Teachers at Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School didnt show up for work on Thursday in an apparent protest over proposed cuts in the government.
After 46 teachers failed to report, school officials went on local radio to tell parents to pick up their children. The action followed a union protest on St. Thomas Wednesday, where some 90 percent of teachers in the St. Thomas-St. John district didnt report to work.
Many of the teachers joined other unionized government workers to protest outside the Legislature, where the Turnbull administration unveiled its government reorganization plan.
While the sickout at Pearl B. Larsen wasnt officially sanctioned by the St. Croix chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, Acting President Chi Chi Heywood didnt denounce the no-shows. "I dont know if its a job action," she said.
"I understand there was a mass call-in. The people are saying theyre sick. Theyre sick of it all," Heywood said, in reference to more than $250,000 worth of raises given to executive branch employees in the last nine months.
Unionized government workers are owed million of dollars in retroactive raises.
"The membership is frustrated," Heywood said. "There is a sense of abandonment by not only this administration but the previous administration."
She said Department of Education funding has caused a deterioration of conditions in the territorys schools, including Pearl B. Larsen. Heywood said at least one teacher at the school has a grievance pending.
The larger issue, though, is the back pay.
"The bills arent stopping and the salaries are stagnant," said Heywood. "Members can only wait so long."
AFT leaders from both districts and four senators met on Tuesday to discuss alternative ways to increase government revenues to fund negotiated contracts. There was also consensus that the Department of Educations budget should only be cut by 5 percent.
The AFTs revenue enhancement ideas include:
- Imposing a $5 head tax on cruise ship passengers.
- Taxing cigarettes, imported spirits and imported bottled water.
- Pursuing a return of gasoline excise taxes.
- Making sure Industrial Development Commission beneficiaries are adhering to their obligations.
- Requiring all semiautonomous agencies to contribute to the general fund.
- Eliminating exempt positions.
- Enforcing tax and fee collections.
- Funding the Government Development Bank.
- Implementing early retirement and hiring freeze, specifically for the executive branch.