Judging by her prepared resignation letter it seemed Mary Issacs had anticipated a motion of no confidence in her CSA leadership on Wednesday. What she didn’t expect was her membership’s decision to drop their demand for a 9.5 percent increase and instead accept the government’s initial offer of zero percent.
“It’s been a very long journey for the workers and for me as well,” a weary Isaac told the STAR following the CSA’s announced decision. “The whole thing has been very educational and enlightening. I certainly learned some useful lessons.”
She acknowledged her disappointment with some who profess to be experienced leaders. “As I see it,” she said, “leaders must lead with integrity. Trade unions are supposed to provide members some level of freedom and inspire unity. Some of the other unions obviously did not share my views.”
She felt no need to identify the discordant unions. Over the course of the negotiations, she said, CSA members had stayed together and had been openly vocal during the process, for her, an indication of “growth and maturity.”
On the other hand she acknowledged mistakes were made. She considered “the first mistake,” the decision by the police to negotiate on their own and then being the first to accept the government’s offer of four percent.
Referring to the CSA’s surprise decision on Wednesday, Isaac said: “What people are thinking now is that the members are tired or that the GNT said let’s get this over with. But what they stated to us in the last letter was that further to the meeting they wished to maintain the position of the four percent salary increase, ‘please be advised that this represents the final offer of the government and we hope that this offer concludes the triennium 2010- 2013.’
“Our response in effect is that we are going to accept what you have told us is your final offer. You have effectively ended the negotiations. So now we are saying keep your four percent, since you insist that you cannot pay despite all our pleas and cries. We are saying we accept your position and are ready now to bring things back on track.”
She explained that some members had expressed the view that accepting a four percent increase would simply push them into a higher tax bracket.
“In addition, we are saying we do not want to drive the country further into debt since the government has been saying repeatedly that it would have to borrow to pay the four percent. We have decided, all our efforts having failed and in the best interests of the country to accept the government’s initial offer of zero percent with conditions. But we want now for everybody to join us and help improve our fiscal position.”
Asked whether she was concerned there had been some infiltration by certain members, Isaac said she wasn’t. However, she was aware of a plan to demand her resignation as CSA leader.
“I actually came prepared in case a motion was tabled for me to resign,” she said in her typically calm fashion. What happened Instead was that the over four hundred membership listened patiently to the positions put forward by the executive, before announcing their acceptance of a zero percent increase. By the time the position was put to a vote the numbers had dwindled to just fewer than three hundred, with 228 voting to accept the offer, eighteen against and ten abstaining.
The STAR has since learnt that the CSA has also accepted a number of conditions from the government, including the retirement reclassification for public officers and affordable housing.
“This arrangement is expected to be discussed further with the CSA by the housing ministry, through the National Housing Corporation,” Isaac confirmed. The CSA will also receive an EC$50,000 contribution towards its medical plan and another EC$50,000 towards an education fund, for a three-year period. The issue of an agency fee, says Isaac, has to be taken to the government’s legal counsel. The CSA’s requests that crown lands be vested with the union for members and duty free vehicles provided for traveling officers were rejected.
Asked whether her membership is hoping in the new circumstances the government will be forced to impose a wage freeze on itself, Isaac chuckled.
“Well I think that this is a good opportunity for this country to start taking a turn for the better, regardless of what drove us to do that,” she said. “I believe this is a good opportunity for us to change the way that we’ve been doing things. I believe that if everyone learns a lesson from what we have done here we may be off to a good start in terms of better handling our economy.”
She suggested the mini-bus operators may now have to review their demands for an increase or reconsider by how much. “The Chamber members can look at their profit margins and say let us try to reduce that, and the banks can consider reducing interest rates. Lawyers and doctors may revisit their fees.”
She paused, smiled before continuing: “The government itself may say, okay things are really bad, maybe we should follow the CSA lead and forego what we think we deserve, at least until things pick up.”