Bermuda HealthCare Services (BHCS). *File photo by Simon Jones
Bermuda HealthCare Services (BHCS). *File photo by Simon Jones

A second worker at Dr Ewart Brown’s medical practice has been let go amid efforts by staff to become unionized.

Yolanda Dowling was dismissed from Bermuda HealthCare Services (BHCS) yesterday. She told the Bermuda Sun she was terminated for allegedly disclosing confidential information to a patient.

Ms Dowling said: “Every since they were served [with notice for unionization] in July, I went from Employee of the Year (2011) and Employee of the Month and not having any issues at work — to the worst employee in the world.”

Ms Dowling claims she’s had continuous problems at work since the move to join the Bermuda Public Service Union (BPSU). 

When she was informed of her dismissal yesterday, Ms Dowling said: “I expected it... It’s not just me. Another young lady was dismissed last week.”

She says neither her nor the woman who was dismissed last week had an opportunity to defend themselves.

We put questions to BHCS yesterday about the departures but a spokesman declined to comment.

We understand that seven of the 10 people who were eligible to vote signed a paper in favour of becoming unionized. Since then two from the pro-union group have been let go and Ms Dowling said another has recanted her vote.

Ms Dowling suggests staff are unhappy about issues such as overtime pay and benefits: “...It’s 2013 but I feel like we’re living in a Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman era and need to sing ‘We shall overcome’.”

Edward Ball Jr, general secretary of the BPSU, confirmed to the Bermuda Sun that “seven persons did sign up as members. I have no confirmation of anyone recanting their membership. I personally met with all of them and I am very mindful of the alleged workplace challenges that these ladies have experienced.”

Mr Ball said that the Employment Act 2000 does not afford a worker the opportunity to have a formal hearing to determine whether or not the complaint against them is fair and accurate.

Arbitrary

Speaking in general terms, he added: “What the union  has discovered in Bermuda is that when there are long delays in the granting of certification (taking the ballot for recognition) for a pending bargaining group, some employers allegedly resort to finding some ground to dismiss employees so that the numbers are decreased to defeat the union winning the ballot.

“Most times these employers have no defined personal policies and so the decision to dismiss tends to be at times arbitrary.  Unless the worker is given the opportunity to defend themselves, then it remains arbitrary. In most unionized workplaces in Bermuda, there is a collective bargaining agreement with a grievance procedure that allows for all parties to investigate the complaint and to get to discover the facts. At least the worker feels they have ‘had their day in court’.”

Mr Ball said the Workforce Development Department will have to conduct an investigation into why the two women were let go. 

He added: “Workers must be given an opportunity to be treated fairly and if they are falsely accused of something then they have a right to know who accused them.”

A spokesperson for BHCS yesterday said the medical practice “declines to comment at this time”. 

But on Monday BHCS said in a press release: “During the month of August, BHCS was notified by the Workforce Development Department that the Bermuda Public Services Union had approached them regarding the unionization of our medical office. 

“The department indicated that a small number of our employees had approached the union to seek representation. 

“Our lawyer has been in communication with the Workforce Development Department since the initial correspondence was received and we are following the process.

“If our employees desire union representation, they have a right to pursue their goal. We have not and will not disrespect the process as laid down in the law. 

“However, our most precious obligation at BHCS is the quality of care for our patients. Any conduct which threatens that quality will be managed accordingly. 

“Therefore, our employees must remember that union representation will not bring with it an atmosphere in which our patients are disrespected or mistreated.”