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Saturday, April 1, 2023
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Nurses' Union Files Unfair Labor Practices Charges

The Virgin Islands State Nursing Association may have been happy that nurses at Gov. Juan F. Luis Hospital got a raise last month, but they’re not pleased with how JFL did it.

In fact, VISNA is not pleased that the other nurses it represents at the V.I. Department of Health and the Schneider Regional Medical Center have not received their raises yet either.

In response to both JFL’s action and the government and SRMC’s inaction, VISNA has filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employees Relations Board against the three entities and the Office of Collective Bargaining.

VISNA Chief Negotiator Annie Day-Henry said an agreement for a new collective bargaining agreement was ratified by its entire membership in June 2012 and that VISNA notified OCB about the ratification on July 2.

Since then, the complaint reads, VISNA has not received any assurance from OCB that the employer (JFL, SRMC and the Department of Health) is ready, willing and able to execute the negotiated collective bargaining agreement. When JFL took action in January to implement the newly negotiated raises, citing a nursing shortage crisis, VISNA filed the complaint with PERB.

“The contract should be implemented at the same date, time, period, whatever, for all the members of our collective bargaining unit,” Day-Henry said. “Not one-third of our membership.”

She said the new collective bargaining agreement had not been fully executed by all the persons that need to sign off on it either.

“And who needs to sign it are the two board chairs from the hospitals and the governor,” she said.

Day-Henry added there is language in the contract that says it is unenforceable without the approval of the governor and the ratification of the union.

She thinks JFL could also be doing things differently to meet its demand for nurses.

“We realize Juan Luis has some issues with staffing, but Juan Luis has not utilized all the resources in the community. And that is you have retired nurses, nurses in schools, nurses in public health, department of human services,” she said. “You have nurses that do not want to work a full day so you could implement a work share program where two nurses work one shift, dividing it in half.”

Day-Henry criticized the decision last year by JFL to terminate its licensed professional nurses and certified nursing assistants.

“Juan Luis desperately needs to hire support staff so that the community will trust the type of care that they’re giving and so that they’ll (JFL) be giving quality, safe care to our community,” she said. “And our community deserves that.”

OCB Director Dr. Valdemar Hill, Jr., said he had no comment on the VISNA complaint and that, “We’ll go through the process and have it heard (by PERB).”

Gov. John deJongh Jr. said he had no time table for deciding whether or not to sign the agreement, but added he thought JFL had the authority to act unilaterally like it did in giving its nurses the negotiated raises.

“Based on what I’ve been told—I’ve not seen what the union has put in—but I think the Juan Luis board had the authority to do what they did,” deJongh said. “Clearly they had it under public concerns and health concerns. Now it’s up to me to look at it in respect to whether we can afford to implement the agreement.”

He added, “What’s important to me is the ability to pay, because included in there is increases for nurses within the Department of Health. And so that’s an issue.”

Day-Henry said the government and Schneider not executing the new agreement shows bad faith bargaining on their part. She said JFL moving ahead without Schneider and the government is union busting. She was clear, though, with what VISNA wants – all or nothing.

“The first outcome we would like is for everyone to sign off on the contract and pay the nurses according to the collective bargaining agreement we negotiated,” Day-Henry said. “If that cannot happen, meaning the government and Schneider can’t afford to implement the contract, then Juan Luis would have to cease paying our members. And we hate saying that. We want all of our members to be paid, but the process must be legally implemented.”

No hearing date has been set yet as to when PERB will meet to hear testimony on VISNA’s charge.

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