With hours to go before an historic public workers’ vote on whether incumbent president Akanni McDowall is to be elected as the first Secretary General of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW), the chasm between the opposing factions appears to be widening as the atmosphere heats up.
The central issue is a controversial petition signed by 138 of the 6,500 members of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) who are supporting the resolution that urges the membership to vote to create the new post and install McDowall with immediate effect.
But with McDowall and the author of the petition Natalie Murray having already appealed to members to turn up in their numbers and vote in favour of the motion, there were early signs tonight of members declaring their opposition to the resolution and asking others to follow suit.
A member of the union’s policy making body – the National Council – who did not want to be identified, is adamant that this “unconstitutional” resolution should be defeated in an effort to save the integrity of this union.
“Brothers and sisters, while this is not an election of candidates to fill a post, I encourage you to come out on Thursday to vote against this unconstitutional resolution in an effort to save the integrity of this union,” said the council member.
“I am confident that most members of the National Council of the NUPW do not support the move by a small number of the union’s 6,500 members to install the president as Secretary General at Thursday’s Special Conference. It is unscrupulous and unethical and if successful, will lead to organizational collapse and destroy the soul of the NUPW,” the high-ranking member stated.
Noting that the National Council is empowered to employ staff, approve union expenditure, sanction industrial action and set policy, the member added: “I find the present saga at the National Union of Public Workers to be disruptive, distracting, destructive and intolerable.”
Barbados TODAY also obtained a copy of a poster on the official letterhead of the NUPW which, while advertising Thursday’s meeting is also advising members to reject the resolution.
The flyer, which was reportedly put out by union staff, states at the end: “Say no to this resolution by coming out tomorrow Thursday at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre at 5 p.m. and vote against this resolution.”
The promotional material also sought to explain “the facts” concerning the post of General Secretary which will be at stake tomorrow.
It stated that this post which is being renamed is a full-time paid position within the Secretariat and the officer is appointed and serves at the pleasure of the National Council.
“The post of General Secretary falls under the union rules and staff manual and functions in compliance with the provision of the Employment Rights Act.
The post of General Secretary is not filled by elections among the membership.
“Shifting the full-time position of the General Secretary from under the National Council and placing it before a Special General Conference creates administrative chaos, violates good governance, and is an affront to the rules and structures within the union,” the poster read.
“Using this method to deal with allegations of short comings is a breach of natural process and may be deemed a hostile take-over. This is even worse than the proposed contracting of work at the senior level within the public service to which the NUPW is opposed.”
It declared: “The resolution in its current form is tantamount to bringing the union into disrepute, causing chaos and contributing to the collapse of good governance and proper structures.”
Third Vice President of the NUPW Kimberley Agard – who will be challenging McDowall for presidency in next month’s general elections – also expressed her expectations for tomorrow’s meeting.
“The fate of NUPW lies in the hands of the members and whatever decision is made tomorrow, I just would hope that the members would take responsibility for the decision and the union can move forward in a positive way after tomorrow,” Agard told Barbados TODAY.
“Whether or not the motion is successful, there is life after this…and you would hope that there is an NUPW after this. So there needs to be a lot of repairing to the image and to the operations of NUPW,” she said.
Agard also said she would feel more comfortable at tomorrow’s meeting with a police presence considering the disruptions that took place at a recent meeting at union headquarters in which police had to be summoned to restore order.
It could not be ascertained tonight if police have been requested to be there.
Another member who is coming up against McDowall next month also weighed in on the prospects of the meeting.
“I expect a large turnout, but I expect that the motion will be defeated. I don’t expect this two-third majority to come through. I am going to increase my momentum [for presidency] because after tomorrow’s meeting, I expect Akanni to revert to the presidential race after losing the SG race,“ said Fabian Jones, a member of the National Council and former First and Second Vice President of the NUPW.
The signatories to the contentious resolution are meanwhile at the centre of a possible law suit based on certain statements contained in the document, which acting General Secretary Wayne Walrond believes may be defamatory against his character.
McDowall and Murray have described Walrond’s decision to sue as scare tactics aimed at silencing members from exercising their democratic right to vote for the leadership of their choice.
“This is clearly an effort to scare workers from coming out and all I can ask is that they come out in their numbers and vote in support of the resolution,” McDowall stated this week.
“It would be impossible for Walrond to lead workers when he has threatened them,” the president added.
Murray described the acting General Secretary’s possible legal action as distasteful, shameful and desperate.
“How dare you use the media…to threaten the members of the NUPW with a lawsuit. Your scare tactics will not stop us from turning up on Thursday to demand our right to choose the type of leadership that we think we deserve at the NUPW,” the author of the resolution said Tuesday.
Walrond has already condemned the decision to introduce the resolution. ([email protected])