Dalhousie Student Union ‘employment restructuring’ forces temporary closure of campus bar

A Dalhousie University sign is seen in Halifax on January 6, 2015.
A Dalhousie University sign is seen in Halifax on January 6, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

The sudden termination of three positions within the Dalhousie University Student Union (DSU) has resulted in the temporary closure of the campus bar, along with an increasing wariness among DSU staff about the future of their positions.

In a Facebook post on Friday, the Grawood wrote that it will be closed until further notice due to “unforeseen circumstances.” In a comment on the post, the Grawood stated the temporary closure was the result of “employment restructuring” within the DSU and would not comment further.

Former DSU employees confirm to Global News that the closure was the result of the recent termination of Greg Wright, who worked as the director of licenced operations at the Grawood for the past 15 years.

Global News has also confirmed that Craig Kennedy, the former DSU general manager of 20 years, was let go along with Jo Castillo, the DSU’s communications and outreach co-ordinator.

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DSU executive members issue joint statement 

In a joint statement posted on social media, the DSU’s five executive members said the recent departures are a result of three months of evaluation on how the DSU is structured.

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“The last week has been a hectic and disruptive period at the DSU,” the statement begins. “We assure you that we are doing everything we can to support our staff and students during this transition.”

The members add that they plan to create two new director positions with one focused on operations and the other on research. Details, they stated, will be released in the coming weeks.

DSU staff submitted an application on Wednesday seeking union representation. A vote was held on the matter on Monday, with the results slated to be sealed for 10 to 15 business days.

The executives concluded in their statement that they respect their employees’ decision to seek union representation.

“As students, we find immense value and strength in our union, and we know the power in numbers can achieve better rights for all,” the statement reads. “However, our staff decides, we will continue to stand by and support our staff.”

The DSU declined an interview with Global News late in the afternoon Monday, stating it does not have plans to comment outside of the press release.

Terminations were ‘personal’ and ‘unjust,’ former employees say

Paul Whyte, who formerly worked as the DSU’s communications and outreach co-ordinator until Castillo started in the job, alleges there is a long list of problems with how the three terminations transpired.

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Whyte was the outreach co-ordinator until the end of May. The new executive took office on May 1. During his time working with the new executive, Whyte says there was not “one word” said on the prospect of restructuring.

“This whole idea of restructuring seems quite fabricated,” Whyte said. “It’s kind of like a thin veil for them just wanting to get rid of staff that they don’t like.”

“There was no progressive discipline, there was no consultation with staff, students or past executives, it was just kind of this swift decision that was made by the executive, which is really unfortunate.”

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Former DSU member services co-ordinator Breton Doucet agrees, claiming the newly posted director positions are essentially a carbon copy of what Kennedy and Wright were responsible for.

“I just don’t understand why you couldn’t just work with the people who have such a track record of excellent service with the DSU,” said Doucet. “I feel like if they had worked with Greg (Wright) it wouldn’t have dropped this huge bomb on the Grawood and all this profit would be lost. It could have been a more smooth transition.”

Whyte says he feels executive members had a “personal vendetta” against Kennedy.

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“It’s unfortunate, because Craig (Kennedy) is, quite frankly, one of the best bosses I’ve ever had,” he said. “I’ve learned, I think, more from Craig in my almost two years with the DSU than I have almost in my whole professional career.”

“We have three people who were recently terminated, all of whom have families, all whom are left to kind of figure it out.”

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DSU applying for prospective membership with CFS

The DSU announced on its Facebook page on May 28 that it has applied for prospective membership with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) and its provincial chapter CFS-NS. The DSU said prospective membership would give them “a year to explore what CFS has to offer and consult with students about how membership would impact them.”

But Whyte says there are fundamental bylaw conflicts between the DSU and CFS, as well as a mandatory legal agreement for a referendum to be conducted within a 12-month period.

Whyte says he raised these concerns with DSU executive members, but they fell on deaf ears.

“At that time there was a real sense of job loss and fear, even as I was getting ready for departure from the DSU,” he said. “I guess that was the first thing that kind of stirred things up a bit.

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“When a new union enters into the Canadian Federation of Students, there’s almost this cleaning of house that happens where the old staff who have been there 20-plus years, they’re rather swiftly terminated.”

Whyte is concerned with the overall lack of transparency from the DSU throughout the entire process over the past seven weeks.

“There was a lack in due diligence in consulting with members and staff on big, system-wide changes that affect every single student at Dal,” said Whyte.

“Everyone was in the dark on this.”

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