This Leveller feature includes four different articles: 1) the decision made by the 2012-2013 Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) Executive to amend CUSA’s bylaws to change the meaning of “referendum” in order to cancel the joint health care contract with the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) and sign with a for-profit provider, 2) the fate of three Service Centre Coordinators who lost their jobs, 3) the manipulation of CUSA Council to amend the Discrimination Policy, and 4) an Editorial outlining the rhetoric behind the CUSA President’s communications and cheque distribution to undergraduate students prior to elections. These articles originally appeared in Vol, 5, No. 4 of the Leveller.
CUSA Health Plan Check-up
by Adam Carroll
On Oct. 31, a lawsuit was issued to CUSA by the GSA. The GSA alleges that CUSA breached their joint health and dental coverage contract signed earlier in the year, and that CUSA was trying to claim a $500,000+ surplus as their own despite contributions to the revenue by both parties.
CUSA and the GSA have a long history of cooperating to provide health and dental coverage to students. In 1991 there was only one health plan, administered to both graduate and undergraduate students by CUSA. In order for both organizations to provide better services to members, negotiations between CUSA and the GSA were initiated in 2000 to establish legal cooperation for health and dental plans.
Principles of cooperation and mutuality were agreed to and signed on Aug. 31, 2000 by the presidents and VP finances of CUSA and the GSA. They pledged themselves to jointly administer a plan. A Joint Oversight Committee was established, comprised of two representatives of the GSA and CUSA. The committee was to meet at least once a year to flesh out the details of each subsequent joint plan.
Since then, CUSA and the GSA have been jointly providing health and dental coverage to members in good faith. That is, until the election of the current CUSA executive, which calls their team “A Better Carleton.” At an emergency CUSA Council meeting on July 26, 2012, A Better Carleton adopted an amendment to the CUSA bylaws reading, “All matters except those laid out in Bylaw IV s. 1.1(c) in relation to the CUSA Health, Dental and Accident Plan shall be decided by a referendum vote of the CUSA Inc. Board of Trustees.”
At the same meeting, a motion was passed stating that CUSA “shall delegate its authority over all referenda processes except those laid out in Bylaw IV s. 1.1(c) in relation to the CUSA Health, Dental and Accident Plan to the CUSA Inc. Board of Trustees.” These motions served to, in CUSA’s estimation, allow three of their executives to decide to cancel the existing health coverage of undergraduate students while calling it a referendum.
In July 2012, the CUSA Inc. Board of Trustees voted to end the joint contract with the GSA and insurance broker Morneau Shepell, part of the Student Health Network. This contract was signed on Sept. 1, 2011 by two of the previous CUSA executives.
Both this joint agreement Morneau Shepell and the original agreement with the GSA in 2000 had specific criteria for cancelling or leaving the joint health plans. The 2011 contract could be terminated “through a legally constituted referendum or other lawful process pursuant to the rules and bylaws governing both [CUSA and the GSA] vote to discontinue [the plan].” Sections 8 and 9 of the original 2000 agreement also state that agreements could be terminated either through mutual consent or withdrawn through a referendum held by CUSA and the GSA.
The GSA claims in its lawsuit that the contract was never legally terminated. No referendum was actually held, therefore the cancellation was legally invalid. CUSA’s constitution uses the Oxford Paperback Dictionary’s definition of a referendum: “a general vote by the electorate on a single political question which has been referred to them for a direct decision.” The electorate, according to CUSA’s constitution, is defined as “all Members of the Association,” and every registered undergraduate student is a member.
CUSA’s cancellation of its contract with the GSA is similar to the University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS)’s health plan contract controversy. In April 2010, UVSS Director of Finance Edward Pullman signed a one-year contract with the Student Health Network broker Morneau Sobeco, the predecessor of Morneau Shepell, and the provider, Greenshield.
In the summer of 2010, under new VP Finance Kelsey Hannan, the UVSS “broke their health contract early with the Student Health Network,” Michael Glover, Director of Operations at Camosun College told the Leveller. He observed the events at the time. According to Glover, the UVSS breached the original contract.
Glover’s colleague Michel Turcotte offered some insight into the reasons for UVSS cancelling the contract. Because the National Student Health Network is loosely associated with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), Canada’s national student association to which all CUSA members belong, people who are “very anti-CFS” oppose it.
The UVSS then signed a three-year contract with broker Lev Bukhman and his Studentcare Network – the same network CUSA executives signed with upon cancelling their joint agreement with the GSA.
Attempts by The Leveller to verify this information or gain access to CUSA’s contract Studentcare were met with hostility by CUSA VP Finance Michael De Luca. De Luca informed the Leveller that “You’re not welcome here,” and added “get out of my office.” De Luca also suggested to “Learn to be a journalist before you come into our office.” He said, “get out,” and “don’t email us again.”
A Nov. 20, 2012 CUSA Council meeting passed a motion that was almost identical to the one passed at the July 26 emergency meeting of CUSA Council. According to De Luca, the new motion served to “strengthen [the] legal position” of CUSA. When asked by Public Affairs and Policy Management Councillor Joel Tallerico whether CUSA councillors were liable in a lawsuit, De Luca replied, “The simple answer is no, Joel… no, liability will not attach to this council by voting on this motion.”
Tallerico then asked, “Can you guarantee people will not be named in a lawsuit?” De Luca replied, “Yes,” and argued that this was the case because CUSA Council is a “moot assembly. It’s essentially a mock parliament. It’s not a legal entity, it has no status in law.” CUSA Council is the legislative body of the Carleton University Students’ Association, a non-profit organization that has existed since 1942.
In 2011, De Luca himself sued CUSA Council and held council members personally liable after he and a number of other councillors were removed for failing to fulfill their duties as councillors to attend committee meetings. De Luca’s lawsuit eventually cost students $200,000.
CUSA Purges Service Centre Coordinators
by the Leveller
The Fall 2012 semester was marked by the dismissal of three Carleton Undergraduate Students’ Association (CUSA) and Carleton Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) service centre coordinators.
In September, Sarah Cooper of the GLBTQ Centre and Leila Navabzadeh of the Bill Ellis Centre for Mature and Part-Time Students (BECAMPS) did not have their contracts renewed. In December, Womyn’s Centre Programming Coordinator Diana Banyasz was fired one week after executives approved her leave of absence until January, something provided in the collective agreement for CUSA employees, who are members of CUPE Local 1281.
Cooper and Navabzadeh said that in the past, employees were not replaced until after graduation. Volunteers at the GLBTQ Centre and BECAMPS praised the coordinators’ work. Both Cooper and Navabzadeh believe that their contracts weren’t renewed for political reasons.
“I wasn’t chosen, not based on the fact that I didn’t do well, but because of political reasons… I did not advocate for ABC [A Better Carleton, the current executive slate]. There was sort of an expectation that I would publicly advocate for them.” said Navabzadeh.
Cooper stated that she was never disciplined on the job, saying, “I’ve never even had a warning about being written up.”
Navabzadeh says the message CUSA executives are sending to other employees is “to shut up. You cannot speak against them. If you do, you will be punished, and [they] will find any way possible to get you out of your job…the message is ‘you’re either with us or against us, and if you’re against us, you don’t have your job.’”
Banyasz was told that her employment was terminated because she failed to submit a schedule. “I submitted my schedule in October the same way I’ve submitted all my schedules in the previous years to previous supervisors,” she said. According to Banyasz, CUSA Vice-President of Student Services Fatima Hassan demanded a screen capture of her Carleton Central account, which she described as “private information” that is not required by the collective agreement.
In December, CUSA President Alexander Golovko and Hassan both approved her leave of absence in person, said Banyasz. At the time, she said that “Golovko was understanding,” and she then sent an email to confirm. One week later, Hassan sent her an email informing her of her termination, Banyasz told the Leveller. Her job was posted the same day. The union has filed grievances for both the firing and the posting.
Council Manipulation Leads to Changes in CUSA Discrimination Code
by the Leveller
Images leaked from a private online group show that the CUSA executive and supporters conspired to schedule December’s CUSA Council meeting on a day when controversial discrimination policy changes would face less opposition.
Michael De Luca, vice-president finance of CUSA, stated that “Almost all the hacks are conveniently unavailable” on Dec. 12, the day the meeting occurred, noting that only one “ABC [A Better Carleton, the CUSA executive slate] person” was unavailable that day.
The motion to change CUSA’s discrimination policy, adopted after several hours of students and councillors voicing their opposition, approves the funding of groups advocating to remove access to abortion, removes CUSA’s ban on specific racist groups such as the KKK and Heritage Front, and altering the nature of CUSA’s safe space policy.
Before the change, CUSA’s policy emphasized providing safe spaces for marginalized communities on campus, including women, the GLBTQ community, and racialized groups. Changes stipulate that CUSA will “ensure that its members have access to facilities and resources without fear of discrimination” based on “religious or political” identity. Sam Heaton, an undergraduate student opposing the motion at the meeting, stated that this addition is “a Trojan horse that attacks communities based on giving free reign to people who may be there to interrupt, to sabotage the good work and the safe spaces that are created.”
Erica Butler, co-coordinator of the Carleton GLBTQ Centre, said at the meeting that the change “leaves room for CUSA to fund groups that actively seek to take away rights on the basis of their religious or political stance.”
“Many in this room would argue that rights to free speech would trump right to safe spaces. This completely contradicts current human rights codes at the provincial level, which Carleton as an institution is bound by,” she said.
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences representative Kaylee Cameron presented a petition at the beginning of the December meeting with the signatures of 197 students opposing the change. Despite the timing of the changes being planned to limit opposition, and the meeting taking place during the examination period, over 200 students joined a Facebook group opposing the changes. At least two dozen students attended the meeting in person to oppose the changes.
Supporters of the motion ridiculed safe space policies and made discriminatory comments. In the same online group used to coordinate CUSA Council, De Luca commented that “Justin James Campbell [the seconder of the motion] is running an anti-safe space training this weekend.”
In the same vein, Vanessa Ebuka, the mover of the motion, remarked that Pride is a “sex zoo” that promotes “rambunctious behaviour,” as quoted in the Charlatan.
Editorial – GOLOVKO CAMPAIGNING EARLY
by the Leveller
In January, Lev Bukhman’s Studentcare Network sent a letter to all of Carleton’s undergraduate students. Arriving two weeks before the CUSA’s elections, the letter includes a full colour photo of current CUSA President Alexander Golovko. Attached to the letter was a $20 cheque.
The letter incorrectly claims that CUSA’s health and dental coverage was “renegotiated,” when it was in fact unilaterally cancelled. No attempt was made to renegotiate within CUSA’s legal agreements.
In addition, the letter attributes a list of successes to Golovko and his CUSA execute slate, A Better Carleton. These claims do not hold up to basic scrutiny.
It claims that the $20 cheque marks “the first time that CUSA has lived up to its promise of fighting for lower student fees.” Apart from the fact that no one is in a position to argue that CUSA has never in its 70-year history saved its members money on fees, A Better Carleton has actually discontinued CUSA’s precedent of fighting at the federal, provincial, and university level for lower fees, including tuition fees.
The letter refers to a “more practical approach to reducing student fees.” This year alone, Golovko did not oppose the university when the administration considered implementing a $26 per student Access Copyright fee, and the current CUSA executive has not challenged increases in tuition fees, which will cost every Carleton student hundreds of dollars this year.
CUSA claims to have saved students $1 million through its policies, but has been unable to provide proof upon request. After the second year of the new contract, rates are no longer guaranteed and Bukhman’s company is able to raise the costs to CUSA members.
The letter advertises 10 per cent discounts with Shoppers Drug Mart and a 10 per cent discount on Life Brand products. With Shoppers Drug Mart’s relatively high dispensation fees, it is still cheaper to fill prescriptions elsewhere. Even with a 10 per cent discount, Life Brand products are still more expensive than No Name brand products.
Golovko’s letter claims that CUSA now provides “a real and verifiable dental network [sic].” This emphasis implies that the previous network was both unreal and unverifiable; in fact, the previous network was larger than the new network.
Contrary to what the letter suggests, CUSA’s new opt-out process is more cumbersome than in the past. Students now have to provide evidence of alternative coverage, and since opt-out cheques are now mailed to accounts on file with Carleton Central, there is less guarantee of students receiving them. It has resulted in roughly 2,000 fewer undergraduate opt-outs than last year.
The letter also heralds a toll-free call centre to help students with the plan, something also provided by the previous CUSA health and dental plan. The “On-campus representatives in the fall and winter semesters” touted by the letter are in fact Studentcare staff paid to sit at a table in the atrium for a few weeks each semester. Previously, CUSA employed a full-time health plan coordinator to directly assist students in the CUSA office year-round.
Golovko concludes by again promoting his election slate, thanking students for “belief in our team and support you have shown over the past year.” The information contained in Golovko and Studentcare’s letter is misleading and unverifiable, its promotion of a CUSA election slate is unprecedented, and the use of payouts during an election month exudes a special brand of fishiness.