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08MONROVIA931 2008-11-18 09:32:00 UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY Embassy Monrovia
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1. SUMMARY: Firestone workers have accused the leadership of the
Firestone Agriculture Workers Union of Liberia (FAWUL) of failing to
account for over US$150,000 of their dues. FAWUL leaders deny the
allegations and the Ministry of Labor has instructed the union to
resolve the matter through the union's internal dispute settlement
committee. END SUMMARY.

2. According to local press reports, a group of Firestone workers
filed a complaint October 20 with the Ministry of Labor alleging
that US$150,000 from their union membership dues were missing.
(Note: the allegations do not involve donations from the United
Steel Workers of America or earnings from FAWUL's investments. End
note.) The petition also claimed the FAWUL leadership failed to
deliver on campaign promises, misrepresented the workers during the
Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) negotiations with Firestone
earlier this year (Ref A), and unilaterally drafted a new
constitution making the union answerable only to the Ministry of
Labor, rather than to members. The petitioners called on the
Ministry of Labor to freeze and audit FAWUL's accounts and set up an
interim arrangement to organize a fresh election.

3. FAWUL President Austin Natee and Secretary General Edwin Cisco
denied the allegations and blamed the report on disgruntled former
FAWUL leadership who lost the July 2007 elections. (Note: Natee
and Cisco traveled to the United States in June 2008 to receive the
George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award for courage,
innovation and leadership from the AFL-CIO. End note.) Natee also
defended the CBA concluded between Firestone Liberia and the Union
in 2008 as "the best CBA ever." For its part, the Ministry of Labor
denied jurisdiction over the petition and instructed FAWUL
leadership to use the union's existing grievances structure to
resolve the complaint. The Ministry also referred the leaders to
the national Tripartite Committee and the Liberia Labor Congress for
grievances that are not resolved within local trade unions.

4. The 4,700 members of FAWUL elected the new leadership of the
union in July 2007 and the leadership commenced negotiations on the
CBA in January 2008 following a Supreme Court ruling that settled an
internal union division (Ref B). The union signed the CBA with
Firestone in August 2008. The CBA provides significant gains for
workers, including wage increases, improvement in work and housing
conditions, and upgraded educational facilities. As part of the
CBA, each worker pays monthly union membership dues of US$2.00 to
the FAWUL. The money is meant to cover administrative costs and to
protect the welfare of union members. FAWUL is scheduled to
negotiate a new three-year CBA with Firestone in May 2009.