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Charitable donations going to the union

The Senate reconvenes tomorrow 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.

Robin Tucker, a One Bermuda Alliance member of the Senate, is the Shadow Minister for Social Development and Seniors

At present, workers who do not wish to join the union must have the equivalent amount of union dues deducted from their pay each week. Non-unionised workers donate 100 per cent of those funds to charity. The proposed legislation will require non-union employees to pay 50 per cent of the deduction to the union, leaving the remaining 50 per cent 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-unionised workers to redirect monies that help support persons within our community that are in need is fair or just.

Our charities play a crucial role in this island, ensuring that our most vulnerable and all persons in need receive help. As of April 2020, there were more than 300 charitable organisations registered in Bermuda. We have not experienced a time of need greater than in this pandemic, which has seen a constricting economy and numerous job losses, and for persons fortunate enough to still be employed, many are seeing their paycheques reduced.

Pre-Covid, many people in Bermuda 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 organisations, provide food, shelter, medical assistance, counselling and other vital services required in this community to anyone with a need. Assistance is not given dependent on whether the needy person is non-unionised, unionised or unemployed.

It is the charities that people in need were able to turn to in March 2020 when the Bermuda Industrial Union 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 in more than in name only? Shouldn’t we be our brother in action also? Why then be a member and pay dues to an organisation that cannot give appropriate help to a brother in a global crisis? Of course, the union is not a charity, but it is a brotherhood. Right?

Our charities rely heavily 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 December 9, 2020, The Royal Gazette interviewed Jennifer Burland Adams, chief executive 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. Those in the human services subsector were least likely to have cash reserves with 79 per cent having 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-unionised worker donations to the unions.

The BIU website indicates that it has “some 22 collective agreements covering its full membership and includes approximately 60 employers and government. Some of these agreements are multiemployer agreements”. All persons working in those unionised workplaces must pay to the union a $3 joining fee and agree to $14 deductions per week in dues.

As stated previously, under the existing legislation, workers that do not wish to become union members and pay union dues may opt for 100 per cent 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 per cent 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 per week in dues

• $14 as a weekly contribution multiplied by 52 weeks in a year equals $728 per year in annual dues that are payable to the union or donated to a charity

• So, 50 per cent 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:

• Fifty workers having 50 per cent of their union dues sent to the union, that would be $18,200 per year more going to the union and $18,200 less donated to charity

• Five hundred workers having 50 per cent 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 who do not pay dues directly to the union at present, then $364,000 more in funds would be going to the union, and would mean $364,000 less funds donated to charity per year.

My comments are not intended to be a slight against the unions as I think they play an important role in fighting for workers’ rights on 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 per cent of dues, as one could fairly argue that non-unionised workers receive benefit from the union’s representation, but one could equally argue that unionised workers that do not contribute a dime to charity still receive 100 per cent 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 Labour 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 is instead giving the money to the union. This is unacceptable.

Robin Tucker, a One Bermuda Alliance member of the Senate, is the Shadow Minister for Social Development and Seniors

UPDATE: this op-ed has been amended to include a sentence from Jennifer Burland Adams’s quote that was inadvertently omitted by the author

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Published January 14, 2021 at 11:57 am (Updated January 14, 2021 at 11:57 am)

Charitable donations going to the union

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