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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, July 13, 2024


Unsatisfied with a tentative contract negotiated with the Turnbull administration, members of the St. Croix American Federation of Teachers voted overwhelmingly to strike Friday night.
Approximately 500 of the 1,000 St. Croix AFT members, including teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff, cast ballots in the auditorium of the St. Croix Educational Complex Vocational School. Of those, 392 voted to strike, 78 voted for federal arbitration and 31 voted to keep the status quo, according to Tyrone Molyneaux, St. Croix AFT president.
The St. Croix strike vote follows the St. Thomas AFT’s decision last week to also walk out. On St. Thomas, the strike option received 154 votes from the 297 persons who voted while federal mediation got 121 votes. Another 21 voted for the status quo and one member cast a blank ballot.
The mood during the balloting was upbeat, with AFT members whooping and shouting "enough is enough," once it became clear the strike option was winning.
"What happened here tonight was an affirmation, an affirmative vote, to give the authority to call a strike," Molyneaux said. "It’s a message to the governor that we’re dissatisfied, enough is enough and we will take action."
A strike will not occur unless the Turnbull administration refuses to go back to the negotiating table, Molyneaux said. Administration officials, however, have said repeatedly that there is no more money to pay teachers.
The decision to strike by St. Croix teachers followed a vote on Aug. 28 that ratified a contract negotiated between AFT leaders and the Turnbull administration. In a narrow balloting, 165 St. Croix AFT members voted to ratify the agreement while 142 voted for rejection.
Molyneaux, who took over the AFT presidency from Cecil Benjamin on Sept. 1, said the change was due to meetings held over the last week to inform members about the details in the agreement.
"There were 17 pages we had not seen," said Terrence Joseph, a teacher at Educational Complex. "We didn’t understand what we would be losing, not just in pay but benefits."
Joseph said the jubilation following the balloting was mostly relief on the part of teachers that a decision had been made.
"They feel a little better that we’re willing to take action," Joseph said. "The ball is in the governor’s court now. He has to come up with a settlement."
The strike vote resulted from the administration's insistence that 50 percent of retroactive pay owed teachers, which amounts to some $60 million, Molyneaux said, be forgiven. Also unacceptable were proposals in the agreement that would strip teachers of increases between 1995 and 2000, which in the end will affect benefits of members who want to retire in the next three years.
Molyneaux said that if teachers gave up the step increases, they would not receive retirement contributions or Social Security for those years calculated into retirement benefits. He said foregoing the step increases would amount to a $20,000 to $25,000 loss to each teacher while giving up retroactive pay would cost about $35,000 to $40,000 per teacher.
The government’s proposal gave $8.6 million in salary increases for the 1994-95 and 2000-01 school years, which translated into a $2,000 to $3,000 increase, Molyneaux said. The agreement would have released the government from 50 percent of all claims to retroactive wages owed from 1991 through 1995.
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.
Between the St. Thomas-St. John AFT and the St. Croix chapter, 545 voted to strike, 200 voted for arbitration and 52 voted for the status quo. Molyneaux said at least 10 percent of the more than 2,000-strong membership needed to cast ballots for there to be a quorum.

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