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M.O.U. AMENDED AT BEHEST OF UNIONS

A provision of the memorandum of understanding between the V.I. and federal government vehemently opposed by local labor leaders has been changed after lobbying by a national labor union.
Along with mandating that the government cut its budget by reducing payroll, eliminate five paid government holidays and trim department spending, a major part of the memorandum calls for the restructuring of the territory’s public labor relations laws, including Act No. 4440, to conform with the federal public labor relations law by June 30, 2000.
The memorandum stated that the territory’s general fund deficits of recent years have been aggravated significantly by "collective bargaining agreements, whereby (government of the Virgin Islands) employees enjoy greater bargaining rights than those enjoyed by federal employees."
According to a statement from the Central Labor Council Thursday night, the amendment to the memorandum was secured by George Becker, president of the United Steel Workers of America.
The new wording reads as follows:
"Recognizing that salaries and benefits are a portion of overall local government expenditures, the Governor and union representatives are encouraged to pursue through collective bargaining reform initiatives to assist in the fiscal solvency of the Government of the Virgin Islands."
In a release late Thursday, Gov. Charles Turnbull, who signed the memorandum with Interior Department Secretary Bruce Babbitt earlier this month, said the change was requested by Interior. He said the new language allows the governor the flexibility to negotiate with the unions through collective bargaining.
Luis "Tito" Morales, president of the CLC, said the amendment will allow unions to negotiate any changes to Act. 4440.
"We were able to achieve this as a result of the meeting with the White House on Oct. 18," he said. "I think this is a step in the right direction, and it shows a willingness to work with the unions. Hopefully we will be able to attain similar success with five other measures we have pending from our meeting with the White House."
In the White House meeting, Becker and Morales met with Clinton administration officials from the Office of Management and Budget and the Council of Economic Advisors. The meeting was conducted by Karen Tramontano, counselor to President Clinton’s Chief of Staff.
Discussions centered around the territory’s financial problems, including the government’s $1 billion deficit and a possible grant to relieve the debt, unfunded federal mandates not being paid, court-ordered infrastructure improvements and exhaustion of the V.I.’s borrowing ability.
Becker said the union also raised the need for the federal government to continue the current level of the rum excise tax past December’s expiration date and the need for the administration and Congress to determine whether the territory is entitled to a return of gasoline excise taxes from HOVENSA.
The local Steelworkers union represents 1,500 of the 10,000 public employees in the Virgin Islands as well as workers at the HOVENSA refinery.

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