Whether Wednesday’s unusually high number of government employees calling in sick was a coincidence or an illegal job action, it seems to have passed, according to the territory’s head labor negotiator.
"I have not had any reports today of any unusual number of employees calling in sick," Chief Labor Negotiator Valdemar Hill said Friday afternoon. "Whatever it was, it appears to have abated."
On Wednesday a larger-than-usual number of government workers stayed away from work, either calling in sick or simply not showing up, according to Hill. The initial report was that 46 workers were involved; later that number was revised to 62 after other departments had reported.
While 62 absentees out of thousands of government employees might be simply a statistical aberration, Hill said the sequence of events provides at least circumstantial evidence of a job action, in which employees took sick days en masse to lodge a protest.
Hill pointed out that representatives of government workers’ labor unions were told last week the government had to postpone scheduled salary increases and delay union negotiations because of dire economic conditions. The government projects a fiscal year 2011 budget deficit of more than $82.5 million and more than $106 million for FY 2012.
A week later, "right on the heels of that you have this large number of employees calling in sick," Hill said. "It’s circumstantial."
No strike or job action has been formally declared, Hill said, so his office is treating it as an improper work stoppage. And because the stoppage was a violation of the union’s work contract, those involved may be subject to disciplinary action.
"We’ll continue to look at it as a job action, whether it was orchestrated by the union or not," he said Friday.
Hill said that government departments and agencies have been on the alert to notify him of any unusual absences, but by Friday things had returned to normal.
The Source called the United Steelworkers, the union that represents employees identified by the government as taking part in the action. As of Friday evening, the union had not responded or issued a statement on the issue.