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Monday, July 22, 2024


More than a hundred public school teachers showed up at Alfredo Andrews Elementary School on Wednesday, but not to teach. Rather, they were attending a union meeting at which Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II spoke.
Classes for the 530 students at the school were canceled earlier in the morning after 55 teachers continued sickouts that have occurred at at least 11 schools on the island since last Thursday. In all, thousands of students have been affected by the actions of more than 500 teachers and support staff.
The teachers are protesting inadequate conditions and lack of supplies in the territory’s public schools and the fact that they are owed more than $100 million in back pay since 1993. They are also furious over raises totaling more than $400,000 given by Gov. Charles Turnbull to executive branch employees since January.
When James told the raucous AFT audience on Wednesday that the teachers’ sickouts were "hurting the children," about a third of the crowd departed angrily.
"I knew when I took the step forward to run for lieutenant governor . . . that it wasn’t going to be easy," James said.
The lieutenant governor was unable to give teachers any new information on the status of their retroactive wages and salary increases.
Terrence "Positive" Nelson, a teacher at the Education Complex and AFT member, said union leaders and government officials were only dispensing rhetoric in regard to the education crisis.
"None of the concerns have been addressed," he said.
Although he himself did not teach on the day sickouts occurred at the Education Complex, Nelson said a government-wide strike should have taken place instead.
"It should have been a united action to shut the entire government down," he said.
Because Turnbull has hired people in the executive branch and given raises to others, Nelson said he doesn’t believe administration officials when they say the government doesn’t have funding to pay the retroactive debt.
"Our problem isn’t to generate revenues," he said. "It’s too much spending."
Union leaders have met with several senators to suggest ways to increase the government’s treasury. Among the suggestions :

  • Imposing a $5 head tax on cruise ship passengers.
  • Taxing cigarettes, imported spirits and imported bottled water.
  • Pursuing a return of gasoline excise taxes.
  • Making sure Industrial Development Commission beneficiaries are adhering to their obligations.
  • Requiring all semiautonomous agencies to contribute to the general fund.
  • Eliminating exempt positions.
  • Enforcing tax and fee collections.
  • Funding the Government Development Bank.
  • Implementing early retirement and hiring freeze, specifically for the executive branch.

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