Response to Sister LaVerne – Three

“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.

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3 thoughts on “Response to Sister LaVerne – Three

  1. See, this is why I argue that we need one big union that will represent and organize all of the workers, regardless of trade/craft, whether they are skilled or unskilled etc.

    I also prefer I union that functions on rank-n-file organization rather than the empowerment of leaders, because have all seen how that turned out in the trade and industrial unions around the world.

  2. Below are some comments from Sister LaVerne Furbert that she posted in the thread ‘1000hrs, Labour on the March.’ As they are more relevant to this thread than the other, I am reposting them here:

    “Jonathan, as I have said time and time again, there are some things that you think you know, but you really don’t know. Once again I ask you to check out why the BAMZ did not become a member of the BIU when all other government workers did way back when. This happened long before you became an employee of the Ministry of the Environment. This no something that just happened in the last ten years. The BIU has had an agency shop agreement with the Bermuda Government for well over 20 years, or probably 30 years, long before the PLP became the Government. I don’t know of any other Government department where industrial “blue collar” workers are members of the BPSU and not the BIU. Do you know of any, if so pray tell. All of the workers at the BAMZ are not scientists. I am sorry if you feel that I am sounding patronising, but I do know that some things happened at the BAMZ before you became employed there. That is why I am suggesting that you find out the truth. By the way, I don’t need to contact anyone that works at the BAMZ to find out why they refused to become members of the BIU, I have read the actual records.

    Secondly the issue with the BIU and the TUC has nothing to do with the 35 hour work week. Of course the dockworkers or any other division of the BIU was not contacted by the BIU Executive to participate in the “demonstration”. That’s because the demonstration involved members of the TUC and the BIU is not a part of that.”

  3. Laverne, fine, you seem to be insinuating that there are ‘ things that you think you know, but you really don’t know.’ Fine, do tell. Go right ahead. I look forward for the education minus the patronising.

    As far as I can gather you are reffering to events long before I was employed, even before I was alive, as I understand the vote you refer to occurred in the late 1970s (I was born in 1979 you see).

    I don’t kow what happened then. You seem to, you tell me. However your apparent attacks on BAMZ are fruitless as of the employees who were present then I think there may be but one still working. Of recent events, the legal injunction and the like that I was referring to, less than half of the employees present at the time are still at BAMZ (I think eight out of just over twenty). Most employees were thrust into the situation, and we have done our best to sort out a mess not of our making. It would make more sense for you to be happy that we have sorted out an albeit imperfect solution to the problem and have joined the ranks of organised labour. But you seem determined to attack us all the same.

    There was a window within which the BIU or Government could have appealed the BPSU vote and argued the closed agency shop. Niether did so. Life moves on.

    If you want to write adequate articles about how us workers feel about things, come down and actually interview us. We can’t help what happened in the past. But we can work together for the future.

    We had an argument about the concept of the closed agency shop some years ago, in your office, while I was working on solving the BAMZ question. I understand it has some pros, but I think its cons are too great. All workers should have the right to deunionise, reunionise or form a new union. The closed agency shop leads to over-bureacratisation of the Union, and I think we are seeing that in many ways of late.

    I apologise if I am wrong about my understanding of the BIU/TUC issue. I was recalling a conversation with the immediate past President, Brother Derrick Burgess. Perhaps I am remembering the conversation wrong. Please, explain the situation then as you seem to know.

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