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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 14, 2024


Optimism remains alive that a meeting Thursday between Gov. Charles Turnbull and senators will produce a plan to pay teachers what they want and avert a strike.
Senate President Vargrave Richards said the meeting will focus on, among other things, finding the "ways and means" in the proposed fiscal year 2001 budget to keep the St. Thomas-St. John and St. Croix chapters of the American Federation of Teachers from walking off the job.
"The meeting will be how . . . we can come to some kind of reasonable compromise to avoid a strike," Richards said.
Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd said he thought it was about time for the executive and legislative branches to hash out the problem together. While he said he hoped for a "sincere effort," he echoed Turnbull’s mantra that there are limited resources to dip into when negotiating union contracts.
"We have to decide what we can afford," Liburd said, "but be conscious there isn’t a lot of money to go around."
AFT members voted last month to strike because of the Turnbull administration's insistence that 50 percent of retroactive pay owed teachers, which amounts to some $60 million, be forgiven. Also unacceptable in an agreement negotiated by the union brass with the administration were proposals that would have stripped teachers of increases between 1995 and 2000, which would affect benefits of members who want to retire in the next three years.
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 per teacher.
While St. Croix AFT President Tyrone Molyneaux didn’t say outright that the union was waiting for the outcome of Thursday’s meeting before announcing a strike date, it appears that if a solution to the contract impasse isn’t found this week, members might walk soon thereafter.
Molyneaux said AFT leadership met on St. Thomas last Friday with administration officials but nothing new was proposed.
"From that meeting, it appears the government is holding their same position," he said.
Still, Molyneaux said he was "happy" that the Legislature was meeting with the governor and his staff. Ultimately, he said, it is up to the Senate to fund negotiated contracts. A proposal by Sen. David Jones to utilize the government's Insurance Guarantee Funds as collateral for a loan to pay step increases for various union employees will likely be discussed Thursday.
Meanwhile, Molyneaux said the union is poised to strike, but only as a last resort.
"I’m hoping the meeting will be a successful one and we won’t have to strike," he said. "A strike is the last thing we want to do. But at the same time we have to do what we think is the right thing to do."

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