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PERB Touts Successes, Defends 2008 Budget Hike

Aug. 8, 2007 — The Public Employee Relations Board on Wednesday touted its success in trimming the number of employment complaint cases and defended its 2008 budget request before the Senate Finance Committee.
The PERB provides mediation and arbitration services between government employees and management, as well as training for mediators, employees, managers and others. A dispute with a government employer goes first to the PERB for a quasi-judicial hearing and can be appealed to the V.I. Superior Court.
Zandra E. Petersen, PERB executive director, said the board is closing more employment complaint cases each year than are being filed, cutting into the backlog. In 2006 some 98 disputes were filed — mostly for unfair labor practices forbidden by the PERB Labor Relations Act — while the board closed 135 cases. For the first three quarters of fiscal year 2007, Petersen said the board is maintaining a similar or better pace.
"Thus far, we are pleased to report that although 70 cases were filed during fiscal year 2007, the PERB closed 131 cases during the same time period," said Petersen. "This includes cases from prior fiscal years. During the final few months of the current fiscal year, the PERB will undoubtedly surpass the number of cases that it closed last year."
The PERB defended their 2008 budget request of $775,000 to the Finance Committee.
"This amount represents an increase of $50,000 over fiscal year 2007," Petersen said. "This increase is necessary to cover additional costs associated with personnel and fringe benefits and utilities."
However, board member Hugo Dennis Jr. said the PERB had not yet received $36,000 from a supplemental appropriation passed during fiscal 2006 for computer upgrades.
"Due to the unavailability of our fiscal year 2006 supplemental budget," Dennis said, "we cannot complete the final phase of our network system. This phase will enable us to effectively streamline our information technology infrastructure and to increase productivity and efficiency."
That money was not counted by PERB as part of their past year’s budget because it had not been received. Without that sum as part of last year’s budget, their 2008 budget proposal is an increase of $50,000, or 6.8 percent. If the $36,000 is disbursed right away and counted as part of last year’s budget, the new budget is only an increase of $14,000, or 1.84 percent.
Dennis said the Office of Management and Budget said problems with converting to the new Enterprise Resource Planning financial management software were the reason the funds were not available.
"I’m not buying that excuse anymore," said Committee Chairman Terrence "Positive" Nelson.
Nelson said he had personally seen a list of accounts, including this particular appropriation, with both the old accounting codes and the new ERP codes and saw no practical obstacle to releasing the funds.
Aubrey A. Lee appeared before the committee in two capacities; as chairman of PERB and as director of the V.I. Labor Management Committee, testifying in support of the LMC’s budget request of $165,000.
The LMC is composed of five union and five management representatives. Established in 1982 with the assistance of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, it became an independent, non-profit organization in 1986 to take advantage of a one-time federal grant. They can provide mediation services and one of their goals is to establish labor-management committees within each government agency.
Several senators were skeptical of the need for the LMC.
"There are overlapping responsibilities between PERB and LMC, correct?" Sen. Liston Davis asked.
Lee said that both were needed. "The primary responsibility of the PERB is case management. But the PERB now has a number of consultants, and we will be sharing some of those responsibilities. With an active LMC there will be fewer cases, hopefully," he said.
Sen. Ronald Russell wasn't so sure.
"To me, the Labor Management Committee should not exist, if you have an Office of the Chief Negotiator that defines the roles to be played," Russell said.
"We fund two entities that address these issues already: the Department of Labor and the PERB. I don't see this as something the Legislature should fund."
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