responsibility.”
CUPE 2626 president Isabelle Hétu, who chose to represent herself as a non-voting graduate student member at the meeting, countered Wolfe’s argument.
“I’ve had to basically force myself for the past three months to come to this table and speak up because other people have come to me saying they were afraid of talking when you were,” Hétu said to Wolfe.
“I don’t think that because it’s only symbolic (…) that we shouldn’t be debating such issues,” she told council. “It sends a strong message to future executive members that you cannot take matters into your own hands without consulting proper authorities at the proper time.”
Wolfe also argued that he was not in a conflict of interest since he could not have benefited financially from the bike coop referendum, and that he had made it very clear to council that he was an employee.
“I get $12.93 in my unionized workplace at the bike coop, and that would not change regardless of how the vote went,” he said.
“I have never not tried to tell this council that that is my second job,” he continued. “It’s never been hidden, I’ve got the T-shirt on right now, probably wore the T-shirt to other council meetings, and I’ve made a presentation on behalf of the bike coop. I’m not withholding some sort of information, I wouldn’t gain any sort of thing financially or otherwise. And so it’s clearly directed to me personally.”
With nine in favour of removing Wolfe from office, seven against, and seven abstentions, the motion failed because it didn’t get three-quarters of the vote. Council then swiftly moved to adjourn without dealing with the motion to remove Bérubé.