March 3, 2003 – The territory's unionized firefighters are suing the V.I. government in Territorial Court for negotiating in bad faith and not paying them their negotiated raises.
Daryl George, president of Local 2125, International Association of Firefighters, says his members and those of St. Croix's Local 2832 want the government to come up with the $1.9 million it agreed to pay them in the contract negotiated last October and signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The $1.9 million was part of a $6.1 million appropriation passed by the 24th Legislature on Dec. 23, with the money to come from the Indirect Cost Fund and the Industrial Development Fund.
On Jan. 10, dealing with a multitude of appropriations in a "Christmas tree" bill passed by the 24th Legislature on Dec. 23, Turnbull approved "with reservations" the transfer of $3.6 million from the Indirect Cost Fund and $2.5 million from the Industrial Development Fund to cover negotiated union contracts. "I am not in favor of raiding the Indirect Cost Fund to support non-federal salary increases for which this government lacks resources, because it jeopardizes all federal programs," he wrote in his letter to Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd, then Senate president. "Accordingly, I will urge the 25th Legislature to seek an alternative source of funding."
The appropriations for union-negotiated increases were $1.9 million to the International Association of Firefighters for firefighters; $400,000 to the International Association of Firefighters for supervisors; and $3.8 million to the United Steelworkers of America for members in 15 government departments and agencies.
Now, George said, "They're saying this is a federal funding source that can't be used."
Word that the contracted raises would not go through came at back-to-back meetings of the 25th Legislature's Committee of the Whole and Finance Committee on Jan. 13. Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. asked Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull whether the governor had signed authorizations for the firefighters' raises. White was told that the governor was uncomfortable with the funding sources identified by the Senate.
In a letter dated Feb. 2, White then wrote the governor asking him to "advise me of a funding source you are most comfortable with so I can reintroduce the legislation." (See "Senator to governor: Stop 'funding-source tag'".) A staff aide said on Monday that White had yet to receive a reply.
George said union attorneys will try to convince the judge trying the case in Territorial Court that the government negotiated in bad faith and should be ordered to pay the contracted raises.
Lee Vanterpool, Government House spokesman, would say only that the matter is being handled by chief negotiator Karen Andrews, who is representing the executive branch in the court case. "It's before the court. It's a legal issue, and before the administration has a chance to speak to the attorney general and Karen Andrews, it wouldn't be appropriate to comment on it," he said.

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