Firestone Union Leaders Pull Out of Historic Merger

HARBEL, Margibi – The Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia has pulled out of a merger it entered with two other unions in the country.

They were the Golden Veroleum Workers Union, and the Metal Mechanic Electrical Communications and Allied Workers Union. The new union formed by the three unions last October was called the Agricultural Agro-Processing and the Industrial Workers Union.

The call to pull out of the merger appears to be drawn out of a need for FAWUL’s leaders to secure their own interests as the demand to leave was first sparked when Firestone’s management notified the leaders to return to the respective posts they held before being elected.

Firestone said it was acting based on a communication from AIAWU’s legal team that FAWUL was now dissolved and that the company should only do business with AIAWU. Firestone also gave the FAWUL leaders the ultimatum of either quitting their work with Firestone or returning to their previous posts.

Typically, Firestone workers who are elected by their colleagues to represent them in the union are relieved of their work with the company during their tenure. After their tenure, most of them are typically promoted, along with receiving salary increases, although that practice was not enshrined in writing.

But the recent communication from the company indicated that Firestone would not be applying that same practice for FAWUL’s current leaders. Additionally, AIAWU had not yet presented the names of individuals that would represent workers at Firestone.

FAWUL’s President Harris Kerkula, who formerly worked with Firestone’s Estates Department as a rubber tapper, was asked to resume the same duty. He and the other leaders had been drawing dual salaries, both from the union and from Firestone. A return to their former duties would be seen as a demotion.

FAWUL’s leaders had previously defended their decision to merge with the other unions until they understood that their stature would be threatened under the merger. Now, as it appears that they realize the consequences of the merger, the organization’s leaders have gone to the Ministry of Labour for redress.

They have argued that the merger was not legal and that there were still other issues that needed to be carefully handled. FAWUL has argued that AIAWU does not have the right to manage their assets until the tenure of FAWUL’s current leadership ends early next year.

Prior to FAWUL’s withdrawal from the merger, union dues from Firestone workers had been going directly to AIAWU and Firestone’s management only interacted with the larger union’s leaders.

Now, Kerkula and other FAWUL leaders have joined a small group of dissenters who originally were against the merger, claiming that their leaders had failed to consult the union’s membership before entering into the merger.

Rodemnick Gborgolee, assistant secretary of FAWUL, was one of such dissenters who had fallen apart with his colleagues because he disagreed with them on how the merger was being handled. He appeared on several radio stations in Margibi informing workers of his discontent.

One Firestone worker, Steve Doe, said he was glad FAWUL leaders had listened to pressure from workers to return to the status quo. He said the leaders would not have been in such a predicament if they would have earlier heeded the advice of dissenting workers.

“How could they have entered into a merger AIAWU, who has no assets?” Doe added.

At the induction of the leaders of the new AIAWU union months ago, former Labor Minister Samuel Kofi Woods praised the workers for their decision to come together to foster the agenda of workers. He described the decision as one of the greatest union accomplishments in the country.

Featured photo by Bill E. Diggs/Solidarity Center

Jefferson Daryoue

Jefferson is the news director at Peace FM in Harbel. He is also a former student leader of the Margibi University Student Association at the University of Liberia.

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