In a renewed surge of trade union repression in the US-based agricultural giant Dole-Philippines, officers of the legitimate union have been “impeached” through a rump “general membership assembly” held by a company-sponsored faction that wants to take over the union leadership.
Calling itself UR-Dole (or sometimes AK, without the NAFLU-KMU appendage) and led by its chairman Francis Gales, the rival, pro-management group used the long-resolved issue of rice encashment allocation to hold an illegal union assembly last February 13to kick out the all 31 duly-recognized officers of Amado-Kadena-NAFLU-KMU (AK), from its president Jose Teruel down to the shop stewards. This move comes in the wake of other attacks by management to cripple the militant AK and have it replaced by a docile union, in violation of the workers’ basic right to freedom of association.
The fund in question is an economic concession in the current CBA by management for rice subsidy to union members. Based on the terms of the existing CBA and as ordered by the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), the monthly rice subsidy to each union member was to be administered by the union and its officers, and not by management. When members later chose encashment of the subsidy rather than rice in kind, this was interpreted by management as a decision that automatically gives it authority to administer the rice funds. Toeing this line, Gales and his group filed a petition at the Region XII DOLE office to assert the prerogative of management to administer the rice encashment fund’s allocation, something which the AK believes is part of Dole-Phils machinations to deprive the union of much needed liquidity.
Dismissed twice by the Region XII DOLE Director Gloria Tangco, the petition was eventually referred by Med-Arbiter Geraldine Jamora to the AK-NAFLU Executive Board, instructing it to resolve the issue by referring the matter of allocation back to the union membership through a general assembly.
The AK leadership protested this move by filing a petition to the DOLE National Office, asserting that its Region XII office has no jurisdiction over an issue that has already been decided with finality by the DOLE National Secretary himself. While waiting for the result of this legal intervention, Gales and his group took matters in their own hands by holding a bogus assembly last February 13 within the company premises and using vehicles owned by its managers, and attended by some 1,000 union members coopted and mobilized by management. There, they were made to sign an impeachment complaint drawn up by Gales. The document also contained provisions “disaffiliating” AK from NAFLU-KMU and “authorizing” the Dole-Phils management to administer the rice encashment fund.
According to AK President “JT” Teruel, UR-Dole’s (and management’s) intervention was patently illegal and violative of both local and international labor standads. It did not conform with requisites for the holding of a union general assembly, much less an impeachment process and election of new officers (which Gales and his group also did that very day). Under the Philippine Labor Code, a union general assembly can only be considered valid on two counts: it has to inititiated by the union’s Executive Board, or by the union membership after filing a petition signed by at least 30% of the total membership. In the February 13th incident, none of these requisites were present, as Gales or anyone from his group was an officer of the union, and there was no petition filed by the union membership.
Similary, the election of new officers cannot be considered valid as less than ¼ of the union membership were present. UR-Dole and the management were able to generate a fake attendance sheet to show that some 3,000 (or majority) of the union’s 4,224 members were present and signed the impeachment document, when in fact this attendance sheet was that of a seminar (the Industrial Security Focus or ISF, which also contains red-baiting propaganda against the KMU) previously held by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in the company premises, and in cooperation with Gales’s group and the management.
The “election” of new officers to replace the “impeached” 31 officers of AK was also riddled with irregularities. There was no commission on elections (COMELEC) constituted to supervise it, and there was no representative from DOLE (the labor agency, not the company). Furthermore, the impeachment proceedings was not even in the agenda which had to be distributed prior to the assembly. Despite all these glaring violations, the Dole-Phils management quickly recognized the new set of officers and validated the rump assembly.
In a counter-move, the AK through its lawyers filed a petition to the Bureau of Labor Relations (BLR) office in Manila calling for a status quo order, which BLR Director Rebecca Chato immediately granted and issued last March 18. However, Dole-Phils and UR-Dole appears to ignore this order as it even issued calls for the forcible ejection of the 31 AK officers from the union office. Right now, AK members and officers are on 24-hour watch to prevent Gales and his group from illegally taking over the office.
Prior to this recent spate of union-busting attacks, the Dole-Phils management has already filed trumped up charges against Teruel and maneuvered to remove some of AK’s officers from employment. Some 20 criminal cases are still pending before a local court against Teruel for forgery in connection with a union special assessment, all filed by Gales and his supporters.
The company is also trying to cripple AK financially by arbitrarily refusing to release the union dues it collects beginning last January till now (March 2010). Since AK normally receives approximately P250,000 in monthly dues from its members, the company currently owes it around P750,000 in receivables. The union plans to file an estafa case against the company this coming April 5 to force Dole-Phils to release its funds.
Dole Food Company, Inc., of which Dole-Phils is a subsidiary, is currently under audit from the Social Accountability International (SAI) for compliance with SA 8000. The company is a Signatory Member of SAI, and is bound by the principles of SA 8000, an internationally recognized standard based on the ILO conventions, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Rights of the Child, focuses on child labor, forced labor, health and safety, freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, compensation and the implementation of an efficient management system.
Dole-Phils’s move to have the militant AK replaced with a more pliant company union such as UR-Dole is seen as part of a long-term corporate strategy to “window-dress” its violations of core labor standards in its Third World subsidiaries, and to continue benefitting from accreditation by SAI as a “socially-responsible” TNC. In 2009, Dole-Phils CEO Kevin Davis explicitly asked AK president Teruel to disaffiliate from KMU and become an independent union, as a “personal favor”. When Teruel refused, a string of harassment cases and other union-busting actions by management followed soon after, and has gone unabated since.#