Suspended: Joanne MacPhee yelled at marching workers on Front Street. *Photo courtesy of Bernews
Suspended: Joanne MacPhee yelled at marching workers on Front Street. *Photo courtesy of Bernews

UPDATE, FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 5PM: Labour row latest: MacPhee fired by Chamber of Commerce

This week’s labour unrest engulfed Bermuda Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joanne MacPhee in controversy. From the balcony of the Pickled Onion during her day off on Wednesday, Ms MacPhee yelled at marching union protesters to go back to work, adding that they should be glad that they have a job and they should be more concerned about feeding their families.

Chamber President Ronald Viera yesterday announced Ms MacPhee has been suspended without pay. The chamber’s full executive board is expected to meet soon to discuss her future. Mr Viera said the chamber found Ms MacPhee’s comments to be “unacceptable and offensive, and not at all reflective of the values or viewpoints of our organization”.

Bermuda Industrial Union President Chris Furbert painted the comments as irresponsible, suggesting she could have sparked unrest: “We could have had a mini-riot yesterday and I’m not trying to overdramatize anything,” he said. “Here you have a person in authority, inciting workers… and I don’t want to get into a race issue. Don’t want to. But guess what? For Ms MacPhee to make that kind of statement, we could’ve taken it there. We were having a peaceful march and there was no need for her to do what she did yesterday. She owes this country and our members an apology.”

He got his wish.

“I think he’s fair in his opinion,” Ms MacPhee said late yesterday afternoon. “I’m very regretful for my actions. I’m very sorry to the union and its members.”

Ms MacPhee said the comments were born out of her sensitivity to the unemployed. She said she was unemployed for a year before assuming her current post and considers it a “huge privilege to have a job in this economy... It was a very inappropriate decision that could have a very devastating effect on my life”, she said.

When asked, she denied that alcohol played any role in her comments.

Bryant Trew, a Bermuda Sun columnist, was on the balcony at Pickled Onion when it happened. He told us: “MacPhee was not trying to coerce and intimidate BIU members. She shouted her point of view about three times. Got up, said two sentences, and sat down... The two sentences were on the lines of: ‘You all should get back to work... You all should be thankful you have a job’.

“She was responded to with hostile disbelief. Several locals left the balcony out of fear, while a few tourists observed the entire event from the opposite corner of the balcony.

“Was she wise to have made the statements? No, but purely because tensions were so high. Was she doing anything that the marchers weren’t doing? No. Should she have freedom of speech to express her discontent over the strike? Absolutely yes. Anyone who decides to riot needs to take full responsibility for their own actions instead of blaming their rioting on the actions of a heckler.” 

Statement by Mr. Ronald Viera, President of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce

The Bermuda Chamber of Commerce has received information regarding the actions of our Executive Director. Let me say, first and foremost, that the chamber in no way condones the statements made by Mrs. MacPhee. The Bermuda Chamber of Commerce represents all of Bermuda and wholeheartedly supports the rights of unions and their membership.

Although the statements by Mrs. MacPhee were made in her personal capacity, and on her day off, we take these types of actions seriously and can assure the Bermuda public that this will be dealt with seriously and swiftly. The decision to suspend her without pay was taken by myself and key board members. We will meet with the full executive board as soon as possible to discuss further action. We wish to reiterate that we find the statements made by the Executive Director to be unacceptable and offensive, and not at all reflective of the values or viewpoints of our organisation.

PLP labels Chamber official's behavior 'reprehensible'

PLP press release - Statement by Shadow Finance Minister David Burt

During the labour march yesterday, the behavior of Ms. Joanne McPhee, Executive Director of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, was highly unacceptable.  It has no place in a diverse and civil society where we must have respect for the right of workers to organize and participate in peaceful protest. 

This behaviour is a manifestation of the anti-Bermudian and anti-labour attitudes that continue to divide us into two Bermudas.  Healing this divide requires concrete action not apologies after being caught.

As a former director of the Chamber of Commerce I am appalled that the Executive Director of an organisation that claims to be politically neutral would [act this way towards] Bermudians engaged in a peaceful march in support of worker's rights.  

The leadership of the Chamber of Commerce has an opportunity to send a strong message to Bermudians that there is zero tolerance for this behavior from within their ranks.  We call on the members of the Chamber of Commerce to make their feelings known about this reprehensible behavior to their President Mr. Ronnie Viera. 

We expect that the majority of members of the Chamber will require that she resign or their President take the appropriate and required action to deal with this unfortunate situation.