March 7, 2003 – A local firefighters union leader says he's disgusted with the run-around the union is getting as it tries to collect raises approved by the Legislature and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
A Territorial Court judge on Thursday threw out the union's request for a restraining order intended to force the payment of the raises. Meanwhile, the government's chief negotiator, who helped shape the new firefighters contract, is vowing the raises will come through.
Judge Audrey Thomas-Francis rejected the firefighters' argument that a temporary restraining order was the way to force the government to pay them a 22.4 percent raise over four years. But chief negotiator Karen Andrews said on Friday that the judge's decision does not represent a victory for the government.
"We don't look at it as a win for the government or a loss for the firefighters," Andrews said. "Basically, what the judge is saying is they have to exhaust the administrative procedures."
Thomas-Francis ordered the union to take its complaint to the Public Employees Relations Board. Union leader Daryl George said what the judge is asking for amounts to a run around. "All PERB will do is issue an order for the government to pay, and then it goes back to court," he said, "so we're going around in a circle."
The PERB can issue orders, but it "cannot sanction the government," he said.
Some 268 firefighters in both districts were represented by the International Association of Firefighters in seeking the restraining order.
After signing a appropriation bill to cover negotiated pay raises for the firefighters, Fire Service supervisors and government workers represented by the United Steelworkers in January, the governor told the Legislature he was uncomfortable with one of the two funding sources identified.
Andrews said the administration has every intention on making good on the raises and that it was unfortunate that the firefighters felt they had to go to court. "We intend to work with the Legislature to identify a funding source," she said, adding that the firefighters "are our employees first."
George said he appreciates Andrews' efforts but feels that others in the administration may not be as well intentioned. He said he has contacted national firefighters union representatives to discuss ways to pressure the government into keeping its promises.
"I'm a Virgin Islander, and I don't want to see the Virgin Islands suffer," George said. "But if politicians play politics and take the bread out of my members' mouths, they are asking for war."

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