Gilary Massa should be getting back to work at the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) after her year of maternity leave. Instead, she and her supporters in the #istandwithgilary campaign were on campus fighting for her rights and the rights of all mothers and parents to take parental leave without being fired.
Massa worked for the RSU for nearly seven years, as the equity and campaigns organizer, and then as the executive director of communications and outreach. Her position was unionized with CUPE 1281.
While on her maternity leave in December of last year she was fired by the RSU executive via a brief telephone call. This was an attack on basic human rights and a blatant attempt at union busting.
The RSU claimed that her job had been restructured out of existence, in a supposed bid to save money. The reality is the RSU created a new general manager position, one outside of the union, which fulfills most of the Massa’s job tasks.
“It has been nine months since she was unjustly fired three months into her maternity leave, and the RSU have yet to show their commitment to respecting basic human rights,” says Saron Gebresellassi, Massa’s human rights legal council. “The RSU’s conduct is high-handed and illegal. This firing represents a gross violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Like nearly every other country in the world, Canada has protections for mother’s who take maternity leave. In Ontario, when someone takes parental leave they have the right to return to their job or something comparable if their job no longer exists.
Massa and her union and student supporters gathered on Ryerson’s campus to raise awareness about her case and its broad implications for all workers. At RSU’s annual rally and parade 20 volunteers, some with strollers and kids, handed out fliers, balloons and signed up hundreds of people to a petition calling on the RSU to reinstate Gilary.
“We are here today under the banner ‘I Stand With Gilary’ to remind the RSU that we are still watching,” says Orion Keresztesi, President of CUPE 1281. “We are asking the RSU to stop wasting time, abide by the law, and deliver justice for Gilary immediately.”
RSU exec members seemed visibly upset with the #istandwithgilary supporters and some of them even tried to intimidate petitioners. Despite this the campaign was meet with overwhelming support by students.
“As a member of the RSU, and a new mom myself, I am embarrassed that my students’ union would unapologetically act with such disregard for women’s rights,” says Binish Ahmed, a graduate student at Ryerson. “This move by the RSU has left a negative mark on, not only the RSU, but Ryerson University as a whole. They must fix this!”