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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 23, 2024


Gov. Charles Turnbull has appealed to teachers in the St. Thomas-St. John district — including the 154 who voted Wednesday to strike — not to do so.
A teachers' strike, he said, "is not in the best interest of our children and it certainly will not serve the territory as we attempt to get our house in order."
In a release Thursday evening, Turnbull addressed the possibility that the 2000-01 public school year, set to begin Monday, could be marred by a strike.
The strike vote came at a meeting Wednesday with the leadership of the St. Thomas-St. John chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Of the 1,200 members of the St. Thomas -St. John chapter, almost 300 teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff voted on three options: strike, seek mediation or arbitration, or remain status quo, working day to day until a successor agreement is reached. Sending the negotiating team back to the bargaining table for a better agreement was not among the options.
The strike option received 154 votes from the 297 persons in attendance; federal mediation got 121 votes. Twenty-one people voted for the status quo and one member cast a blank ballot.
While St. Croix AFT president Tyrone Molyneaux couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday, Senate President Vargrave Richards said he had spoken to him and that St. Croix teachers would wait until next week to cast their votes.
In the meantime, Richards said he is trying to organize a meeting between the governor and AFT leaders "to see whether or not we can come to some consensus on the outstanding issues."
Last week AFT members rejected $8.6 million in salary increases for the 1994-95 and 2000-01 school years. The agreement would have released the government from 50 percent of all claims to retroactive wages owed from 1991 through 1995. The AFT leadership also agreed to waive all rights to negotiated wages for the 1995-96 school year. The waiver excluded union members who were employed between 1994 and 2000 but resigned or retired prior to the effective date of the start of the 2000-01 salary schedule.
"It’s a burning issue for teachers to get retro," Richards said. "To forgo it, they think, is unfair." Tenured teachers are concerned with losing what they are owed, he said.
Turnbull noted the "many fiscal advisers" who had cautioned the administration against any wage increases during the government’s financial crisis. Still, he said, he approved the AFT agreement to "put the children first."
"I know we are asking teachers to give up something they hold dear," Turnbull said. "But the government has no other choice. This is our best offer."
Sen. Norman Baptiste, chair of the Senate Education Committee, said that while he supports the position of the teachers — both he and Richards are former educators — a "strike at this time would undermine the stability of the administration and its ability to address protracted labor problems."
Baptiste said he too has asked AFT leaders and administration officials to meet as soon as possible.
"Whatever we do," he said, "we should take into consideration how it’s going to impact the territory as a whole."
Meanwhile, Karen Andrews, the administration’s chief negotiator, has scheduled a press conference for 2 p.m. Friday at the tele-conferencing center on St. Thomas. Education Commissioner Ruby Simmonds is expected to attend as well.

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