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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, October 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesJudge Consolidates Unions’ Cases Against Pay Cut

Judge Consolidates Unions’ Cases Against Pay Cut

Unions in both district have filed lawsuits challenging the 8-percent salary cut recently signed into law, but a St. Croix judge ruled this week that all the cases be consolidated and transferred to St. Thomas for hearings.

The 8-percent cut is for all government employees making more than $26,000 per year and was signed into law July 5 by Gov. John deJongh Jr. as part of an emergency budget stabilization act to avoid impending layoffs due to looming budget deficits. The Legislature passed the cut as an alternative to layoffs recently proposed by the government.

The Police Benevolent Association was one of the first groups to file suit, arguing that the new law violate the unions’ collective bargaining agreements and therefore impairs their contract and is in violation of the Revised Organic Act of 1954 (the territory’s functional equivalent to a constitution until such a document is ratified).

As a fallback position, some of the unions are arguing the stabilization act is invalid because the Legislature, not the governor, initiated the bill, citing the passages of the Revised Organic Act that require the governor to submit an annual budget and the Legislature to act upon the budget.

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Since then, three other unions have taken up the charge, for a total of four suits now pending. Making his ruling Monday, St. Croix District Court Judge Raymond Finch said the cases are "substantially similar" and ordered that they be consolidated.

"The purpose of consolidation is to streamline and economize pretrial proceedings so as to avoid duplication of effort and to prevent conflicting outcomes in cases involving similar legal and factual issues," Finch said. Along with the Police Benevolent Association, the Law Enforcement Supervisors Union (Local 119), St. Croix Federation of Teachers, and American Federation of Teachers (Local 1826) are also challenging the pay cut.

Finch said that each case is "likely to depend on the same facts, evidence, witnesses" and will require the same analysis of the Legislature’s bill. "The similarity of the legal claims supports consolidation," he said.

In transferring the matters to St. Thomas, Finch said that there are factors that could keep the case on St. Croix but that the "public-interest factors tilt the balance in favor of St. Thomas."

Finch said public interest factors include the enforceability of the judgment; practical considerations that could make the trial easy, expeditious or inexpensive; local interest in deciding local controversies at home; the familiarity of the trial judge with the applicable state law in diversity cases; and the unfairness of burdening citizens in an unrelated forum with jury duty.

Finch said that the Police Benevolent Association and the American Federation of Teachers both have unions on St. Thomas. He also said that the St. Thomas division of the District Court is more familiar with the issues raised by the cases since it has already dealt with one suit (filed by the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, V.I. State Nurses Association and the Seafarers International Union) that requested a temporary restraining order for the pay cut.

The temporary restraining order was denied last Friday.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, there were no hearings on the calendar in District Court on St. Thomas regarding the matter. Union representatives called for comment also did not return calls.

The pay cut has also been factored into employees’ checks for this pay period, according to some government workers.

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