The controversial resolution to create the new post of Secretary General for president of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Akanni McDowall “died” on the floor of a chaotic special general conference at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre on Thursday evening.
The emotionally-charged meeting came to a premature end when the majority of members attending “voted” not to pursue the resolution after the backers of the measure failed to rise and represent it.
There were conflicting versions of what exactly took place inside the conference room as several noisy public workers along with some visibly upset officials and retired leaders emerged from the concluded talks with scores of other members still on the outside having not been able to get in.
As a team of police officers kept a close watch and staff of the LESC tried frantically to ensure the COVID-19 protocols were being maintained, one of the first NUPW officials to appear from the meeting to waiting reporters was acting General Secretary Wayne Walrond and his deputy Richard Greene.
Walrond told journalists that measures would now have to be put in place to ensure “this unfortunate situation” does not repeat itself.
“There are lessons to be learnt from this situation. We thank God that the members have come out and demonstrated that they are putting the union first. We have to make some decisions to ensure that this unfortunate decision does not repeat itself and we need to chart the way forward to improve the union,” he said.
He added: “The meeting went in the direction of not supporting the resolution because the workers made a determination that the union must be put first; and therefore anything that seeks to destabilize or harm the union cannot be the workers’ agenda. We are happy that we can move forward beyond this.”
Pressed by reporters to explain what exactly led to the motion dying, Walrond offered the explanation: “We had an overwhelming situation where persons determined that this [resolution] was not sustainable.”
Pressed further to state if there was a vote, he replied: “The people did vote on the floor.”
He was then asked on what motion did they vote? It was at this point that his deputy quickly intervened and declared: “On a motion to end the meeting because no one presented the resolution.”
Greene further explained: “The movers of the petition and the resolution left the meeting and the members present did not see it fit that they should put it to a vote.”
When McDowall, accompanied by the author of the resolution Natalie Murray and other supporters emerged on the steps of the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, he provided reporters with another version of what led to the petition’s demise.
Describing the situation as unfortunate, McDowall said that having taken up the chairman’s seat, he later agreed to recuse himself from being presiding officer “since I was part of the resolution”.
“I explained to the general membership that because of the COVID protocols there were hundreds of people who were on the outside trying to get in. There were some people who were being denied access and they needed to get into the meeting so that could participate in the democratic process,” the president said.
“Additionally, the Credentials Committee came back to me to say they were having some challenges with persons getting into the meeting and participating in the process. So therefore I humbly asked that persons be allowed to come into the meeting so that we can have a full democratic process,” McDowall pointed out.
The union leader told reporters that upon making this request, some members felt the meeting should be continued.
“Then the security guy came to me and said he was instructed that I be removed from the meeting. I tried to explain to him what the rules of the union say, but, of course, he was not familiar with the specifics of the rules and therefore he decided he did not want to create any trouble. He decided that I [should] remove myself and then we can deal with the other union matters after,” the NUPW leader declared.
Retired president Walter Maloney who attended the meeting, said he had expected one of two outcomes, the death or the rebirth of the union.
“I think what happened this evening was the rebirth,” he said.
Maloney said he has never seen the type of indecency and bad behaviour surrounding NUPW than during the past couple of weeks.
“What makes this even more ridiculous is that if the employer had done something like this, all of those people you see out here this evening would be on the streets and begging the union to do something about it,” Maloney contended.
Fabian Jones, who will be challenging McDowall for the presidency during general elections next month, gave his version of what caused the petition to fail.
“The proposers abandoned the pursuit. The president sat in the chair and he tried to chair the meeting. He took too long to recuse himself and it caused some confusion. But I am so glad that we are past this and I can move on to my campaign,” Jones said.
While the long queue snaked around the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre during the minutes leading up to the start of the conference, the temperature on the outside rose as heated verbal exchanges ensued between staff of the LESC, union members working with the conduct of the meeting and some individuals who were recognized as Public Service Vehicle (PSV) operators that had signed up on the spot in order to vote.
The PSV personnel who were seen in the company of the author of the resolution at one point, vociferously complained that they were being prevented from entering the conference room.
However, one of the union members working on the outside in relation to the conduct of the meeting was heard to explain to a police officer nearby that the same PSV operators had left the queue and therefore forfeited their original position.
There were also times when the police officer had to try to calm down some of the noisy ZR workers as emotions ran high while the queue moved at a snail’s pace.