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Rules Committee Realizes Wage Board Is 'Toothless Tiger'

Dec. 20, 2006 — While questioning nominees to the territory's Wage Board during Wednesday's Rules and Judiciary Committee meeting, senators realized that certain sections of the V.I. Code need to be amended.
According to one nominee, the board would primarily be charged with investigating and setting wages for local employees based on their classification. Using this definition, senators spent about two hours asking the nominees whether they would seek to rectify certain salary discrepancies in the government's payroll system by standardizing wages for employees working in similar positions.
Toward the end of the meeting, however, the Legislature's legal counsel pointed out that provisions included in the V.I. Code stipulate that the Wage Board will only have purview over employees working in the private sector. The Division of Personnel, coupled with the Public Employees Relations Board, would therefore continue to set wages for government employees.
"It appears this law is a toothless tiger, then," said Sen. Liston Davis.
Rules Committee chairman Ronald E. Russell added that the law "clearly" needs to be amended, allowing to board to deal with both public- and private-sector employees.
Despite the revelation, senators still continued to question the nominees, who said that they would seek to create a level playing field for local employees.
"We have jurisdiction over overtime rates and limitations, setting the wage scale for learners and apprentices, and have the ability to prescribe working conditions required for the maintenance, safety and health of employees," said nominee Loretta Lloyd. "It's a very large task, and we have to spend time researching and analyzing every aspect to make sure the workers are treated fairly."
Senators also took the time to question Winston Adams, chair of the Waste Management Authority's Board of Directors, on his renomination to the board.
Specifically, Adams was questioned on whether the authority was making any progress in correcting waste issues "consistently" brought forth by community members.
"The public's perception is that the authority isn't getting anything done and needs to be dissolved," Davis said.
Davis added that that he was concerned about the authority's recent move to extend the contract of May Adams Cornwall, WMA's executive director, given that the public "hasn't been given" results.
"Perception is a funny thing," Adams responded. "It's based on what people see. And the thing is, there's a lot more involved here than perception. Many things had to be done to form the authority, and one of the most difficult things is getting people to change."
Adams did add, however, that the authority needed to be more open about its accomplishments, which includes putting together a new five-year contract with various waste haulers to pick up garbage at and around bin sites.
He also said the board's decision to extend Adams-Cornwall's contract (which includes a salary increase), was justified. "If we didn't think it was justified, it would not have happened," Adams said.
Discussion during the meeting also centered upon the authority's proposed user fees, which have to be approved by the Public Services Commission before they are imposed on local residents. Senators spoke out against the fees, Wednesday, saying that residents are already paying taxes on similar items.
Adams agreed with senators' comments, saying that the government's fee structure "in general" is something to be concerned with. He added, however, that the user fees would allow the authority to become self-sufficient, reducing its financial dependence on the government.
Senators voted in favor of both Adams' and Lloyd's nominations on Wednesday, along with the nomination of Rev. Wycherley Gumbs to the V.I. Wage Board.
The renomination of Austin "Babe" Monsanto to the Coastal Zone Management Commission was also approved.
All nominations now go onto the full Senate body for a final vote.
Present during Wednesday's meeting were Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Roosevelt C. David, Pedro "Pete" Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Louis P. Hill, Terrence "Positive" Nelson and Russell.
Davis, a noncommittee member, was also present.
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