HARBEL, Margibi – Firestone employees have now elected a new set of union leaders to represent them in the first of its kind elections at the plantation.
These elections will see the Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia dissolved because of a clause in the Decent Work Act that mandates that all plant unions cease to assist and affiliate with a national union. As a result, the elections were conducted by the Agricultural Agro-Processing and the Industrial Workers Union of Liberia.
The elections follow a court battle that resulted in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court ruling that the workers should conduct elections and not the regular leadership election conducted in the past.
Aggrieved workers had questioned a previous decision of the Firestone workers union to affiliate with the national union. They questioned the legitimacy of their leaders’ action.
There were two elections held – one was a general workplace election that all workers participated in to elect 53 representatives, while the other saw the 53 elected officials elect a set of leaders known as the Coordinating Committee. In the past, all workers would vote for officers such as president, secretary, and other posts.
The general election was held on Tuesday, September 4 and over 170 workers contested to occupy the 53 slots that were available for workers representatives.
An ad-hoc election commission had demarcated the plantation into four zones. The first zone comprised of the following departments: Rubber Purchase, Factory Maintenance, Boiler Plant, Central Receiving, Engineering, Machine Shop, Plant Protection, Electrical Services, Quality Control, Industrial Relations, Water and Sanitation, Transport, Factory Production, Education, Medical, Rubber Wood Factory, and Port Operations.
The second zone comprised of Divisions 1-6, 8, 10-12, 15, 17, 19-21, 42, and 43. Divisions 25, 26, 28, 33-37, and 39 formed the third zone while departments such as New Development, Nursery, and Landscaping formed the fourth zone.
Meanwhile, the September 4 election, which was scheduled to last from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., was extended to September 6 due to irregularities.
Elitha T. Manning, chairman of the Election Commission, told The Bush Chicken that only 25 percent of the voting population had cast their votes on the first day of the election.
“We couldn’t reach out to all of the divisions because of a heavy downpour of rain, which made it terrible to get to the voters. We were prepared, but sadly the rain couldn’t permit us to issue ballot papers to all centers,” he added.
However, there were several visible signs that the commission was unprepared. On the eve of the election, the commissioners were seen assembling poll worker as late as 8:00 p.m. to train them for the election that was to commence a few hours later.
Furthermore, many candidates complained that the commission had failed to conduct a proper public awareness campaign to voters. They feared that there could be a high number of invalid votes.
Rodennick Gbongolee, secretary of the Concerned Due Payers of FAWUL which had initiated the delays in the elections, wrote the commission, along with several other candidates, notifying them of irregularities and that the election should be re-run.
Gbongolee overwhelmingly won his election as a workplace representative, but he was later defeated in a contest to be chairman of the Coordinating Committee.
The Coordinating Committee is expected to run the day to day activities of the union and also serve as leaders of workers representatives on the farm.
Almost all the FAWUL leaders were elected on the Coordinating Committee, defeating key members of the Concerned Due Payers, who had battled them in court all through the years of their leadership.
Abel Fallah Ngigie, who was treasurer of FAWUL, was elected as chairman of the Coordinating Committee while Levi Sayway retained his post as vice president along with Jacob Kerkula, who served as secretary.
Other officials re-elected include Ben Henries as treasurer, Mama Kolleh as chaplain, and Harris Kerkula as the advisor.
Featured photo by Jefferson Daryoue