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Feb. 4, 2002 – The V.I. Justice Department took its own prison guards to court Monday in an attempt to end an apparent job action on St. Thomas
Corrections Bureau officers assigned to the Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex and the Sub Base Annex on St. Thomas began calling in sick over the weekend, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said Monday. The bureau operates as part of the Justice Department, and Stridiron, as head of that department, declared the sickout an illegal job action.
Stridiron called the action a "wildcat strike" and said it began Saturday and forced Corrections supervisors and administrators to fill in front-line positions until Monday morning. "At one point Saturday, we faced the possibility that one guard was left to maintain the movement of up to 90 prisoners," he said.
But by the time his request for a temporary restraining order was filed in Territorial Court on Monday afternoon, the guards had returned to work. "The 8-to-4 and the 4-to-12 shifts have reported in," Stridiron said. "Right now, we don't anticipate any more problems."
However, the attorney general said, he was not taking any chances.
The restraining order asks the court to order the guards to refrain from taking part in any other sickouts. Judge Ive Swan was expected to rule on the request Tuesday, but Stridrion said an order could be signed by Monday night.
The prison guards are represented by the United Industrial Workers of the Seafarers Inernational Union. Eugene Irish, union local assistant vice president, was on the telephone with the international union's legal counsel on the mainland Monday afternoon but said he knew nothing about a sickout and was still investigating "the merits of the situation."
Irish said he had "no idea" what Stridiron was referring to, adding,"I guess he knows something that I don't know."
Stridiron also noted that UIW-SIU representatives had said the action was not union sanctioned. But, he said, while "they claim they had no knowledge of the job action, the fact is that their membership has walked." He said he was prepared to "make certain recommendations to the governor once I determine why the officers went out on strike."
He said he had heard that the guards were protesting that their request to renegotiate their contracts with the Office of Collective Bargaining have not been honored."The guards are on their 1998 salary step, a position they have held longer than any other bargaining unit," he said. "We understand that it may be that they are unhappy because other units have had negotiations to bring them up to the 1998 salary step increase while they have remained at the same level."

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