April 7, 2006 – In response to a two-day job action by teachers at several St. Croix public schools the government's chief negotiator, Karen M. Andrews issued a press release stating teachers could expect their overdue salary adjustments on April 27.
The press release, dated April 6, was not received on St. Croix until one day later. In it, Andrews said a new way to process teachers' wages was achieved during a 12-month process.
According to the release, AFT negotiators and human resources personnel in the Education Department collaborated to verify the accuracy of the wage information and submitted computer spreadsheets to the Office of Collective Bargaining on March 24.
The information was then reviewed by the Division of Personnel who discovered "certain errors and omissions," the release stated. The information was "expeditiously corrected and returned on April 6."
Andrews said Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards "expressed pleasure" that the April 27 payment date "could be achieved." Andrews said the job action "came as a complete surprise," and urged all striking members to return to their work stations immediately.
The job action began Thursday at St. Croix Educational Complex and spread to the Career & Technical Education Center.
By Friday St. Croix Central High School and Ricardo Richards Elementary School joined the job action.
The Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School showed solidarity by carrying placards supporting the job action while hosting their annual children's fun day on Friday.
The job action was not the only disruption St. Croix schools faced.
At Alfredo Andrews Elementary School groups of children received their lessons under the shade of several trees which dotted the school's landscape.
At least 10 classes of students were involved.
Union representative James Howell said classes were being held outside was because of unsanitary conditions in the school. He said the school has had only one custodian for several weeks.
Howell said Sandra Howell, principal, engaged volunteers to clean the school; however, only the intermediate section was cleaned. Howell said the teachers will stay out until a solution is found to the cleaning problem.
Education Complex teacher and union representative Harry Schwartz, who has been teaching on St. Croix for 25 years, said Thursday's job action was "was spontaneous."
He said the government benefits from holding up employees raises and having to pay retroactive wages.
"Federal law says retroactive wages are taxed at 38 percent, it's considered an 'extra check,' and there's an advantage to let it go on as long as possible. The process is unfair to workers," he said.
"We will stay until something happens. We will be out today and tomorrow, after that we will see."
Across the street from the Ricardo Richards Elementary school in Estate Strawberry, teachers gathered and discussed the ongoing situation. "The senators did their part," said teacher Wanda Vialet on Friday. "Now it's up to them to put the pressure on Finance."
St. Croix Central High was quiet at midday. The parking lot was mostly empty. No teachers could be seen gathered on campus, across the street or by the gym. A passing student said no classes were being held.
According to a press release from Sen. Ronald E. Russell on Thursday, teachers and union representatives held a meeting at the school to discuss the contract issue. As a result of the meeting, the release stated, students were advised to stay home Friday.
Russell's press release supported the teachers protest. "I am disturbed that the Turnbull Administration is not honoring the union contracts for our teachers and educators. This Administration promised well-deserved salary increases and they are not withholding the monies."
Sen. Neville James took issue with the length of time the process took.
"While I recognize the executive branch wanting all the salary information to be as up-to-date as possible," James said Friday, "I still believe six months is way too long to expedite payment for our Department of Education teachers."
Senate President Lorraine L. Berry, in a press release issued Friday, advised the Turnbull-Richards Administration to "put an end to the politics," and pay teachers their raises.
Berry said the legislature funded the raises thanks to corporate revenues from HOVENSA which were included in the 2006 Budget and signed by the governor on Oct. 17, 2005.
Berry said this action mandates the raises be paid, "and the administration needs to respect the will of the Legislature and honor the obligation immediately."
Berry said the OMB director, the director of personnel, the chief negotiator, the commissioner of Finance and their staffs need to work as much overtime as is necessary to process NOPA's and cut the checks.
The governor and lieutenant governor "need to demonstrate their commitment to Education by doing the right thing and let their actions speak louder than words," Berry concluded.
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