BUT leadership conundrum: when ‛occupation’ is not nine-tenths of the law
This week I laid out before a teachers group a few positions, and made some assertions about the Bermuda Union of Teachers’ hierarchy, hoping to be thumped and countered by contrary facts by any of its 1,000 members — but “nada”.
Today, it should be said to all of Bermuda — its people, and in particular parents, government institutions and all the unions — that we must collectively help to save the oldest union in Bermuda from a monumental disaster and international embarrassment.
I had said in that unrefuted dialogue that the BUT leadership at present is unconstitutional, hence void. Explained differently, it does not exist because after Michael Charles was sacked as general secretary. that constitutional post has not been ratified by the entire membership. Making matters worse, the “occupier” leadership has assumed without authority all the management and executive functions, including financial control of the BUT, which has substantial assets and assured liquidity.
Nor did the executive appropriately remedy the presidency when Nishanthi Bailey lost her job as a teacher, making her ineligible for that post, where she should have recused herself. Instead, the president went on and assumed a term as head of the Bermuda Trade Union Congress. These were very serious allegations not to be countered and seemingly excused by some members as expediency.
At a substantial cost to the membership, the “occupiers” have sworn a group to secrecy under non-disclosure agreements, where BUT initiatives and agendas are self-approved. That act alone is seriously unconstitutional. Obviously, they believe they are doing the right thing for the union. However, they have no authority to deem such power unto themselves because that power belongs to the base, whether they like it or not.
This situation reminds us of the question asked of Benjamin Franklin in 1787 after the constitutional conference about the type of government they had. He answered: “This is a republic if we can keep it."
The BUT was founded like a republic where the people are the authority. But again, and similarly, only if they can keep it.
The new occupiers have no sense of that kind of structural philosophy and have already changed that idea in their practice, and would spend BUT funds to alter the constitution, claiming that it is old and outdated if left alone.
The occupiers removed the only constitutional leadership they had during the summer of last year without the body’s total approval or knowledge because Covid restrictions precluded the possibility of open meetings — the hallmark of the Bermuda Union of Teachers.
They floated rumours for a rationale on why Dr Charles was terminated; it is questionable over what has been done with the funds put aside for his salary. The BUT has hired expensive lawyers to fight a legal battle against the Department of Education’s sacking of the now “occupier” president, and that is an unwinnable battle, all under the cloak of secrecy with the people’s (teachers’) money.
Personal issues are not the liability of the BUT unless the members deem it so.
The Department of Education, perhaps again, must clarify to the public if the “occupier” president, who was formally adopted and ratified, is still a teacher — and, if not, the reason why she was terminated. That is because she cannot be a BUT member, let alone its president if not a teacher. The ministry owes that clarity to the public and the president owes that to the body. It is not meant to be a secret among a select club of members until they sort it out.
While the BUT is an autonomous group of teachers, it is the “Bermuda“ teachers union and accountable to everyone, as incorporated under our Act and laws. Without public schools, it would not exist.
The occupiers cannot fix the debacle, in particular, and they should not misuse BUT funds to attempt to change the constitution in order to bring a personal remedy by altering the structure of the entire BUT in the process.
We must preserve the union from reinterpretation. The founding fathers envisioned a union whose members were all equal; they did not have designs of a corporation of teachers with a CEO in place.