- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 6, 2003

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan dismissed officers of a union that represents more than 5,000 professional staff at the United Nations, citing the union’s failure to elect a new slate of officers by a deadline last week.

Mr. Annan, in a letter to United Nations Staff Union President Rosemary Waters, said that effective today, the world body will no longer recognize the union’s 11-member executive board.

The officers have been told that when they show up this morning at the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the union office will be off-limits, the group’s e-mail system will be shut off and the officers should report to the U.N. jobs they held before winning their union posts.

Marie Okabe, an Annan spokeswoman, said the union’s executive officers had two-year terms that expired Thursday.

Elections to fill those slots did not take place, Miss Okabe said, so the United Nations, under an agreement with the union, is free to “de-recognize” the officers.

The union represents professional staff, such as secretaries, security officers, department managers, translators and lawyers.

Union officials said an internal feud forced them to call off elections that had been scheduled for earlier this month.

“This has happened before,” one union official said, adding that the United Nations had never before shut down the union.

Union executives are elected from the general employee pool, who are then given paid sabbaticals by the United Nations to attend to union affairs.

The union covers more than 5,000 staffers at the U.N. headquarters in New York and some workers assigned overseas. Its members include about 55 percent of the headquarters staff.

Guy Candusso, a union vice president, said the organization is at a loss on how to proceed: “We aren’t sure of our next step; this has never happened before.”

Union officials said wildcat strikes seem unlikely. The union has no court to which it can appeal, because the United Nations does not recognize the authority of any nation’s courts.

The U.N. General Assembly, which represents nearly 200 nations, could overturn Mr. Annan’s decision. However, the assembly, with its long summer holiday, is unlikely to meet until mid-September.

The union, in existence for more than 50 years, has a history of confrontation with U.N. management.

Recently, Michael Sassar, a union spokesman, said that U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard and his staff were “incompetent” and not fit to deal with or speak on behalf of the world body’s staffers.

Mr. Eckhard’s office would not respond to Mr. Sassar’s statements.

The union believes that the U.N. move is an attempt to save money because with the union office closed, it will be easier to hire more temporary and contract employees as the world body proceeds with a $1 billion plan to renovate the headquarters complex.

“They want us to pay for the capital improvement program,” Mr. Candusso said.

U.N. spokesman Stephan Dujarric denied this, adding that union shop stewards will still be recognized.

He invited the union to elect some new officers.

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