Ruth Rosenfield’s Attempt to Deny MTA Members Access to Financial Documents Must Be Rejected: An Open Letter to All MTA Members

By Robert Lavoie
MTA Syndical Rep for Westmount High

Dear fellow members of the Montreal Teachers Association,

Sorry to say but…here we go again:

There is an upcoming motion at the next MTA reps meeting asking reps to interpret the constitution in such a way that denies us access to the financial records of our union.

By now you have received a document from the MTA containing the most recent unfounded accusations against me by MTA President Ruth Rosenfield.

I understand that all of this is very unpleasant but I feel that there is no other choice but to continue to fight for our rights within the MTA. When one member is denied access to how our hard earned money is spent, this is an affront to the rights of all members. Whatever you may have thought of Ms Rosenfield’s work in the past, her recent moves to limit access to financial documents must be opposed by all of those who believe that a union’s finances must be transparent to its members. Therefore, I have put together a few words about the issues and I would ask that if this raises any questions from you, that you not hesitate to bring them up with me, publicly or in private.

We are all dues-paying members of the MTA and deserve the respect of having access to information about how our money is being managed. It is a fact that the MTA is spending beyond its means and that this will have to be addressed before we reach critical financial instability. We ran a deficit last year of $61 000. By my calculation, at our current rate of overspending, the MTA will have exhausted its surplus in 3 years (8 years if you average out the deficits of the last 5 years). There is more to this problem than just overestimating membership numbers by fifty teachers (BTW, I would not blame the huge deficit on the membership calculation as much as spending $19,000 more than the budget approved last year for syndical leave – $19,000 more than we spent during the last local negotiations). The short-term fix of going for a deficit should be a reason for concern. It is important for us to see where cuts can be made.

I believe very strongly in transparency and the sharing of information so that members can make informed decisions – whether I like the information or not.

I wonder how you feel about the fact that Ruth proclaimed that she had been defamed, yet was not able to cite one specific example of defamatory speech made against her? I am quite confident that, had Ruth been defamed, she would have taken legal action against me. Therefore, I find it quite hypocritical that she made a defamatory declaration of defamation…or is that ironic? LOL

I will go over some of my points, giving clarification.

1.    The benefits.

Let me start by saying that I appreciate all of the hard work and effort of everyone at the MTA office, with one exception. However, I do not believe that MTA employees should have better benefits than us teachers. How can anyone making more than twice the salary of the average teacher expect to have free dental insurance – from the money that comes out of OUR pockets? This opinion is shared by almost every teacher that I discuss this with. We find it insulting that they would have benefits that we do not have. I even suggested to Andrew Adams that the negotiations team try to get the same benefits for us teachers, but he dismissed the idea.

As far as I can tell, the only reason that somebody does not want the people who pay their salary to know what their working conditions are is because they fear that those people might question some of those benefits and voice their resentment. It is difficult to complain about what you do not know about. All of the working conditions and benefits of the teachers of the EMSB are on the internet for the whole world to see. Therefore, I see no valid reason why we should not be able to see the details of the contracts that are paid from the money deducted from our paychecks.

2.    The $2000+ dinner at Bice.

That is just another example of spending money that did not have to be spent…when we are running deficits (4 deficits in the last 5 years if you include the projected deficit of next year). I thought that people should know. It doesn’t matter what it comes down to per hour that the executive meets. Many of us teachers have done extra-curricular activities for years without expecting dinners or having our gas paid for and we pay for our own end-of-year staff dinners. There are people willing to do the job of the executive without costing the union this expense or any of the other monthly dinners. Let us not forget that this was but one of the paid-for dinners. I am not necessarily opposed to all dinners being paid for, but this is an exorbitant amount for one evening that could be cut back. At $200/person, that’s a teacher’s daily salary. I believe we can make these people feel appreciated at a nice restaurant that would cost half or even a quarter of this price.

3.    The interest-free loan.

I am still quite troubled by the loan given from our contingency fund. The reason that I was given for the member of the executive having recourse to the contingency fund for a loan was that, since she was sitting on the MEPAF board she was not able to receive a loan from that body. This made sense to me until I learned that, at or about the same time, a teacher sitting on that body did apply for a MEPAF loan to buy a new car. This teacher simply left the room when his loan was discussed and approved. Therefore, the member of the executive did not have the need or the right to a loan from the contingency fund. I thought that dues-paying teachers should know.

4.    The financials

This is quite a story that is still in progress. Contrary to the impression Ruth gives, I spent several weeks and e-mails politely asking to have my constitutional right to access the said financials. This was bad enough but when I showed up to the MTA offices, I was told that the vast majority of what I had asked to see was not going to be shown to me. They could have told me this in advance but they chose not to. How could anyone have anything but great suspicion about people who are refusing you your legal access to FINANCIAL DOCUMENTS?

5.    The AmEx card

Peter Sutherland questioned the fact that the AmEx card was not brought up at the meeting where I was given access to very few of the documents asked for. At the start of the meeting I was informed that I would only be given access to the documents that were in the folder that was given to me. The fact that the monthly statements were not in the folder of documents that I was given access to  made it quite clear to me that I was not going to have access to them. This is supported by the fact that I made an official request to Ruth and Réal to have access to the AmEx statements before the date of the AGM. I still have not received a response. Once again, who would not be suspicious of people withholding financial documents?

If there were any inaccuracies in my point about the AmEx card, they were the result of the refusal of the executive of the MTA to share the documents. If I had been given the documents I would have been able to report the facts instead of a conjecture.

While I am not claiming that any money has been disposed of in an illegal fashion, it is quite possible that not all of the membership would agree with how the money is spent. Nowhere am I stating that Ruth is using this money to buy shoes, but an expense account is just that: an expense account. If this card is being used for “business”, be it to buy staples, pens, executive dinners that are approved in the budget, etc., it is still an expense account. I don’t know how Ruth differentiates and what exactly falls into a separate category for her to say that “she” only spent $900. That being said, the membership has the right to know how their money is spent and I think that it is perfectly reasonable to question why union leaders would hide expenses from their own members.

6.    The sloppy accounting practices

There were many cheques that did not have anything written on the memo line. Filling out the memo line on cheques is a basic practice of good accounting. Two out of two CAs and three out of three MBAs that I talked with agree with me on this. BTW, they all also agree that it is a bad idea for a union to run a budgeted deficit four out of five years.

While it is true that a more detailed scrutiny of the MTA’s financial records may not reveal any serious impropriety, there is no way for any member of the MTA to know for sure if this Monday the MTA reps assembly passes Ms Rosenfield’s motion to limit the access of members to the union’s financial records.

Further, there is nothing defamatory whatsoever about a union member questioning how their own money is being spent.

The fact that Ms Rosenfield has resorted to false accusations of defamation and proposing motions to limit transparency should concern all MTA members that want a union that is transparent and responsible with its members money.

Sincerely,

Robert Lavoie

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