Home News Local news STX Teachers Protest Proposed Pay Cuts, Unpaid Holidays

STX Teachers Protest Proposed Pay Cuts, Unpaid Holidays


St. Croix teachers protest Wednesday against proposed cuts in paid holidays and new powers over payroll contained in austerity legislation coming before the V.I. Legislature Thursday.With the V.I. Legislature poised to consider a package of spending controls and tax increases Thursday, St. Croix teachers protested the bill’s provisions to eliminate holidays and allow pay cuts by marching, chanting and carrying signs in front of the Legislature in Frederiksted Wednesday afternoon.

The government is facing a projected shortfall of $75.1 million for 2011 and $131.5 million for 2012, according to Government House. In his recent State of the Territory address, Gov. John deJongh Jr. proposed a series of austerity measures—such as laying off per-diem and part-time employees, combined with tax increases—to help close the gap.

The administration submitted legislation to freeze government salaries for two years and establish three unpaid holidays: Transfer Day, Holy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter) and the day after Christmas. The proposals would also implement a 1-percent increase in the gross receipts tax, a 2-percent increase in hotel tax, and a 911 surcharge of $1 on cell phones, a charge that already exists for landlines.

After committee hearings on the administration proposals, the Senate will consider Bill 29-0045 on Thursday, which contains the proposed tax increases and holiday reductions.

The proposed pay freeze is not in the bill. Instead, it says "nothing shall preclude a public employer from reducing wages," which the St. Croix Federation of Teachers believes is meant to give the government the power to reduce wages at will.

"We worked hard to negotiate a contract for the union,” said St. Croix AFT 1st Vice President Rosa Soto-Thomas, “and it is unfair for the government to continue to balance the budget on the backs of organized labor."

As Soto-Thomas spoke Wednesday, union members stood around waving signs with slogans like "Let’s Keep the Holidays," "Can’t Survive With a Pay Cut," and "Keep Collective Bargaining."

The provision saying an employer may reduce wages is a direct attack against labor’s right to negotiate contracts, Soto-Thomas said, adding, "It violates democratic process."

The union’s members are aware there is a fiscal crisis and support other measures in the bill, but are "vehemently opposed" to eliminating paid holidays or any potential for salary freezes or cuts, she said.

Asked what the government should do to meet the crisis, Soto-Thomas said there should be more leadership from the top. If the governor and his top staff took pay cuts first, stopped using government vehicles and started reducing the number of people in unclassified positions, that would go a long way toward persuading her and union members that the government is serious and not just attacking labor, she said.

"To be very honest with you, I am not convinced the government is broke. If they are broke, why are all the government cars still on the road everywhere you go?" she said.

For its part, the administration has steadfastly maintained that it will happily consider any and all proposals to address the crisis, but nothing that has been suggested is nearly sufficient to meet the immediate needs.

"I have met with all the parties and have not received counter proposals that outline a strategy to address either the short-term or the long-term revenue shortfalls," deJongh said in a statement earlier this month.



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