UVSS to close Student Union Building and temporarily terminate both salary and part-time staff due to COVID-19

Campus Local News
Graphic by Darian Lee

As of 6 p.m. on March 17, the UVSS has announced that it will close the Student Union Building (SUB) to the public and stop all business operations indefinitely as a precaution in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Due to the closure, the UVSS temporarily laid off some of their part-time student employees effective at 5 p.m. March 17, and will temporarily laid off salary union workers later this week.

The total number of employees to be laid off has not yet been disclosed. The UVSS employs approximately 150 staff split between student employees and permanent staff, the majority of which are unionized with the Steelworkers Union. 

According to Jonathan Granirer, UVSS Director of Outreach and University Relations, these measures are temporary while the SUB is closed.

“We have evaluated this situation from every angle,” said Alannah James, UVSS Executive Director, in an email to SUB staff. “We have spent many agonizing hours debating options, and do not make this decision lightly.”

This announcement came hours after B.C. declared a public health emergency as the number of reported cases rose to 186, with 12 of those cases on Vancouver Island.

For the rest of the week, some staff will be in the building to prepare to close it, with closing shifts going to employees based on seniority. Effective Monday, March 23, the SUB will be closed and locked. There is no current timeline for when the SUB will reopen, which Katie McFarlin, UVSS Administration and Services Manager, says will depend on the recommendations of the provincial and federal governments.

A meeting between key members of the UVSS and UVic executives, including Lead Directors and UVic Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Dunston, will be held by video conference this Friday, March 20.

“Act of God”

In an email to UVSS staff members, James stated that all unionized staff will be paid out for benefits including personal leave, eligible sick leave (students receive 4 hours per term worked, up until 12 hours), and for unforeseen closure. 

Unforeseen closure, outlined in Article 15.5 of the collective agreement between the UVSS and the United Steelworkers union, states that if the SUB closes due to utility disruptions, unforeseen environmental conditions, “Acts of God,” or other reasons beyond the control of employees, staff can receive three days of pay beyond their termination. 

“I think there’s a lot of uncertainty around all of this,” McFarlin said. “I honestly don’t know at this point [when the SUB will reopen] just because all of this is so unprecedented.”

When the SUB reopens, dependent on provincial and federal government recommendations, James said that employees will be contacted based on seniority.

“We are planning for a gradual restart of operations depending on lead times, ordering requirements, and staffing levels,” reads the email from James.

This comes after a meeting earlier that day to discuss the UVSS’s response to COVID-19 between the United Steelworkers union, of which the UVSS is a member, and SUB employees from groups including the Campus Community Garden, Cinecenta, SUBtext and Zap Copy. 

Following the meeting, groups in the SUB were contacted by McFarlin with information about the closure. She also requested each group send the UVSS their operations plan for the foreseeable future, and said that the UVSS will be available during email over the coming weeks and will alert SUB occupants when the building will reopen.

UVSS Director of Student Affairs Victoria Eaton cancelled the next clubs and council meeting and announced that the final deadline for all cheque requisitions this semester  — a crucial component in accessing funding — would be on March 17. The email notice came with 22 hours of notice, forcing clubs to submit their finances immediately. 

“I understand that this is rushed and inconvenient, but we are trying [our] best to ensure students can get reimbursed in a rapidly fluctuating environment,” said Eaton in the email.

Measures by UVic

UVic announced last week that as of Monday, March 16, the university would be moving away from face-to-face instruction, shortly after cancelling all classes with over 250 students, for the rest of term. Faculty are required to communicate their specific plans for the rest of the term to students by March 19.

Students living in UVic residences were informed by email today that the residence move-out date has been moved up to March 27, with the option for students to choose to stay until April 9 and possible extensions available for move-out dates as late as April 24. Most campus food outlets have been closed, with the remaining venues operating at limited capacity and under reduced hours.

Health officials are encouraging people to wash their hands and consider social distancing, and for anyone exhibiting symptoms to stay home. For more information, please visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website.