University employee headed to arbitration

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This photo is a metaphor for how the U of R handled this situation. Photo - Brett Nielsen

This photo is a metaphor for how the U of R handled this situation. Photo – Brett Nielsen

Ongoing issue results in grievance being filed

Ronald Lavoie, a custodial supervisor at the University of Regina since 1985, was, up until recently, a day-to-day employee of the institution. Now, having tried to return to work after brain surgery, he is struggling to regain the job that has been a part of his life for the last thirty years.

An operation in 2014 to relieve symptoms of dizziness and headaches led to complications that involved a leg issue, which originated from bleeding in the brain. Because of his medical condition, Lavoie was advised to refrain from working in a place with a large amount of stairs, and from using ladders. Lavoie’s first attempt at returning to work failed, he says, because of how his return was handled by the University of Regina.

“As a custodial supervisor, I look after the entire building. They put me at the old campus. Well, there’s no elevators there. In very short order, two weeks, three weeks, it became evident that I’m having trouble. I said to them, ‘I know why you put me here; you put me here to fail.’”

Lavoie admits that given his age, he is not the same worker he was he began at the U of R thirty years ago, but he highlights the fact that this doesn’t mean the University has the standing to withhold his job from him.

“I agree I’m not 100 per cent, but they have a duty to accommodate me. They can’t prove undue hardship. I can still do my job.”

Lavoie has been fighting with the University over the past few years, and the process is now at the point where a grievance has been filed on Ronald’s behalf, and the process is now headed to arbitration. According to Lavoie, the University has forced him out of his position and back towards disability benefits. At the same time, Canada Pension, in administering said benefits, has told him that he does not qualify.

In an effort to help her father, Ronald’s daughter decided to start an online petition which, to date, has 3,812 signatures. Lauren, an arts education graduate in 2013, says that her motivation to start the petition stemmed from her wanting to show others how, in her eyes, the university operates. She is also trying to, in her words, “give my dad a voice.”

“The thing with a university is that, as much as it is an educational institution, it is a business in a sense; and, with that, people can choose to take their business elsewhere, and I wanted to give people a chance to realize that this is what this university can do or can be capable of. So, I really wanted people to have a chance to think before they, maybe, sent their kids there, considering this is how they treat their staff.”

Support for the older Lavoie is evident in the comments section of the petition.

A user named Elisabeth Fogarty wrote, “As an alumnus of the U of R, I am saddened to see such treatment of an employee. I would hope that this institution t [sic] would take more pride in treating ALL employees equitably. Whoever is ultimately responsible for this decision….’not well done!’”

Another user, Frank McCrystal, wrote, “Ron was a great partner with our football program. His work with us was outstanding and much appreciated by our team.”

For the Lavoies, and particularly for Lauren, such a petition was an option of last resort.

“We were at the point where they [the University of Regina] were trying to force my dad to retirement against his will, completely against his will, so I was at the point where really we had nothing to lose. This couldn’t ruin his job, this couldn’t ruin what people think of him at work because they are trying to get rid of him anyway.”

What’s so difficult to comprehend for the Lavoies is how hard the University of Regina is making Ronald’s return to work.

“I’m trying to come back to work, [and] they don’t want me. To be honest with you, I’ve worked at the University since 1985. I don’t know what I’ve done to these people, but something is not right.”

Another contributing factor to Lavoie’s frustration is how uninformed about benefits University of Regina employees appear to be.

“All of this is wrong. It goes way back to the university, ‘oh, don’t worry about it. You’ve got life insurance, you’ve got health insurance, you’ve got dental insurance.’ Until you get sick, then things go wrong and you realize, you know what? You’re on your own.”

With what has transpired, Lavoie is unsure as to whether a return to work, the right he is seeking to establish for himself, is even possible.

“Right now, the situation with them is so ugly. To be honest with you, I think retirement’s coming, because I don’t think I can ever go back with these people. No matter what I do, it’ll never be good enough.”

Lavoie is unsure about his role in the new environment of the department he once called his own.

“Since I’ve left, the whole department’s been turned upside-down. I mean, can I do my job now? I don’t know. They’ve changed everything.”

These changes included differences in the amount of staff, scheduling, and the influx of technology that Lavoie says he would have to relearn.

“I haven’t been actively doing that job for any length of time for [the past] two years. To walk right back into it now, I don’t know…”

What makes things so difficult for Lavoie, aside from the loss of income and occupation, is that for him, the loyalty he has shown the institution has not been reciprocated.

“I look at it this way: It didn’t matter what time of day or what time of night it was, what time of year it was, when the University called me I was there. Whether it was Christmas break, it didn’t matter. If there was a flood, it didn’t matter. They phoned me, I was there. Even at the expense of my own family, I left what I was doing in my own home and went and helped them; and to be treated like I’m [being] treated right now, you know what? I’ve got a really shitty taste in my mouth. I am so disappointed. I never thought the University would do this to me.”

As of this writing, the University of Regina could not be reached for comment.

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