From Iceland — Union Shop Stewards: Mass Firing "Wrong, Unwise, And Completely Unnecessary"

Union Shop Stewards: Mass Firing “Wrong, Unwise, And Completely Unnecessary”

Published April 15, 2022

Andie Sophia Fontaine
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Following last Wednesday’s news that Efling director Sólveig Anna Jónsdóttir announced that the union’s board reached an agreement with the shop stewards that, amongst other things, extended the termination period for the mass firing at Efling and would allow employees to look for new jobs during work hours, the shop stewards released a statement of their own that paints a very different picture of what transpired.

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As reported, the reason given for the firing was “organisational changes”, which include an equal pay certification, new job descriptions, qualification assessments and changes to the payment system. This measure was passed by the majority seats of the board on its first day in office. While it was initially reported that everyone would be let go at the start of next month and would be obliged to continue working through their individual notice periods, the director’s announcement stated that, in an agreement with Efling shop stewards, this period was extended to three months, that employees could leave sooner if desired, and that they would be able to go to job interviews during work hours without consequence.

Reasons given “do not hold water”

In a statement to the press from the shop stewards in question, they say that on April 11th and 12th, the shop stewards emphasised at their meeting with the board’s lawyer that firing everyone at the union was wholly unnecessary.

“We believe that none of the aforementioned goals of the board of Efling required a mass firing,” their statement reads in part. “We let the board know that we would take any suggestions seriously, and tried to be cooperative in finding a solution. Nothing came of this. We cannot say that an agreement was at play in the understanding of rules about mass firings; no willingness was expressed for changes or mitigating the mass firing. Rather, this was a unilateral decision that is wrong, unwise and completely unnecessary. The reasons given concerned changes to the terms of employment and to fulfill equalisation in wages. These reasons are not based on logic and do not hold water.”

While confirming that neither Sólveig nor any other member of the board were present for these meetings, the shop stewards said that as the board’s mind was made up, they offered instead the changes that the director announced last Wednesday.

“When it became clear that it would not be possible to prevent or mitigate these measures, a conversation began on how they would be carried out, and these were recorded,” the statement continues. “In this record we emphasised our opposition to the mass firing but came to an agreement regarding four details on how it would be carried out.” This record was subsequently sent to the press, having been disclosed by the director earlier this week.

These four details were the ones announced on Wednesday: that all current employees would be granted three months’ notice to finish their jobs; that if an employee finds a new job during this time they will be allowed to leave without penalty; that employees will have the flexibility to seek other employment, e.g. go to job interviews, during working hours; and employees asked to be relieved from work duties during their last month will be allowed to do so without a cut in their pay.

Worried about precedent set

When asked for comment, one of the shop stewards, Gabríel Benjamin, expressed disappointment with the mass firing, and concerns about the precedent they would set. He pointed out that Sólveig Anna has in the past decried mass firings–for example, at hotels in 2019 and amongst Icelandair workers in 2020.

“Now that she’s conducting these mass firings however she emphasises that they are legal and that her board has a clear mandate to implement changes as they see fit,” he said. “While I personally doubt the legality, the morality of such action being conducted and normalised by a union cannot be overlooked.”

Gabríel says that now that this precedent has been set, Efling and other unions will have a much harder time objecting to and stopping mass firings. “Every union-busting employer can now cite the example given by Efling’s board, stipulating that mass layoffs are because of ‘restructuring’ or to create ‘wage equality’. The board’s equating legality with morality is shameful and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”

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