From Iceland — Former Union Organisers Speak Up About Internal Pressures, Firing Without Notice

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Selena Phillips-Boyle

Several former employees of labour union Efling’s organising division have come forward about their experiences with the union last spring, Fréttablaðið reports. All of the organisers who went on the record were non-Icelanders hired to organise workers. One of them alleges he was fired without notice and with little explanation, and the group itself was dissolved by Efling leadership shortly thereafter.

Last April’s signing of a collective bargaining agreement between Efling, its allied unions (VR, LÍV, Framsýn, VLFA and VLFG) and management was cause for celebration for many workers in Iceland. A great many of the workers within Efling are amongst the lowest paid in the country, and a great many of them are comprised of immigrants.

In order to help organise these workers, Efling established an organising division led by Maxim Baru (seen above), an organiser from Canada who came to Iceland expressly for this purpose. Several other immigrants also joined this organising division to take part in the struggle.

However, Maxim tells Fréttablaðið that the reality within Efling was quite different.

“We were working long days and trying to organise the bus driver’s strike. We, including Max, never went against the leadership of Efling.”

“I was getting paid well, and worked closely with union leadership in the beginning, and even wrote what [Efling chair] Sólveig Anna [Jónsdóttir] should say about strikes,” he told reporters. “Then she disappeared completely into collective bargaining negotiations. Meanwhile, I was with a group of people working hard together and organising.”

Christina Milcher, who also worked in the organising division, and Eliasz Robakjewicz, who worked in the strike team, both told reporters that Max was called to a meeting a few days before the collective bargaining agreement was signed, and was fired.

“He was fired, and this was just announced to us without further ado,” Christina told reporters, which Eliasz confirmed, saying, “We were working long days and trying to organise the bus driver’s strike. We, including Max, never went against the leadership of Efling. They were happy at first, but then a lot of tension began to arise around the negotiations with management.”

No reason was given for Max’s firing in a letter from Sólveig Anna to him, dated March 29—two days before Efling announced that strike actions were being postponed—only that his firing was effective immediately. The rest of the organisers presumed their work of organising workers would continue, but the group was dissolved by Efling leadership shortly after Max was fired.

In a letter from Sólveig Anna to the organising group dated March 31, she gave no further explanation for his firing apart from “a serious breach of trust”, without divulging any further details. Christina told reporters that numerous Efling workers requested a meeting with three members of Efling’s leadership—Sólveig Anna, Viðar Þorsteinsson and Berglind Rós Gunnarsdóttir—regarding this firing. Two meetings were called for, she says, and both were cancelled by Viðar and Berglind.

“It was really sad that everything went down this way; we thought something would change with the new leadership.”

In a letter Christina sent to Sólveig Anna on April 4, she expressed the concerns that many people within Efling regarded Max’s firing as a power struggle that could make the union look bad. Shortly thereafter, she met with Viðar, and then left Efling in the wake of this meeting.

For his part, Viðar told Fréttablaðið that he considers it very regrettable when an individual is not on board with their co-workers, adding, “It is also regrettable when people cannot accept a decision and go to the media about it.” He told reporters that the matter had been taken up within Efling, and no one expressed any reservations about the decision to fire Max.

Max says that a lot of pressure was placed on key players within Efling to accept the collective bargaining agreement, and he wanted no part in this.

“There was a general sense of disappointment about the agreement,” Max told reporters. “Anyone can see that who compares the worker’s demands and the final contract. There were closed meetings where people were literally ordered to vote yes on the contract. It was really sad that everything went down this way; we thought something would change with the new leadership.”

UPDATE: Ani Mărincean, who was also a part of Efling’s organising division, has also vouched for the accounts of these former workers in a lengthy Facebook post about her lived experiences within the union.

Furthermore, Christina has expanded upon her experiences with Efling as well, speaking of “bullying and abuse from the leadership”, saying that they have “slandered me and accused me of trying to harm the union with some outside agenda”, along with some points of criticism for how the union is being run.

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