Centered on the Bill Entitled: Trade Union and Labor Relations (Consolidation) Act 2020
By Senator Robin Tucker
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The Senate reconvenes on Wednesday for the first time after the Christmas and New Year festivities to debate several pieces of legislation that if passed, will become law. Among the changes is the redistribution of funds from charity to the union. Presently, workers that do not wish to join the union must have the equivalent amount of union dues deducted from their pay each week. Non-unionized workers currently donate 100% of those funds to charity. The proposed legislation will require non-union employees to pay 50% of the deduction to the union, leaving the remaining 50% for charity.
This legislative move requiring half of the deduction to be paid to the union is deeply concerning especially coming from a Government that espouses concern for all its people. It is difficult to comprehend how forcing non-unionized workers to redirect monies that help support persons within our community that are in need is fair or just.
Our charities play a vital role in this island ensuring that our most vulnerable and all persons in need receive help. As of April 2020, there were over 300 charitable organizations registered in Bermuda. We have not experienced a time greater than in this pandemic that has seen a constricting economy and numerous job losses, and for persons fortunate enough to still be employed many workers are seeing their paychecks reduced. Pre-Covid many people in this island were finding it difficult to make ends meet, but we read the reports in the news and heard the stories of people who have never been a client of a charity that are now having to become one. Charities, and some other Third Sector organizations provide food, shelter, medical assistance, counselling, and other vital services needed in this community to anyone with a need. Assistance is not given depending on whether the needy person is non-unionized, unionized or unemployed.
It is the charities that people in need were able to turn to in March 2020 when the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU) recommended to its members that they sign up for Government unemployment benefits since the union “benefits package and plan for union members was never designed for that [purpose].” Aren’t we our brother’s keeper other than in name only? Shouldn’t we be our brother in action also? Why then be a member and pay dues to an organization that cannot give appropriate help to a brother in a global crisis? Of course, the unions is not a charity but it is a brotherhood, right?
Our charities heavily rely on donations in order to provide critical support and services to those most needy in our society, so it is shocking that the Government would promote such a move to redirect funds from charities to the union particularly since the pandemic has exposed how great the needs are in the community and also how challenging it is for charities to secure funding.
On 9 December 2020, the Royal Gazette interviewed, Jennifer Burland Adams, CEO of WaveCrest, a charity advisory group and she stated, “non-profits remained at similar levels to pre-Covid with 65 per cent having six months or less of operating funds available. Surprisingly, the larger non-profits – those with more than $1 million in revenue – were most likely to have six months or less. This is particularly concerning, as this group has been funded the most during the pandemic and is most likely to have expanded its services or the population it is serving as a result of other implications of the pandemic”. Funding for charities will be negatively impacted by the legislative changes by sending half of non-unionized worker donations to the unions.
The BIU website indicates that they have “some 22 collective agreements covering its full membership and includes approximately 60 employers and government. Some of these agreements are multi-employer agreements.” All persons working in those unionized workplaces must pay to the union a $3 joining fee and agree to $14 deductions per week in dues.
As stated previously, under the current legislation workers that do not wish to become union members and pay union dues may opt for 100% of their “dues” to be sent to a charity of their choosing. When the law changes it will mean that only 50% of those funds will be going to charity. Although, unable to determine exactly how much of a financial impact redirecting 50% of funds away from charity to the union would be, for context I offer a basic example initially using a single employee:
- An employee pays $14.00 per week in dues
- $14.00 as a weekly contribution multiplied by (52 weeks in a year) = $728 per year in annual dues that are payable to the union or donated to a charity
- So, 50% of $728 would be $364 per worker that would be diverted away from charity to the union annually, so if we assume that there are:
- 50 workers having 50% of the union dues sent to the union would be – $18,200 per year more going to the union and $18,200 less donated to charity
- 500 workers having 50% of union dues sent to the union would be $182,000 per year more going to the union and $182,000 less donated to charity
If there are 1,000 workers that do not currently pay dues directly to the union then $364,000 more funds would be going to the union this would mean $364,000 less funds donated to charity per year.
My comments are not intended to be a slight against the union as I think they play an important role in fighting for workers’ rights in this island. It is time to consider whether workers that do not want to become union members should pay a nominal fee of far less than 50% of dues as one could fairly argue that non-unionized workers receive benefit from the union’s representation, but one could equally argue that unionized workers that do not contribute a dime to charity still receive 100% of benefits if they need them.
Should we allow this amendment and bite the hand that literally feeds and services this community? I think not. I am dismayed by the amendment as set out in Section 64 of the Trade Union and Labor Relations (Consolidation) Act 2020 and I hope that you are too. In sum, at a time when many people are tightening their wallets, and instead of giving to charity, are relying on services themselves the Government is taking away critical funds from the charities and are instead giving the money to the union. This is unacceptable.