To get good insightful answers, how the question is framed matters. I missed an opportunity on Thursday
A few friends have pointed out that my strong feelings about the actions of the CFS are sometimes coming out too strongly in my posts. As such, I am going to just deliver the straight goods on this one (for now).
The following are all articles in today’s The Peak at Simon Fraser University dealing with the crisis at SFSS.
Campus Fiasco: Seven SFSS staff sent home
Amanda McCuaig, Peak Staff
In a surprise move, the Board of Directors of the Simon Fraser Student Society is undertaking organisational changes which have upset the society’s staff.
The SFSS sent home seven senior staff members for a week of paid leave beginning Wednesday July 26, 2006. Staff was given no prior notice of the request. They will remain at home until further notice and have been requested to stay away from the Maggie Benston Centre.
After being issued letters containing the directive, staff were escorted off the premises and were asked to hand over their office keys.
Computers have been removed from the resource office, located next to the SFSS general office. Staff members were asked to hand over their usernames and passwords for all computers.
The removal of staff personnel was orchestrated by the Labour Committee, a sub-committee of the SFSS Board of Directors compiled of five executives and one board member.
“If the labour committee or the society has any reason to be suspicious of any kind of activity then they could initiate that kind of action,” explained former president Clement Abas Apaak when questioned about the procedures being followed. “They may start up forensics to allow them to have access to information that they could otherwise not have with the fear that maybe that if the staff were to know that this is the case that the sensitive information could be destroyed.”
The Board of Directors held a board meeting at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon that was attended heavily by graduate students and employees of The Peak.
Without regular staff available to take meeting minutes, General Office Staffperson Rob Quinn was asked by the Board of Directors to act as scribe. Under the terms of the CUPE 5396 collective agreement, only advocacy area staff are allowed to resource the Board and standing committees.
The Board voted to ratify Erica Halpern, at-large representative, as scribe until Quinn arrived. As it is against the collective agreement for Board members to do the wpork of bargaining unit members, Halpern’s actions could open the Board to a grievance.
Approximately 15 minutes into the meeting, members of CUPE 5396 — composed of staff who work at the General Office, Finance Office, Quad Books, Ombuds Office, Benefit Plan Office, Out On Campus, the Women’s Centre, and the Advocacy area — escorted Quinn to the meeting in order to express their support for him and their decision to accept the board’s request that he act as scribe.
CUPE 5396 is a new local. Until recently, student society staff were part of CUPE 2396 along with staff people from other student unions in the Lower Mainland, SFPIRG, and the Canadian Federation of Students’ provincial office. SFSS staff voted to separate last year over concerns about CFS influence in the bargaining unit. All members of the CUPE 5396 executive happen to be amongst those staff on leave.
A number of sources have speculated that the temporary leave of staff and confiscation of computers is related to the graduate benefit plan which was instituted last fall. The plan was approved by the student body in a spring 2005 referendum.
After a lengthy bidding process in spring 2005, the Graduate Health Plan working group recommended that the board sign a contract with Gallivan and Associates. Although the plan was approved by the board on June 1, 2005, it was stridently opposed by then-External Relations Officer Shawn Hunsdale, now president.
At the time, Hunsdale was a strong proponent of signing a contract with the National Student Health Network, a competing broker owned by the CFS. To do so would have overridden the recommendation of the Graduate Health Plan working group.
The Peak has learned that the graduate benefit plan is currently functioning normally and that graduate students continue to be covered by the plan, despite the lack of on-site staffing.
Members of the Board of Directors are unable to provide comment due to the confidentiality surrounding personnel issues. Their inability to comment on the matter is further solidified by a motion passed last Wednesday stating that legal action will be taken against board members who break confidentiality.
The meeting was attended by a Vancouver labour lawyer Walter Rilkoff from the firm of Lawson Lundell. His areas of practice include construction, labour law, employment and labour, and privacy.
The Labour Committee is a standing committee of the student society that does not keep minutes, meets in camera, and does not have staff support.
Amanda McCuaig & Derrick Harder, Peak Staff
As of Friday July 29, Hattie Aitken, graduate issues and university relations coordinator and a long-time employee of the SFSS, was the only staff member under investigation. Members of her union, CUPE 5396, the TSSU, and other supporters – over 20 people altogether – waited as a group in Convo Mall throughout the duration of the meeting.
Aitken met with SFSS President Shawn Hunsdale, Internal Relations Officer Wei Li, and a representative for labour lawyer Walter Rilkoff from the firm Lawson Lundell last Friday. Aitken was accompanied by CUPE Representative Gary Yee and Ed Deeks, Quad Books coordinator and acting shop steward for CUPE 5396. Student Union Organiser Sam Bradd normally acts as shop steward, but has been placed on leave by the Board of Directors and has been ordered not to enter SFSS offices.
The meeting began at 5:00 p.m. and lasted until 10:47 p.m. to grateful cheers of the waiting union, who had brought out couches from the women’s centre to relax on and who had started a game of Frisbee in the darkened mall.
Part way through the meeting, Aitken emerged from the MBC looking slightly downtrodden and warmly accepted the hugs of supportive union members who had been waiting outside.
The Peak has learned that the questioning surrounded Aitken’s attendance at the recent Gallivan and Associates conference.
Gallivan and Associates were recommended by a working group of the Graduate Issues Committee to be the broker for the graduate benefit plan, approved by over 80 per cent of SFU students in April 2005.
The conference, attended widely by members of student unions across the country that have health plans with Gallivan, was held in Calgary in early July.
Initially, Mary Catharine Lennon, former graduate issues officer, and Jewelles Smith, a GIC member, were selected to attend. The board voted in favour of sending the two candidates, agreeing to cover travel costs and provide a per diem of $20 per day in accordance with policy.
Lennon, who had been awarded a prestigious scholarship in the UK, later resigned her position, and Smith stepped down from her placement as a representative. The GIC benefit plan working group selected Aitken and Clement Abas Apaak, a graduate student and former SFSS president, to replace Lennon and Smith as SFSS representatives to the conference.
Aitken attended the conference last year with Caelie Frampton, the chair of the original GIC health plan working group and at-large graduate representative on the 2004-05 Board of Directors.
At the time The Peak had to go to press, none of the staff people on leave or members of the Board of Directors were able to speak on record to the issue. Though Internal Relations Officer Wei Li was approached following the end of the meeting, he refused to talk, stating that he was too tired.
As the decision to send Aitken and Apaak to the conference was made by grad students on the GIC working group, members of the union and GIC have significant doubts over the legitimacy of the concerns expressed by the SFSS.
The GIC working group is not under investigation, and neither is Apaak. However, Apaak has been denied the $80 per diem he is entitled to for his attendance at the conference on behalf of grad students.
While members of the board who have seen “evidence” legitimising the long questioning period between Aitken and Hunsdale believe the issue could be serious, upwards of 10 past board members from four consecutive boards have speculated that it may just be an attempt to drive Aitken out in order to make room for a Canadian Federaton of Students loyalist.
Campus Views: SFSS Fiasco – start to a crazy year
Amanda McCuaig, Production Editor
When Hattie Aitken, the graduate issues and university relations coordinator, came to SFU on Friday to meet with her employers –— specifically President Shawn Hunsdale and Internal Relations Officer Wei Li – speculation was thick over what the “issue” might be.
But even more impressive than the gossip and speculation — which included a story that Hattie’s dog Rufus mated with an alien and then birthed alien babies in the walls of the SFSS resource office and that’s why staff members were sent home on leave — was the support her union showed her.
CUPE 5396 is made up of staff people from Quad Books, the General Office, the Advocacy area, the Finance Office, Ombuds Office, Benefit Plan Office, Out On Campus, and the Women’s Centre. Just about every one of them showed up and congregated in Convocation Mall shortly before Aitken’s meeting was scheduled, around 4 p.m.
As the group milled about and chatted, a feeling of having been wronged sifted through the air. All but one of the staff people who had been sent home on leave were present to support their co-worker. But the best was that there were t-shirts. T-shirts with pictures of the group together (classic, “school photo”-type pictures); t-shirts with a picture of Rufus, Hattie’s dog, who had attended meetings for years until the current SFSS Board of Directors decided it was a problem and asked her to leave him at home; t-shirts with a picture of several members of the union surrounding Hattie in a glob that says “we support her on all sides.”
The last t-shirt was my favourite; it had all of the people looking down at the ground in a terrified manner. When I joked that it looked like they were shying away from a monster, one replied “oh that’s easy, it’s Hunsdale.”
So, it looks like it’ll definitely be an interesting year.
We joke in The Peak office that this situation is the summer’s “campus fiasco” — a joke title that I wrote that accidentally made it through copy and was published during the IBT negotiations between the administration and a private company last spring.
As the night wore on, couches from the Women’s Centre were pulled outside for people to curl up on, photos were shared among friends, a game of Frisbee was started. CUPE 5396 drank coffee and tea and speculated.
While the union appeared to be among friends, and, though worried, felt comfortable with their support of one another and comfortable in their open disappointment in “the situation,” executive members of the board who weren’t in the questioning session with Aitken sat quietly in their offices going through files.
Derrick Harder, Peak copy editor, and I meandered back and forth – we chatted with the union, we worked on The Peak, and we went to poke at the kids at the SFSS. At one point we did the chicken dance outside the window of the office for three stressed looking executives.
As Derrick mentioned near midnight, as we watched the executives file out of the MBC into the parkade beside our offices, this whole situation is turning out to be a bonding experience for them.
The executive will have bonded over the fact that I keep prodding at them to tell me things and they can’t — either due to unwillingness or due to the very unique disclosure agreement they had to sign, and the union will be stronger due to having to withstand the near obscene level of secrecy coming from their employers.
Many many questions remain over why Aitken is being hounded by her employer – they come from the union, they come from concerned graduate students, they come from us, and in some cases they even come from members of the SFSS Board of Directors themselves. It’s a shame that the timing of this fiasco was such that The Peak will be unable to give any concrete answers to the public until September. Congrats on good timing, secretive SFSS board.
Thanks to the 20th century, we now know all the warnings signs of an unhealthy democracy on its deathbed. Eliminating political opponents, consolidating power, disregarding process: these are the steps that lead to tyranny and they’re currently underway at our very own SFSS. To understand the plot, we need to know a little about graduate students, health plans, and the Canadian Federation of Students. So let’s start there.
Grad students at SFU fall under the same student union as all other students at SFU, but are given some autonomy in the form of the Graduate Issues Committee (GIC): a body with one staff member and some funds at its disposal. From time to time this relationship with the rest of the SFSS is threatened when the undergrad-dominated Board of Directors disagrees with the graduate students and attempts to thwart their proposals. Most significantly was last year’s decision by grad students to enter into a health plan with a health broker named Gallivan.
Gallivan, however, is in direct competition with the health plan run by the Canadian Federation of Students, a massive national student organisation that has the ability to exert huge amounts of political pressure on student groups. In this case, some CFS-friendly board members, such as current president Shawn Hunsdale, are organised in an effort to scuttle the deal that grad students had negotiated independently. The ensuing fracas endangered the unity of the SFSS as grad students threatened to split from the SFSS, but in the end, the Board voted to sign the deal with Gallivan, much to the relief of some rather tense grads.
This spring’s general election, however, saw the decisive victory of the CFS-backed Common Sense slate, and the machines have now sprung back into life. The Board of Directors has overruled a decision by the Graduate Issues Committee to send representatives to a health plan conference, and prevented GIC from spending its money, despite existing policies and procedures. Now, many are concerned that the Board is attempting to terminate the only staff member in place to organise graduate students.
In the meantime, the Society’s staff have been banned from the premises and ordered to not speak with each other.
Shawn Hunsdale has established himself as the sole contact with the health plan broker, perhaps with an eye to ending the deal when the contract expires next summer, and installing the CFS-run plan in its stead.
But this debacle extends well beyond simply the debate around the health plan and grad student autonomy. For years, Hunsdale has not-so-secretly had an agenda of returning the SFSS to the CFS’ control. In recent years SFU students and their elected representatives have been critical of the national student organisation, irritating those high up in the organisation, and Hunsdale has been working towards ending this period of dissent. As has been the case at other locals across the country, installing CFS-friendly staff and eliminating critical voices is the most efficient way to ensure long-term CFS hegemony over independent student unions. Here at the SFSS with a CFS-friendly board finally in office, we are now seeing the beginnings of this program at work.
But as Hunsdale and the CFS alienate grad students and upset the democratic process, it will remain to be determined how students respond. There may be enough active and capable graduate students to successfully separate from the SFSS and establish their own union. Likewise, SFU students may be sufficiently upset to initiate the difficult process of leaving the CFS. The deciding factor, however, will be whether students are able to recognise the tactics being employed as the affront to democracy that they are, or if like so many citizens in the early 20th century, they will turn a blind eye. and allow their autonomy to be swept away.
Letters to the Editor:
What happened to SFSS staff?**
Last week, seven staff members working for the SFSS were told that they were immediately on leave with pay, and given no reason for this. Staff were forced to relinquish their office keys and computer passwords and board members were then seen going into staff offices and removing computers.
Why are students paying for seven SFSS staff to stay home? Why? Who made this decision? Why were computers removed and put into cars? Was the computer of the graduate benefit plan coordinator — with private information — put into a car? Why can grad students only talk to Shawn Hunsdale, SFSS president, about health plan questions and appeals? Who’s keeping records and processing cheques at the Finance Office if staff are at home? Who’s approving grad caucus grants? Did the lawyer at the SFSS board meeting get paid $300 an hour on July 26? Did staff get warning about this? Are the staff who were targeted active in CUPE? If staff don’t vote at the SFSS, what’s the threat? Is this unionbusting? Is this happening anywhere else? When do the staff come back? Isn’t there something better to do? When did this start?