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Tuesday, May 21, 2024


Sept. 27, 2001 — With the breakdown of contract negotiations between the Turnbull administration and the territory’s two rank and file police unions, both sides are resorting to press conferences to air their positions.
Negotiations between the St. Croix and St. Thomas Police Benevolent Associations and the administration’s Office of Collective Bargaining ended Friday after union officials declared an impasse. The issue will now go before a three-member arbitration panel.
On Tuesday, union officials held a press conference and blasted the administration, particularly chief negotiator Karen Andrews, for what they termed the government’s flaunting of negotiation ground rules, rejection of union bargaining points and paltry wage increase proposals.
In response to the PBA press conference, Andrews, Attorney General Iver Stridiron and Police Commissioner Franz Christian have scheduled one of their own for Thursday on St. Croix.
The St. Croix PBA pPresident, Naomi Joseph, ripped Andrews on Tuesday for starting negotiations eight hours late on one day and for comments that the territory’s police officers are already being paid comparable to officers on the mainland.
Joseph scoffed at that notion and said that even with the government’s plan to pay government workers their step increases by Oct. 16, police officers would still be getting paid at 1998 levels. She said the government offered officers, whose last contract expired in September 1999, raises of 3 percent for 2001, 2 percent for 2002, and 1.5 percent for 2003. No salary increases were proposed for 1999 and 2000.
Joseph said the increases total about 33 cents an hour for the approximately 300 police officers in the two districts.
"That ain’t no money to offer an officer," she said. "That is an insult."
Because of that, Joseph said, the unions declared an impasse. That means an arbitration panel will decide the issue. Because police officers are Class III employees, their union and the government do not have to agree mutually to go through normal impasse procedures such as mediation, said Andrews. "Class III can declare impasse at any time," she said. "Frankly, I think there was room to continue discussions."
According to the PBA’s collective bargaining agreement and the Public Employees Labor Relations Act, Class III employees are prohibited from striking due to public safety issues. But that hasn’t kept officers from staging sick-outs in the past. About a year ago, a Territorial Court judge ordered officers to report to work after they staged such an action over low pay and working conditions.
Andrews said she would respond to the unions’ allegations at the government’s press conference on Thursday. She said that since the unions went public with specific bargaining points, the government must answer in kind. But it is not out of disrespect for the officers, she said.
"I always say these are our employees first," Andrews said. "I highly respect our men and women in blue. I’m not here to incite them."
The government press conference is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Patrick Sweeney Headquarters on St. Croix.

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