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JUDGE SETS NEW HEARING ON GUARDS INJUNCTION

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Feb. 8, 2002 – Territoral Court Judge Ive Swan on Friday upheld his order to unionized prison guards not to engage in any more work stoppages, replacing Monday's temporary restraining order with a temporary injunction and setting March 11 for a hearing on the Justice Department's request for a permanent injunction.
The 16 Corrections Bureau officers who called in sick last Saturday and Sunday at the Farrelly Criminal Justice Complex and Sub Base Jail Annex on St. Thomas appeared before Swan Friday morning at the behest of Attorney General Iver Stridiron. The bureau falls within the V.I. Justice Department, which the attorney general heads.
The guards are members of the United Industrial Workers-Seafarers International Union. Their attorney, Pedro Williams, asked Swan to dismiss the retraining order, saying the guards were back on the job and there was no reason to continue the order. But the judge disagreed.
When the hearing began Friday morning, Swan told the parties present that he was ready to rule on Stridiron's request for a permanent injunction. But Williams said he needed more time to prepare a defense. "The court has accepted the government's position on the TRO without hearing from my clients," he said.
Swan said he realized that the union had gotten notice on Wednesday to appear in court on Friday and that the two days was inadequate to prepare a defense. He said was issuing the temporary injunction because the temporary restraining order was going to expire on Feb. 14 and he wanted something in place until he ruled on the government's request for a permanent injunction.
Williams argued that the judge's order unfairly cast doubt over workers who may have been genuinely ill, a notion which appeared to irritate the judge.
"All they have to do is make sure they are legitimately ill," Swan replied. "If they're exploiting the situation, I'm not going to stand for that foolishness. They are mature adults, and they ought to be responsible."
After the hearing, the attorney general said he was pleased with the judge's decision. "Given what Judge Swan said, I don't think anybody is foolish enough to defy his order," Stridiron said.
Eugene Irish, vice president of the Seafarers International local, said he thought the court based its ruling solely on the words of the attorney general without hearing all the facts. "The union has no knowledge of a sick-out," he said.
None of the statements inside or outside of the courtroom answered the question of why the corrections officers called in sick. About two-thirds of the guards assigned to the Farrelly Complex and the Sub Base annex didn't show up for work on Saturday and Sunday.
The two facilities hold a total of about 150 inmates. Stridiron said Monday that off-duty guards and jail administrators were called in to cover the weekend shifts.
Virgin Islands law prohibits prison guards from going on strike. Stridiron termed the action a "strong-arm tactic" intended to get the Office of Collective Bargaining to open negotiations on a new contract with the union ahead of schedule. The guards currently are receiving salaries at the 1998 step level.
Irish said if the workers suddenly fell ill en masse, it may have been because of "the amount of overtime these officers have been performing, and have done with honor."

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