“That you explain to your readers why it is that the “industrial” employees of the Bermuda Museum Aquarium & Zoo (BAMZ) only became unionised within the last 12 months, in spite of the fact that the BAMZ is a department within the Ministry of the Ministry of the Environment. You can also explain to your readers why it is that the industrial employees of the BAMZ are represented by the BPSU and not the BIU.
Additionally, what did you do personally to counteract the “learned” opinions of the lawyers hired by the BAMZ to avoid unionisation of its employees.”
This was the most suprising statement to me. It had no relevance to the discussion at all. Many have contacted me by both email or phone to voice their perception that this was an attack on my character or another veiled threat. I am still unsure why she chose to include it here. But as she has raised it, I will speak to it…
I had thought it unwise to comment on my place of work, and have worked hard not to speak of it, or directly on related issues, primarily issues relating to the Ministry of the Environment. This has been difficult, as I have (as one would imagine) alot to say on Bermuda’s environmental situation and the situation within the Ministry itself.
I have worked at BAMZ since 2003. The union issue had been going on since when Arthur Hodgson was the Minister of the Environment, I think in 1999. So I was not present when the workers took the democratic decision to seek a legal injunction on the union issue. I can relate what I understand to have occurred prior to my employment, but advise that those workers who were present could answer it better.
As I understand it, following the formation of the first PLP Government they started working out anomalies within the Government departments. One of these was the situation of the BAMZ workers. No worker at BAMZ had ever had union dues deducted from their wages, either for the union or for charity. All Government workers were supposed to have been doing this, but for some reason BAMZ had never done this. I am not aware of the reason. We are led to understand that the fault was not with BAMZ but with Accounts.
Once Government was aware of this anomaly they sought to rectify it, understandably. How they went about it however made all the difference. Workers were notified that money would be deducted from their wages and given to the union. There was no attempt at explanation. Workers were obviously not impressed, either with the unexplained deductions, or that the funds were going to a union when they had not voted to join a union. As the situation developed it became necessary for Government to come and explain the issue, something that should have been done properly in the first place. This meeting was not conducted well by the Minister in question. In fact, it made it worse, as the Minister was percieved to having come in belligerent and patronising rather than constructive.
Shortly afterwards, and having sought legal advice the workers voted on taking a legal injunction preventing the withdrawal of funds from their wages. The ball was thus in Governments court. Government never responded to it, and the injunction dragged on until 2007 with no action from Government.
I joined in 2003. In 2006 I was one of the main organisers of the BAMZ Workers Council that formed to move forward with the issue due to Governments inaction.
As I understand the Governments position, and I can appreciate it, they said that all Government industrial workers had been part of a closed agency shop since a majority vote in the late 1970s. The position of the BAMZ workers was that they had not been included in the vote, and requested the right to vote on whether or not to unionise or not, and which union to join. This was a major sticking point, and was the main part of the legal injunction, BAMZ workers wishing to exercise their democratic rights.
In 2007, following the BAMZ Workers Council’s handling of the issue, the assembled workers voted overwhelmingly to unionise. We then sent invitations out to the BPSU and the BIU to send representatives to effectively ‘advertise’ their unions. Both unions made very good presentations. I was actually overseas at the time of these presentations. A series of votes was then held by the workers, along with heated discussion of the pros and cons. Three votes were held in total, only one being official. This was done in order to ensure that all sides of the deabte were heard. Ultimately the vote was unanimous. The vote went for the BPSU. The reason for this was because on reviewing Government job descriptions all similar ones to the bulk of BAMZ workers were BPSU positions. Those workers not mainly covered by BPSU positions did not want to join a separate union from the majority of BAMZ workers, and elected to join the BPSU also. It was that simple.
The official vote was tallied, with I beleive a 90% BPSU vote. The reason it was not 100% is due to some workers being sick and thus not present – they joined on their return.
At this point the BIU, or Government, had fourteen days within which to lodge a complaint. They did not do so, and the vote for BPSU representation thus came into effect. Long since that window of appeal we are led to understand certain obstacles are being placed in our way as punishment. I will not speak on that for now, but a little investigative journalism from the media would easily reveal it.
Most BAMZ workers remain classified as industrial. We are seeking reclassification as those job descriptions within government most similar to our work our not industrial classifications. The BPSU also represent industrials anyway, and other Ministry of the Environment workers, so this point is a moot one as far as I’m concerned.
What did I do to counteract the learned opinion of the legal advice? Apart from directly assist in the dropping of the legal injunction, and assist with BAMZ unionisation? I actually argued the case that under the closed agency shop we were in the wrong. That was my position. But the democratic action of the workers supersedes that, and the point is moot now, as the window of appeal has passed. I fully expected the BIU to sieze that opportunity. They, and Government chose not to. We are noe BPSU. We are happy with the BPSU. We are looking forward to reclassification. We are happy with our workers democracy.
Beyond that, I’ll have to respond later. I have written this pretty late at night, and am sure I have forgotten some things. I’ll catch them tomorrow.