82.5 F
Cruz Bay
Wednesday, May 22, 2024


After more than eight hours of testimony Friday, Territorial Court Judge Brenda Hollar ordered striking teachers back to the classroom, acknowledging it was a "highly emotional issue, not only with the teachers, but with the community."
The preliminary injunction was a blow to American Federation of Teachers members and was met with moans by those who had packed the courtroom all day. St. Croix attorney Lee Rohn, who represented the AFT in a highly charged performance, had said at one point that teachers "would rather go to jail than return to school at the same paltry wages and horrible working conditions."
After Hollar's decision, Rohn said, "I lost, we lost, the community lost." As to what the teachers will do, she said, "The teachers have to find what is in their heart."
Assistant Attorney General Jessica Gallivan represented the government, backed by Attorney General Iver Stridiron. Stridiron said, "I'm pleased with the ruling. The government acted in good faith."
Rohn had repeatedly said during the proceedings that the government had acted in "bad faith."
Stridiron said, "The governor was tired of spinning his wheels when he saw the negotiations were going nowhere. He didn't want to keep the kids out of school another day."
The matter will now go to impasse, Stridiron said, and should that fail, an outside mediator will be called in to resolve the issue.
Ruby Simmonds, Education commissioner, was smiling. "Now I hope we can begin to get back to normal," she said.
In her detailed decision, Hollar listed all the issues involved, including whether a continuing strike would endanger the health and safety of the community, but concluded that teachers had to abide by the AFT's collective bargaining agreement which prohibits strikes. As Class 2 employees, however, teachers are allowed to strike according to the V.I. Code. There was much talk throughout the day about the distinction.
Hollar cited Chapter 14 of Act 4440 as the deciding authority, which says employees may strike under certain conditions, but not if there is a contract in place.
Rohn pleaded for the teachers' rights. With raised arms, she said, "We need the power, it's too soon. We are given the right by law, and we need to counterbalance (the government's) power."
Rohn said if teachers went back to school, they would have no leverage with which to bargain. She said they had been out only three weeks, compared to a 1976 strike which lasted five weeks. Rohn claimed the ruling would "bust the back of the union."
She called Sens. Norman Jn Baptiste and Adelbert "Bert" Bryan to the witness chair in a move Stridiron Friday night called surprising and "ill advised."
In a Saturday morning radio interview Stridiron went further, calling Rohn's action "disgraceful." Stridiron said the senators "say they are supporting the teachers—they are supporting themselves," referring to next week's elections.
Both senators testified they had identified funds for the teachers if only they could get their colleagues to support a petition for a special Senate session, which they have not been able to do.
Stridiron's questioning of Bryan was brief.
"Did you vote for the $11 million for the teachers?" he asked.
As Bryan tried to sidestep the question, Stridiron repeated it, got a "no" answer, and that was that.
Jn Baptiste referred to a personal phone call he had had with Gov. Charles W. Turnbull, and from that inferred the governor was willing to meet with teachers again. He also cited a "sin tax" bill he had cosponsored with Bryan and which the Senate had voted down. On Saturday, Stridiron said the senator had no business discussing a personal phone call with the governor in the witness stand.
When asked if the government is broke, legislative Post Auditor Campbell Malone testified the Fiscal Year 2001 budget had "many difficulties." Malone has previously said the budget probably has a $75 million to $100 million shortfall. He testified he did not know what funds the government has. Each of Malone's budget analyses is preceded by a disclaimer of any real knowledge of the funds to be appropriated.
The AFT has asked the government for financial records to see for themselves the state of the territory's finances and see if it is really broke. George Bordenave Jr., AFT chief negotiator, said as of Friday morning the government hadn't turned over the material.
As Rohn and Pedro Williams, attorney for the St. Thomas-St. John AFT, reiterated their pleas to let the strike continue throughout the day, Gallivan countered with the message that the government cannot find any more funds, "and that is final." Rohn reiterated that at all three of the bargaining sessions between the AFT and the government after the government claimed to be broke, they "came up with something else," showing, she said, that they weren't bargaining in good faith.
About midway in the proceedings, Rohn called for and was denied a dismissal by Hollar. She also asked for and was denied a continuance of the proceedings in St. Croix.
Also testifying were government Chief Negotiator Karen Andrews, a school assistant principal, a student and a "real live teacher," announced by Rohn.
Stridiron on Saturday said he hoped by the end of the year the matter would be resolved.
In conclusion, Hollar said, "I know the teachers are going to return to the classroom. I know them—they are too dedicated."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.