NUPW President lives to fight another day
The general membership of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) has spoken.
And based on the outcome of tonight’s no confidence motion, there can be no doubt who is in charge of the affairs of this island’s largest public sector union.
With a vote of 168 to 45, which came with seven abstentions, the embattled NUPW President Akanni McDowall tonight survived his biggest test since he took over the reins of the union on April 1, 2015.
After successfully overcoming the second attempt in as many months to remove him from the helm, a beaming McDowall immediately sought to mend fences within the union.
“I would like to thank all of the members who turned up this evening, even the ones who did not vote for me. I represent people who support me and who do not,” said McDowall at the end of a highly contentious four-hour meeting at the union’s Dalkeith headquarters that was marked by the flaring of tempers.
“My goal is to make sure that I give the best possible representation to the membership,” the NUPW leader said, while also expressing disappointment over the apparent division in the union that led to the tabling of the no confidence motion against him.
The main bone of contention was the recent transfer of the NUPW’s Medicare scheme to Sagicor, with Capita Financial Services acting as brokers, after the Insurance Corporation of Barbados coverage came to an end.
The motion, which was proposed tonight by NUPW member Kimberley Agard, charged that contrary to a decision of the National Council, which is the union’s highest decision-making body, McDowall had sought to overturn the decision.
“The President of the National Union of Public Workers has no authority to issue any such instruction without a directive from the Council,” the motion specifically stated.
It was strongly backed up by former NUPW executive member Derek Alleyne, who argued that the attempt to switch the medical coverage from Sagicor to another insurance company, would have resulted in a doubling of the premiums to members.
“It might not mean anything to the younger members but it means something to me at age 62,” Alleyne could be heard through the door saying, even though the meeting was closed to members of the press.
However, McDowall, who has been in the forefront of NUPW demands for a 23 per cent wage increase for Government workers, is maintaining that the move to oust him was politically motivated.
“Although I am successful tonight I am a bit disappointed because what we would have seen here would have been a division in the union and that goes against the very definition of what a union stands for.
“My task ahead is to unite as many people as possible so that we can have a strong unified union going forward. Now that this is over I can now ensure that public servants get a salary increase and temporary workers appointed,” the union president told reporters gathered outside the auditorium at the conclusion of the lengthy process.
Among the charges contained in the two-page document, which was distributed to members in the packed auditorium this evening, was that McDowall recently attended a ‘March for Justice’ organized by the Opposition Barbados Labour Party. This was seen by the proposers of the motion as inimical to the interests of the union and as having “the potential to divide and fracture the membership of the National Union of Public Workers”.
However, instead of a show of no confidence, McDowall walked with the membership’s strong backing.
This does not mean that tonight’s process was always plain sailing or without rancour.
It was just after 5 p.m. when McDowall entered the packed auditorium accompanied by his legal counsel Tanya Goddard and the union’s Treasurer Asokore Beckles.
Even then, it could be easily recognized that he still retained the support of a majority of the membership based on the loud applause he received.
However, pandemonium broke out around 8:30 p.m. when chairperson of this evening’s special general meeting, 1st Vice- President Joy-Ann Inniss, called for a show of hands by those who were against the no confidence motion.
Immediately, 168 persons pushed their hands in the air and there was a loud roar from within the gathering.
Earlier, the NUPW president had attempted to sit at the head table with other members of the union’s executive but NUPW General Secretary Roslyn Smith and Inniss both raised strong objection.
McDowall was then forced to sit in the front row of the auditorium with his legal counsel who was granted “observer status” by Inniss, even while raising strong objection to the lawyer making representation on behalf of McDowall during the four hour-long meeting, which had to be adjourned on several occasions.
The president also ran up against a major roadblock when he sought to have the union’s 2nd Vice President Fabian Jones act as chairman of the meeting. McDowall later gave in to a suggestion from the head table that Inniss be appointed chairperson instead.
During the highly charged meeting several speakers presented their arguments for and against with much passion forcing the chairperson to call for order on several occasions. There were even some cooling off adjournments of five and ten minutes that were called by Inniss.
In the midst of it all, the leader of the NUPW’s Sanitation Service Authority Division Hugh Smith was overheard saying: “If they oust McDowall tonight I will be encouraging the members at the SSA to withdraw themselves from the union.”
Another worker also expressed his dissatisfaction with the motion saying, “We need strong leadership like that offered by McDowall and his executive.
“When the Government laid off thousands of workers under the former [NUPW] leadership there was no talk of no-confidence motions in their leadership,” that member added.
However, the greatest show of support for McDowall was reserved for the very end as he emerged from the auditorium at the conclusion of the meeting just before 9 p.m. The President was hugged and kissed by several female members of the crowd, as his male supporters generously gave out pats on the back.
Meanwhile, when asked to comment on the outcome of the special general meeting, Alleyne said: “Democracy was at work this evening.”