Unions are highly profitable enterprises

Trade unions are often viewed as the defenders of the workforce against any unscrupulous practices by big businesses. But unions can, in a way, be seen as businesses themselves, bringing in large amounts of money in dues from its membership.

Just how much income do these unions bring in and what exactly is the money used for? The Freeport News sought to answer these questions and spoke with a number of union representatives on Grand Bahama.

Through this story, the Freeport News discovered that, from just the four unions examined, in excess of $700,000 are collected annually from workers across the island.

The Bahamas Hotel Catering and Allied Workers' Union, one of the largest on the island, has approximately 985 members, according to the organization's second vice president Lionel Morely.

He explained that of that number, 895 members pay $10 per month in dues, while the other 90 members pay $9 per month.

When simple math is applied, these figures calculate to a whopping $117,120 in dues annually.

This amount, Morely said, is spent in large part on member care programmes the union provides.

The services include death benefits, sick benefits and scholarship funding.

A significant chunk of membership dues go to the sustenance of legal counsel, which is an important part of union business.

The second vice president explained the union has "top notch" counsel on retainer, since many situations arise where members need legal advice or representation.

Keith Knowles, president of the Commonwealth Electri-cal Workers Union, broke down the expenses of his union as well, noting that administrative costs eat up the bulk of funds collected in dues.

The 130 members of that union in Grand Bahama, pay $28 per month in dues, translating to a hefty income of $43,680.

Knowles said this amount is applied for payment of ordinary administrative expenses of the union, which covers a gamut of matters.

Other expenses include benefits that may be granted to members for various reasons, among them the provision of relief for members who may be sick, distressed or unemployed.

According to Knowles, relief is also afforded to members for maintenance of themselves and family members as well, during sicknesses or infirmities.

The union also assists with legal expenses its members may incur as a result of any disputes that may arise during the course of employment. The vast majority of union funds though, as the president explained, go to the administrative costs of the union.

According to second vice president of the Bahamas Public Service Union (BPSU), John Curtis his union has some 572 members in Grand Bahama and more than 9,000 nationally.

This means that the Grand Bahama branch collects some $171,600 in dues annually, after members contribute their monthly dues of $28.

Membership dues, Curtis said, go to the general adminsitration of that union, which include the funding of educational and training seminars, the maintenance of two offices that are fully staffed, the support of a pension and retirement plan as well as a strike fund for the eventuality of industrial action.

Curtis said the BPSU also retains legal counsel, "because there are any number of issues that come up at any time and we need legal advice."

The union executive explained that the organization also has funds allotted for an external audit, which is conducted annually.

Like the above mentioned unions, administrative costs use a considerable portion of monies received by the BPSU in dues.

The welfare of its members, Curtis said, is an important part of the union's responsibility and as such, money is spent on various items for its members, including fruit baskets for those that are sick and wreaths for the family of those deceased.

Member care, in that respect, constitutes a large part of the administrative costs.

The Bahamas Union of Teachers is one of the unions that remain in the headlines agitating for its membership.

With membership fees the highest among the unions examined – at $52.50 per month, the union also boasts a very large membership base, with approximately 600 members in Grand Bahama alone.

Though the amount paid monthly by members in dues could not be confirmed by Rudy Sands, area vice president of the union, the Freeport News obtained the amount from other sources within that union.

This would amount to a whopping $378,000 which Sands explained also covers the union's administrative expenses. Legal fees, he said, also bite out a large chunk of that amount.

While transparency is expected in any organization, public perception of unions often times is that they are profit-making ventures.

The reality, however, according to these union leaders, is that the funds go toward reasonable expenses.


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