UOSU's office
"We're a lot of the students' punching bag more than the union protecting students." Image: UOSU/Bardia Boomer.
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Former UOSU members speak on work culture and various vacancies

The University of Ottawa’s Students’ Union (UOSU) has experienced a number of resignations in the last few years, and has seemingly had trouble keeping a full staff, with some positions staying vacant for weeks at a time.

The recent resignation of Anjolina Hamel, former francophone affairs commissioner, and the impeachment of equity commissioner, Ratisbonne Kazadi, begs the question — why? And will the upcoming general election secure a full staff before the end of the 2022-23 academic year?

The Fulcrum spoke with Hamel and Amina El-Himri, the former 2020-21 and 2021-2022 equity commissioner who resigned from her position in October 2021. Both Hamel and El-Himri touched on why they believe UOSU has had trouble maintaining a full staff and filling vacant positions.

Hamel told the Fulcrum her resignation was largely due to the pay rate, and also the work culture.

“There were a lot of times where we were expected to, as execs, answer and call on weekends and after hours … the pay just doesn’t pay enough for us to be bending over sideways like that,” said Hamel.

Board of Director representative for the faculty of social science, Ty Bradly, stated in a message to the Fulcrum that he also believes the low pay rate is the reason UOSU has had trouble filling vacancies.

Hamel also stated that there has been a lack of trust between the students and the Union following the dissolution of the SFUO.

“We’re a lot of the students’ punching bag more than the union protecting students,” she continued, “The Union was created so fast after [SFUO closed office]… we also retained some of our employees from the SFUO going into the UOSU, so that was a little iffy.”

Both Hamel and El-Himri mentioned the lack of training that is offered by UOSU when elected. “You don’t get training, you get a transition report; and then, you’re expected to know what you’re doing coming from that,” said Hamel. “It’s tough to resource yourself.”

Hamel mentioned that, at times, it was a difficult environment to work in. Hamel stated that there were two directors, whom she did not name, that were particularly aggressive.

“I’d say, [they were] a little bit dehumanizing in the way they would talk to us … they were expecting for us to answer back on the weekends, because what they needed was [due] the Monday of,” said Hamel.

Hamel also believes that another challenge in the work culture came from within the executive committee. While she was hesitant to give names, she hopes that doing so might incite some change.

“Nouria [Sawadogo, current operations commissioner] was late in a lot of her deadlines, and it was difficult because we were trying to get budgets … and they just wouldn’t happen,” she continued, “Chelsey-Lynn [Rouselle, current advocacy commissioner] was trying to do everybody else’s mandates.”

“You were just trying to do your job, and there were just a million things getting in the way of it.”

El-Himri, who resigned in the first semester of her second term, believes that the stressful environment at UOSU adds to the negatives of the work culture. She stated that she believes UOSU could benefit from more thorough training and highlighting the differences between the executive committee and management, since she believes that’s where most challenges during her terms came from.

“There [are] power issues … when those responsibilities are not clearly outlined, you’re more likely to be stepped on your toes more than once. And I’ve had my toes stepped on by different members of the Union,” said El-Himri.

With UOSU being only five years old, El-Himri stated she believes the Union should be more focused on building from the inside out, rather than on the outside. She mentioned how management made this difficult during her terms.

“We’re still working on our relationship and the power dynamics that clearly have not been defined, which is fair because we are new, but you keep focusing on the bigger project … so much so, no one is going to be doing any inside work and things are not going to change,” said El-Himri.

El-Himri believes that there are a lot of pressures from within UOSU that play a part. “Everyone is just putting on a PR front, so no one trusts anyone anymore. People’s agendas are way beyond ‘let’s just have a conversation and move on.'”

“The culture gets very cliquey,” said El-Himri. “You do something, and then you will receive an email from someone using very strong words and very strong accusations, so the whole time you’re watching your back.”

When asked about why she believes there have been so many vacancies, El-Himri said, “There’s constant decision-making on the executive and board level without consultation with the departments or services concerned. This results in power abuse and micromanaging, as well as a body who isn’t heard nor fairly represented.”

In an email to the Fulcrum, Armaan Singh commented on UOSUs recent resignations, and how salaries and the harsh conditions of student government might play a role.

“Salaries for UOSU executives are extremely modest. There are a plethora of jobs for students who wish to make a positive social impact that have fairer compensation … Another factor that could contribute to this is that there is a distinct toxicity and pettiness in student government, which is often overlooked. Many students would rather not throw themselves into an environment with such tensions.”

In his email Singh also mentioned, “It is important that the union maintains and builds on its reputation as a progressive organization which seeks to empower students and speak truth to power … We must all work collectively, as student leaders, to ensure that we are building a healthy, constructive, and collegial environment for our student governments.”

Although Singh acknowledges the changes that need to be made within UOSU, he maintains his belief that the Union is “an extremely important vector through which we can hold the university accountable.”

“Over the past decades, the student movement on campus has opposed tuition hikes, advanced anti-racism, fought for the U-Pass, pushed the University to divest from fossil fuels, among other significant milestones.”

With the upcoming 2023-24 general elections, it will be interesting to see how candidates plan on bringing back trust between UOSU and the student body.

The nomination period for both executive and board positions has closed, and the 2023-24 general election period is set to begin on March 5, with candidates kicking off their campaigns this week.