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Teacher alleges unfair treatment from union

Leonard Santucci (File photograph)

An educator argued that the Bermuda Union of Teachers improperly suspended him without due process for talking to The Royal Gazette.

During a hearing in the Supreme Court yesterday, Leonard Santucci said it was his right to respond to questions asked by this newspaper in 2021 and that he was later “ambushed” by the BUT.

He added: “If this had been done to me by an employer, the union would have been all over it. They would have taken the employer to the woodshed.”

However, he accepted that in his discussions with the media he had cited communications labelled only for internal distribution, and that the suspension was extended for two years by a vote of the general membership.

Dr Santucci served as the Bermuda Union of Teachers representative at The Berkeley Institute until he was suspended in October 2021 after he claimed in the media that the executive had violated its constitution.

In a civil case before the Supreme Court, Dr Santucci argued that he was denied due process and was unfairly stripped of his ability to run for the post of vice-president despite being nominated.

The dispute stemmed from a decision to remove Mike Charles, the union’s former general secretary, in June that year.

Dr Santucci initially brought issues about the handling of the matter to the union president, but later gathered signatures from members to host a special general meeting to address the matter.

He suggested that the meeting could be held at the Berkeley Institute school field because of Covid-19 restrictions, but was informed that it was not an option because the union’s constitution required such meetings to be held in private.

The response also suggested that the points be included in the next annual general meeting.

Dr Santucci said he was subsequently contacted by the Gazette about the issue and responded to questions.

He said that he felt it was necessary to respond to the questions because educators have a responsibility to educate and the union’s communication network did not provide opportunities to share dissenting views.

Dr Santucci said that he later took part in an emergency Zoom meeting called in the wake of the article in the Gazette,which he said he was surprised to learn concerned him.

He told the court that while he did miss the start of the meeting and had to leave early because of a family-related issue, he told the meeting that he had not gone to the media but had responded to questions.

“I was asked a question and I answered it. I felt it was my right,” he said.

Dr Santucci said he subsequently received further communication from the union, which was marked as only for internal dissemination, which said that disagreements about protocol should be dealt with internally.

Days later, the BUT was contacted by this newspaper again with questions stemming from comments made by Dr Santucci.

Dr Santucci subsequently received a suspension letter stating that he had released information to the media that should have been kept confidential, citing two stories in the Gazette in which he was quoted.

He said he and others were allowed to speak about his suspension at a special general members’ meeting on November 4, at which members were able to vote on whether the suspension should be lifted or extended, or whether Dr Santucci should be expelled.

Dr Santucci said that it was the equivalent of being able to speak at his appeal while not being able to speak at his main hearing.

Kyle Masters, counsel for the BUT, said: “This was a matter that had to be determined finally by the general members. It was always understood that it was not a final determination of your suspension.”

Dr Santucci responded: “The suspension letter was also used to nullify by candidacy for election. The suspension by the executive committee without a hearing.

“I was never informed of charges. I was never invited to a hearing. I was never invited to be part of the process.”

Members in attendance at the AGM voted in favour of extending the suspension for two years, with 50 members voting in favour of the proposal and seven voting against it.

The suspension has since ended.

The case before Chief Justice Larry Mussenden continues.

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