Dec. 19, 2005 – About 30 Department of Human Services workers have not been on the job for over a week in Frederiksted because of what they call unhealthy conditions at their work site.
Shalima Joseph, shop steward at Human Services, updated members of the Committee on Labor and Agriculture about the conditions, which included odor complaints, at Monday nights session. Committee members said they were receiving complaints from union members about the Seafarers International Union and how it was representing its members on St. Croix.
Joseph said she notified Eugene Irish, assistant vice president of Seafarers International Union, on Dec. 7 about the unhealthy conditions of the work site, but he did not show up to take a look at until Dec. 15. The workers had walked out on Dec. 12.
Joseph said workers did come to work during the week, but refused to go into the building. She said she went to the site and her face broke out and she had to be taken to the emergency room. She said there was also a strong odor in the building that made her nauseated.
Workers were reportedly told not to come to work on Monday.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, committee chair, told the union workers that there is nothing that mandates that you have to work in unhealthy conditions."
Slow response to the problem was just one complaint levied by Joseph and fellow shop stewards Debbie Guadalupe, from the Department of Labor, and Enrique James against Irish and the union.
Irish did not attend the hearing and Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville said Irish showed great disrespect to the committee by not attending, and not even answering a letter sent to him.
Figueroa-Serville said that he was also upset that Karen Andrews, chief negotiator at the Office of Collective Bargaining, had not bothered to show up even though she did answer correspondence. He added that though he gets paid about $25,000 a year less than Andrews, he manages to make a couple of hearings on the same day and also find time to do research.
The complaints against the union included:
— having members ratify a contract without giving them time or opportunity to read the full contract.
— raising union dues without notification.
— negotiating an increase in employees' health benefit payments without telling employees.
Union dues are paid twice each month. They presently equal 1.5 times an employee's hourly wage. Union dues will be increased to twice an employee's hourly wage in January. In other words, an employee making $15 an hour and who used to have annual dues of $1,170; will now have dues of $1,560.
Joseph said that though St. Croix has 900 union members, nobody from St. Croix was on the contract negotiating team. She said territory-wide, the union has 1,900 members.
Nelson said it was the largest union representing government workers on the islands and maybe the largest overall union in the Virgin Islands.
Attending the meeting were Sens. Davis, Ronald E. Russell, Nelson and Figueroa-Serville. Committee members absent were Sens. Celestino A. White Sr., Craig Barshinger and Shawn-Michael Malone.
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