June 17, 2003 About a dozen of the 500 or so exempt employees all from the Department of Justice answered a call to demonstrate Tuesday on the Legislature grounds against the governor's proposed temporary pay cuts.
On Thursday, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull offered to trim the pay of affected employees making more than $40,000 now by 2 percent to 10 percent, on a sliding scale, for the last half of this calendar year. (See "Governor offers small pay cuts for six months").
On Monday afternoon an ad hoc group calling itself the Committee for Dedicated Public Servants called on "all exempt employees of the government" to gather outside the building at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to demonstrate against the governor's proposed temporary cuts in their pay. A full Senate session was scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday to consider financial bills, both the governor's and the Legislature's.
Labor leader Luis "Tito" Morales also asked on Monday that all unionized government workers appear on the grounds at 10 a.m. to protest any attempt by the Senate to tamper with the territory's collective bargaining laws. Morales encouraged the employees to leave their jobs for the demonstration.
As of about 10:15 Tuesday morning, none of them had appeared; Morales, himself, was not seen until after 10:30 a.m. in the Senate chambers.
Though their signs spoke eloquently for them, the Justice employees were more than articulate in explaining their position. As one, they said they didn't object to the salary cuts, themselves, but to the manner in which they were done. They held a variety of signs: "Share the pain," "Roll back the SUVs Roll back the perks Don't take my $" and "To balance the budget on the backs of the exempt employees is not fair."
Ernest Bason, chief of the criminal division, said, "It offended me. I have worked over seven years. I have a staff of 17. We work hard; so far this year, we have six life sentences. After all I have done, to have my salary cut .. I am on call 24-7." Bason said he gave up his classified position to take the supervisory one.
"I don't drive a government car," he said, "and I bought my cell phone." Bason said he still drives his '94 Mitsubishi Montero, "which works fine."
The group did not at first enter the Legislature grounds, but sat on a wall across the street in front of Fort Christian. A security guard at the Senate said they had not obtained the proper permit from the Police Department.
Group members said they hadn't demonstrated at Government House because the governor had presented a plan they could go along with. They noted the Legislature's proposal to the governor to rescind last year's raises.
On June 3, all 15 members of the Legislature signed a letter giving the governor an ultimatum: They would not take up his bill proposing to float another $235 million in bonds as part of his plan to address the territory's fiscal crisis unless and until he rolled back the sizable salary increases he granted to unclassified government employees by executive order last year.
The group took its cause to the Legislature building entrance where they addressed various senators. Sen. Emmett Hansen II assured them they were not the "targets." " It's the johnnycake fryers who are making $80,000 a year," he said, praising the Justice employees for their dedication.
Senator Carlton Dowe said, "Rolling the raises back to save $900,000 the governor is joking. We have to show the governor we have the best plan. We didn't create the stalemate."
Senate President David Jones said, "They are not the targeted ones. We need them in government. The governor did that, and he will have to make the call."
The Senate session got under way shortly after 10:30 a.m., with most of the Justice employees in the chambers, along with several administration officials including Attorney General Iver Stridiron, Public Finance Authority Director Kenneth Mapp, chief government negotiator Karen Andrews, governor's deputy chief of staff Alric Simmonds, and Kent Bernier.
First on the agenda were four nominations. It was not expected the bills would be heard until the afternoon.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.