July 2, 2003 – Under an agreement reached Tuesday between the government and the United Steelworkers union, most Finance Department employees in the St. Thomas-St. John district will receive new job classifications and, as a result, salary increases.
According to Karen Andrews, the administration's chief negotiator, the agreement came at the end of a months-long review at Finance, where the work force has been reduced by 156 jobs since 1999. She said the review was prompted by the Personnel Division, which is in the process of automating its overall human relations system. (See the May 2002 report "Notorious NOPA's entering the electronic era").
"Once the process is completed, it goes to the Division of Personnel," Andrews said on Wednesday. "It's a recommendation until the director of Personnel signs off, authorizing the completion of the process. We then determine the appropriate grade and salary."
She added that "as it relates to salary, because most of the employees are unionized, the Office of Collective Bargaining must be a part of the process as well."
At the end of the review, a stipulation is reached which must be signed by the Personnel director, the chief negotiator, the union representative and the employee.
Andrews said the money to fund the raises was set aside by Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull as part of her department's allocation for Fiscal Year 2003.
Agreements similar to the one reached on Tuesday with the rank and file employees on St. Thomas must now be worked out with their counterparts on St. Croix and with Finance Department supervisors.
Employees of the Internal Revenue Bureau and of the Personnel Division itself have also been the subject of what Personnel calls "desk audits," which entail filling out a five-page document detailing their job responsibilities.
Almost all of the 120 Finance Department employees on St. Thomas received job reclassifications and salary increases at the end of the process, Andrews said. In almost every case, she said, it was found that workers had taken on additional responsibilities each time the department's work force was trimmed.
"This is a review of your duties and responsibility to make sure that what you're actually doing is in concert with what your job description says you are doing," Andrews said.
She said it was important to work on central service agencies first, because Personnel, the IRB and Finance provide services to other government agencies, as well as to the public. The Planning and Natural Resources Department and the Human Services Department are being considered as the next candidates for review.
The upgrades at Finance come at a time when Ira Mills, director of the Office of Management and Budget, is warning that government workers may be laid off in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, unless government revenues rise.
Andrews said Mills may be right, but the forecast may change if the 25th Legislature approves the pending portion of Gov. Charles W. Turnbull's fiscal recovery plan that calls for borrowing another $235 million on the bond market. Government House officials have said that a part of the money would go for operating expenses.
(The bill as submitted to the Legislature specifies that up to $100 million would go to finance the government's working capital obligations, up to $20 million would finance private economic development initiatives on St. Croix, up to $10 million would be for a guaranty reserve fund to provide credit enhancement for financing the Carifest theme park on St. Thomas, and up to $80 million would go to finance the construction of a 250-room hotel on St. Croix.)
If the financial situation remains as it is today, Andrews said, the Office of Collective Bargaining will be on hand to help downsize the government work force. "When and if it becomes necessary — which we hope it does not … and we trust the Legislature will do what is necessary to avoid it — but if it becomes necessary, most definitely," she said. "Our work force is 94 percent unionized, and the Office of Collective Bargaining will have a pivotal role."
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