Column: Next Time You See “Ottie” Thank Him

September 6, 2015

Ottiwell Simmons BIU Bermuda Industrial Union, January 20 2015-2[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

You’ll often see him walking around town. When you do, you should stop him and thank him.

Why? Because without the fight that he led, you would not be enjoying this Labour Day weekend, nor would you have things like vacation pay, health care, paid holidays, old age pension benefits, and the five day workweek.

Back in 1965 when, in a major confrontation, the men and women of the fledgling BIU first took on Bermuda’s all-encompassing all-controlling business and political establishment; Bermuda was an almost primitive workplace.

Generally, all workers – black and white – worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, half-day Thursday, Friday, and Saturday; for a five and a half day week.

No pay for the nine mandated public holidays. No sick pay. No health insurance cover. No looking ahead to retiring with a with a senior’s pension to which you had contributed whilst you were working. No guarantee of compensation if you had a serious workplace accident.

‘Bosses’ could fire you at whim, though many, in that paternalistic age did not. Still, legally, they could.

In all, compared to now, those were primitive, almost Stone Age, working conditions.

But the man who you can see walking around town led the long fight to change all that. He stuck it out through decades of vitriol, venom, spit and spite, and much name-calling – some publishable, some not.

Through all that time he led a BIU that grew in strength and stature and that, by its fight, brought enhanced worker’s rights to all; including all those white and white collar workers who publicly vilified and denigrated the men and women of the predominantly black and blue-collar BIU.

That man is Ottiwell Simmons – “Ottie”.

Seeing him walking on Union Street last week, I pulled over, lowered my car window and shouted out: “Ottie! Thank you.” He looked puzzled and came over. He asked what I’d said and I quickly explained. He said: “Hey, man, give me a ride.”

I did. On the ride, I thanked him again and explained why.

Typically understated and certainly modest, he claimed he hadn’t done much. But I know different.

The man is a giant. He led the way, creating the much smoother path and more civilized working conditions that all of today’s workers – black and white, blue collar and white collar – can and do walk on and enjoy.

The next time you see “Ottie”, stop and thank him.

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (57)

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  1. Thank you... says:

    Thank you Mr Simmons!

    • Whoever has posted the DISLIKE is obviously someone who does not have a clear and intelligent understanding of CIVIL RIGHTS! Sad!! Obviously, the person will always fail to understand and surely maintain that cruel view. You are to be pitied. Are you human??

      • Really really Bettty says:

        Excellent article!

        Thanks Mr Simmons ‘Ottie’

        Labour has made some great steps for all working man.

    • SEATS says:

      The “dislikes” are the same that like Pamplin article about Mark Bean. Sad people who don’t like themselves – hating the picture in the mirror.

  2. Grateful says:

    Thanks B.I.U. Team I am grateful

    • Self says:

      Sad to see that 22 people view the B.I.U. in this light. Interestingly enough, in spite of your view you still get to enjoy all of the benefits that the unions fight hard for.
      Mr. Simmons, thank you, thank you, thank you!!! And to all of the various union Presidents, past and present, thank you for standing front and center and taking all the slams for us…THANK YOU!!!

      • I can appreciate much mentioned above until mentioñiñg present BIU President and cronies…Indeed the Union had been for, ” we dà people” until them that are there on some sort of ego / power trip had come along!

  3. impressive. says:

    Thank you father Ottie, and to you Mr. Burchall for highlighting this… Am sure many will have nasty things to say, but just like Mr Simmons we must move forward despite it all.

  4. watchfuleyes says:

    Thank you Mr.Simmons , I will always remember and be grateful.

  5. Oh,I see now says:

    We all know who posted the dislikes, anonymity allows the true nature of that particular segment of Bermuda to be who they really are.To you who thought things had changed WAKE UP they only went underground.

    • Tania Stafford says:

      Perhaps if we spent more time working together and less making assumptions we can build a better Bermuda for us all. Mr. Simmons showed us the way and did much of the hardest work, now it is to us to keep moving forward. (BTW not such a good idea to make comments about anonymity when using a pseudonym)

      • Self says:

        Some people have their genuine reasons why they don’t use their names.. On the other hand, some people hide their ugliness behind a cloak of anonymity. They don’t have the courage to say what they really think of some of us…so they save their smiles, handshakes and slaps on the back for our faces…and their true nasty thoughts come out via their fingers on the keyboard.

        • Toodle-oo says:

          *They don’t have the courage to say what they really think of some of us…so they save their smiles, handshakes and slaps on the back for our faces…and their true nasty thoughts come out via their fingers on the keyboard.*

          I’ve not only said this for a long time but have seen it in action many times over the years.

          The happy , but phony laughter and niceness , and as soon as you turn your back and walk away they mutter under their breath .
          ‘Get out of my country —– — ‘

          You fill in the blanks .

      • Reality says:

        Yea, but it’s easier to make a nasty comment not using ones name.

  6. Terry says:

    I liked Ottie as an individual.

    I will abstain from making personal attacks against him but things that transpired from the 60′s to the 80′s are well documented.
    There were a few in his corner who were well lets say more radical.

    Shalom.

  7. bermy bud says:

    The sad part is the BIU and unions are not even close to what ottie stood for! Just my humble opinion

    • foster says:

      Ottie would say to you “united we stand, Divide we fall” and you are trying to divide and he would have none of it, so there

    • Mr. Sparkle says:

      So true, today’s unions are a shadow of the principles that Ottie stood for…

  8. Huh says:

    Otti Simmons BIU President 1974 – 1996. Truth be told power got to his head in ’81 Gen. Strike. Mistakenly thought tons tourist come here forever no matter how badly treated. 1982 – 1996 track closure dozens hotels & rampant job & BIU membership losses. Hotel Investors saw Bermuda as nonviable thanks to out of control chaotic BIU behaviour/uneconomic Collective Bargaining Agreements. Thank Otti – current unionized hotel workers – NO pay raise – ALMOST 10 Years!

    • Terry says:

      “Truth be told power got to his head”.

      And yet you come here hiding behind a pen name “Huh”.

      Oh the irony.

      Shalom.

  9. Bermuda Jake says:

    Thank you Ottie – and frankly, thank you BIU!

    Organized Labour is a good thing – positive in that it provides a forum where workers can determine what is in their best interests outside of the management case. Quite often on issues of efficiency and customer service, it is the pool of workers that can tell you all you need to know, when they feel empowered. I think Unions work best when they work in tandem with management, shareholders and customers.

    Organized Labour, however, has a unique voice and for sure, Ottiwell Simmons played his part in having it heard.

  10. Barbara D Cooper says:

    On a personal note, I prefer to remember Ottie ‘in the good old days’ before he entered politics – when he was a young, handsome, friendly, efficient waiter at the Coral Island Club in Flatt’s ( 1955-56 ? ). That hotel was owned by the late David Barber who (among many other donations) financed the existing KEMH Cardiac Center.

    • Truth Teller says:

      She displays a typically white paternalistic view of not only Ottie Simmons but black Bermudians in general.

      Note how she wrote of the so called “…good old days”circa 1955. She also fails to acknowledge that Ottie and many others entered politics or supported the black dominated labour and political movements because of the blatant racism of Bermuda’s powerful white minority and their staunch resistance to doing the right thing, when it came to issues of civil, economic and racial justice in Bermuda.

      I guess individuals with their pronounced defense of white identity and privilege which has been on display here of late, will seek to tell us once again that the sky is yellow instead of blue with regard to this issue as well.

      • Faulk says:

        Patrons like Mrs. Cooper helped paid his salary back then and if the lady has fond memories, well I guess the service must have been good. My point is that all too often WE Bermudians mix up service with servitude, so get that chip off your shoulder Mate.

      • Barbara Cooper says:

        I am not racist – and never will be. Since meeting Ottie in 1955, I consider him to be a friend — absolutely nothing to do with black or white or politics. Why did you have to bring that up anyway ?

        • WHAT? says:

          You sound like “THOSE people” trying to convince me and my family to vote OBA again. LOL

    • Sad says:

      You liked when he was safe. A neutered male who did not pursue justice. A quiet muzzled man who would make white visitors feel comfortable. If we did not have the real Ottie who stood up against white supremacy where would we be. I am happy for your honest submission though.

    • Kristin White says:

      So you prefer to remember when he was a servant vs a civil rights leader? Mkay.

      • Wrong says:

        No, she prefers to remember him as a good worker versus a bad politician. You can’t expect her to fully explain the context of her sentiments in a few sentences. Put the tool down.

      • Zevon says:

        Sounds to me like she likes him, remembers him fondly, him but disagrees with his politics.
        Of course, in Bermuda that warrants a personal attack.

      • e says:

        If he was a civil rights leader, he was simply serving people in a different capacity.

        From what I understand he has not had an easy few years of it. For all that he seems to have dealt with the last decades gracefully and without the same resentment and defensiveness of many successors.

        Maybe we can take some solace and comfort in that.

    • Cindy Swan says:

      Barbara, I find your “personal note” offensive. The article is sharing the excellent accomplishments of Mr Simmons and your “in the good old days” reference is insulting because it may of been for you, but obviously not for many others as they didn’t have benefits and did not enjoyed equality.

      Our charity received also a generous donation from the late David Barber and he always shared how he came to Bermuda with very very little money; if memory serves me right it may of been less than $17. He was rightfully generous to Bermuda because as he stated “Bermuda was were I made my money” – there’s a book out there by Nigel Kermode about David’s life.

  11. Serious Though says:

    Thank you Ottie
    #bermudalaborunion

  12. Oh yes…thank you so much for closing all those hotels…putting alllll those thousands of people out of work……you wonderful human being you…bless your bumpy!

    • Faulk says:

      In fairness, if you could earn 60K a year behind a desk at say for instance XL or ACE back in the day, or run around say the Marriott Castle Harbour cow towing to whiny tourists for at best 45K, well I know which I would be choosing. A lot of of what deflated our hotels was the rapid,expansion and success of IB, Otti only compounded a rotten situation. I think a lot of the blame for not having a more strategic, balanced policy falls on Sir David Gibbons and later David Saul who were famously indifferent to the fortunes of tourism.

      • impressive. says:

        hmmm

      • Huh says:

        You have that all wrong. Hotel owners were telling Sir David & David Saul that they were “DONE WITH BERMUDA” mainly due to chaotic BIU Hotel Division, high cost of doing business here etc. Add viable investment opportunities elsewhere. Simply put hoteliers were pulling the plug here so the Govt. leaders had to find other avenues to continue to sustain and grow our GDP through IB sector which goes back to the late 1940′s early 50′s.

  13. How …in the world…does a grocerystore fail?…..Howday dodat deah?

  14. Alvin Williams says:

    I have sat at the feet of many great Bermudian Leaders and BIU president Ottiwell Simmons is one those whose shoulders I stand upon today. Thank you Mr. President.

  15. Bermuda123 says:

    Unions were needed back in the day. Workers rights are now enshrined in law – in Bermuda and the UK and the U.S. Let’s allow the unions to fold. They did their jib and did it well, but their job is done.

  16. Rhonnie aka BlueFamiliar says:

    Reading the comments I accept that I’ll probably be crucified for not using the whole of my name, but here goes.

    Historically speaking the BIU did incredible things. They were a powerful force in the progression of working standards and benefits for workers, both union members and those who were not, and for those things I believe Mr Simmons and others involved should be remembered and commended.

    However, there was a point in the history of the BIU where things changed. Whether power went to their heads or what, I don’t know, but the union, from my perspective and experience, stopped being about supporting and forwarding workers’ rights, and became about politics, power and money for those in high positions and anyone who disagreed was seen as an enemy, including those within the union.

    I truly doubt that I’m the only one who remembers things that went on in the 80s…and I don’t mean the ones that were voiced publicly.

    It was during that time that I lost the respect I had for the BIU and it’s leadership and, regrettably, since then, while the militant nature of the union seems to have mellowed in action, if not in voice, I’ve seen nothing to engender a return that that earlier respect that I had.

    I do continue to hope that one day the BIU and the other local unions will recognise that the majority of unions worldwide have changed from the militant voice still shown here on the island, and are more about working with the governments, business owners and managements, and that this method is far more effective at this particular time in history.

  17. Chris Famous says:

    Thank you Mr Simmons.

    My generation owes you so much we could never ever repay you and others who stood up against oppression for decades.

    United We Stand

  18. Evelyn Barnett says:

    Thank you Mr. Simmons. You were and still are a great man; indeed, a national hero!

  19. DONALD says:

    Some will only be satisfied when they have brought Bermuda to its knees, from which, there will no recovery, “Great again” Trump, will slam the door with his new vacation tax.

  20. Mario says:

    Many, “who aren’t racist” have no remote idea of the tremendous courage it takes to stand up and go against the status quo or alienate those that “have been paying your wages” because they have had PRIVILEGE as a birth right. I do wish these folks, who came to Bermuda and “acquired” land, homes, etc. –would look in the mirror! Yes, they may have worked hard, but that does not dismiss the reality that they were also in a PRIVILEGED position by virtue of race! History is history and no matter what the playing field is like in 2015, the truth is that properties, trusts, etc owned by whites are being passed on to their white families, without ANY remorse about their role in the social & financial oppression of those that toiled for them. It is amazing how we see ourselves through rose coloured glasses.

    • SANDGROWNAN says:

      Are you asking for reparations?

    • Rhonnie aka BlueFamiliar says:

      Not all glasses worn are rose coloured, some colour things a darker shade

      I am well aware that when some people look at me they assume that I was handed things because of my skin colour, without stopping to think that they themselves are perpetuating a false perception.

      Yes, no doubt, some people have benefitted from white privilege, but not all of people who are perceived as ‘white’ have. Not even most of us.

      I know that when some people look at me, they see white, they see privileged, they see someone who was handed property and business and whatever else they themselves did not receive, or, strangely enough, what they themselves received.

      The reality, if they stopped to know me and find out, is that I’m mixed race. That part of my family is black, part of it was perceived as black, and part of it turned their back on those who weren’t willing to tolerate relatives who judged on skin colour.

      They’d find out that I was handed nothing. No property, no business, no inheritance, and certainly no expectation of ever having those things. The greatest gift from my parents, in fact, from their parents and their parents’ parents was a work ethic and the belief that everyone is equal.

      And you know in hindsight, maybe because of that they did gift me, I am privileged.

      Go figure.

      • Mr. Orange says:

        Dude you are so wrong I don’t know where to begin. In this world a white man with $0 in his pocket is worth more than a man of color with $100

  21. Just a matter of time says:

    Thank you Mr. Simmons.

  22. Jonathan Land Evans says:

    It is certainly true that the world of work has changed quite significantly over recent generations, although a five-day week (which had become the norm in Bermuda by 1967) was not by any means unknown prior to then. There is, indeed, something of a tradition in Bermuda of blue-collar labour opting to enjoy a relatively high degree of leisure instead of maximising earnings. For example, in 1917 an editorial in the media commented that ‘altogether wages are so good and labour so scarce that many men “lay off” two days a week as a regular thing’. The tendency of dockers, in particular, to value their leisure became a significant problem during the Second World War, when there was a great deal of urgency to unload arriving ships so that they could depart as quickly as possible for their next port-of-call, thereby helping to sustain Britain and its colonies and allies at a time of enormous peril and when German submarines were sinking a lot of merchant ships. It is also true that much of the impetus for mandatory workplace benefits and the like came from the unions (certainly including the BIU). But it would be wrong to leave readers with the impression that the 1965 BIU strike at BELCo was the source of such mandatory benefits. For example, Government drew up the Workmen’s Compensation Act in 1961, although (like much local legislation) it took a significant time to actually be enacted, and was only made law in late 1965. Also, a (mostly) contributory old-age pension plan had been intended to come into effect in 1964, but was not enacted until 1967. The public sector tended to be in the vanguard of social security type benefits, for example enjoying a contributory medical/hospital plan from 1960, and the private sector was belatedly required to have similar arrangements. (Of course, large private companies often provided good benefits for their employees, but small private employers often had other things on their minds and did not necessarily feel able to match such generosity.) Of course it should be borne in mind that benefits and holidays are not really “free”: ultimately they have to be paid-for, and that is where problems often eventually arise in terms of economic competitiveness. Arguably one of the BIU’s most dramatic victories was in getting mandatory gratuities imposed in the hospitality sector in 1973/74, but arguably this has had the effect of hurting our tourism industry, especially when coupled with attitudes that have not always been as welcoming or pleasing to visitors as they should have been. Similarly (and perhaps more so) with the ever-increasing wage-demands of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s; and although of course it is true that there was a lot of inflation in the 1960s and 1970s, the BIU (of which Mr. Simmons was President for many years from 1974) got something of a reputation for driving a hard bargain during collective wage negotiations. Whilst this would have benefited BIU members in the short term, it is noticeable how few hotels and other guest-properties we now have, compared to the days before the BIU became as powerful as it did. It is perhaps also worth mentioning that Mr. Simmons and other labour leaders received a certain amount of financial assistance from Government in taking trade union courses in the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. Mr. Simmons arguably had issues on a number of occasions by indulging in aggressive, obstructive picketing or otherwise violating the law governing industrial relations (in 1963, 1965 and 1972), although I believe that on most (if not all) such occasions it was felt best not to bring charges. Certainly Mr. Simmons was no stranger to strikemongering militancy. It should also be noted that Government had begun recognising the BIU as representing its blue-collar employees in 1964, and also told the private sector that year that it, too, must be willing to accept unions as long as a majority of the relevant employees wanted a particular union to represent them. In the case of BELCo in 1965, the BIU ultimately lost that battle for recognition. It is always tempting to reduce history to a simple story, but the reality is that life and events are complex, and persons who achieve prominence are not necessarily entirely good (though thankfully seldom, if ever, are they entirely bad either). A happy Labour Day to all.

  23. Legal Eagle says:

    There was a time when Unions were needed! The problem was they got carried away-high wages/hotel room costs-+especially ‘wildcat’ actions at hotels for even trivial reasons! Those guests never came back(I know a few)–+spread the word-ergo the cause of the continued drop since in tourism Bda(+ tourism jobs) ever since! Sad!

  24. Claudette Fleming says:

    To the great “Ottie”, who himself would never ask for a thank you… a heartfelt “thank you” to you our Brother of Labour. And to you Mr. Burchall for giving us the opportunity to say so.