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UNIONS GRATEFUL BUT WAITING TO SEE THE MONEY

June 12, 2001 — Reacting to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's plan to place all government employees on step, union leaders said Tuesday they are grateful that the governor has set aside funds for labor — but will remain wary until the money is in the hands of their members.
On Monday, Turnbull announced that $30 million will be used to bring government workers on step starting Oct 1. He said the money will come from a projected windfall of $100 million in excess tax revenues.
Naomi Joseph, president of the St. Croix Police Benevolent Association, said bringing officers up to step will do wonders for both morale and productivity within the Police Department. Officers will no longer need to hold outside jobs to make ends meet, she said.
"I can tell you without any fear that if the officers receive their money tomorrow, they will quit those second and third jobs and spend their time with their family," Joseph said. "The pay increase will be basically moving officers from $27,000 to $39,000. That's mid-middle class, a whole different world."
Joseph said her union is optimistic but will take "a wait-and-see attitude" because administrations promises to unions in the past have not always been realized.
"We don't care where the money comes from; we just want the money," she said. "My members are skeptical but hopeful."
Daryl George, president of the International Association of Firefighters on St. Thomas, said his union members are happy they will be brought to step. But, like Joseph, George said he is waiting until the checks are in hand. The association has a District Court case pending against the government for its failure to implement step increases and raises from the union's last collective bargaining agreement, in 1998.
"I'm holding my breath to see what comes out of it," George said. "I hope it is not a play. We've been suffering for a long time." He added, "It's a long time coming, and I want to thank the governor and the senators" for making labor a priority.
The administration came under pressure last year with job actions by the Police Benevolent Association and a strike last October by the American Federation of Teachers that required court orders to quell. Union leaders said Tuesday that the strike and job actions likely had an effect on the administration.
"The fact that we went on strike was one of the reasons why we were able to get some money," Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix AFT chapter, said. "Without going on strike, we would all probably be waiting for our money."
Joseph said the PBA had planned to continue job actions until police officers received their increases. She said she hoped that the job actions "did tell them labor is not one to be played with. We made it clear that we had planned to do other stuff, and we had promised that it would continue. I don't know that it helped, but I hope that it did."
Glen Smith, president of the St. Thomas-St. John AFT, said job actions have helped to bring labor issues to the forefront, but the unions must work together on a variety of other issues facing government employees.
"Every step that organized workers take against an injustice is important in the struggle," Smith said. "It is just unfortunate that we can't all go in lock step together. If the teachers, steelworkers, all of us, lock arms and march into the streets together, we are strong enough to shut this government down."

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