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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, April 21, 2024
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Public Works, Justice Pick New Union Rep

Employees of the departments of Public Works and Justice voted Oct. 1 and 2, respectively, to decertify the international United Industrial Workers Seafarers International Union of North America (UIW-SIU) as their union representation, choosing "Our Virgin Islands Labor Union" or OVILU instead.

Public Works employees voted 95 to 13 to decertify SIU and choose OVILU, while the Justice vote was closer, at 24 to 18.

The vote remains unofficial until the V.I. Public Employees Relations Board meets, gathers the appropriate documents and issues a certificate of representation to OVILU. Zandra Petersen, PERB executive director, said Friday PERB would be looking at the documentation at their next meeting.

Until PERB meets, it would be inappropriate to comment, she said. Petersen did confirm a vote occurred in the two units and in both cases a majority of those voting chose OVILU.

"Five o’clock today was the last opportunity for the union (UIW-SIU) to file an objection, OVILU President Ricky Browne said Friday evening. "I confirmed moments ago with PERB no objection was filed, so now it is in PERB’s hands and we just waiting for them to certify."

Union Members In Action, a group formed to promote OVILU as a local alternative to big international unions, sent out a press release celebrating the two bargaining units’ votes.

"It has been a long haul, as far as accomplishing this," said Shalima Edwards-Joseph, president of Union Members in Action. "For 10 years we’ve been seeking to decertify the union. … Being in the big national union is really not in the best interest of workers in the Virgin Islands."

They will continue to advocate for other bargaining units within the government to choose OVILU, she said.

Workers grew dissatisfied with UIW-SIU representation partly because of increasing dues sent off-island to the national organization and because the small, distant Virgin Islands affiliates felt they had no real say in the union, said Herman Richards, vice president of Union Members in Action, Friday.

"Also, OVILU is local and the proceeds of our dues are spent here," Richards said. "We have more accountability with a local union. And by choosing a local union, we won’t have to wait a year for new representation." UIW-SIU and the United Steelworkers are affiliated with the AFL-CIO and their process requires a year delay to move from one AFL-CIO union to another, he said.

"All we want is better representation for our people in the Virgin Islands and to be more self sufficient, with the money from our dues used to help the union here," he said.

OVILU currently represents workers at several private corporations in the Virgin Islands, including Triangle Construction, St. Thomas Healthcare Management Inc. and Carambola Beach Resort, Brown said. Workers at the V.I. Waste Management Authority, Labor Department and Agriculture Department are also preparing to vote on whether or not to decertify their existing union representation as well, he said.

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