Dec. 27, 2003 Daryl George, president of Local 2125 of the International Association of Firefighters, says his members and those in St. Croix Local 2832 want the government to come up with the $1.9 million it agreed to pay them in the contract negotiated last October and signed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull.
The preceding paragraph was taken from a Source story published last March. Nine months later, the story has not changed in respect to Turnbull's failure to approve the raises. However, the situation between the governor's office and the union has deteriorated even further — something George didn't foresee.
This past Tuesday Turnbull again shot down the hopes of the firefighters and other unionized employees when he vetoed the Fiscal Year 2004 Budget, which included a $12 million appropriation in the miscellaneous section to fund the negotiated raises.
However, George now has more ammunition in his arsenal to counter the governor's stand on the elusive raises. He has asked for and is currently receiving support from the International Association of Firefighters based in Washington, D.C.
On Dec. 18 IAFF General President Harold A. Schaitberger wrote a strongly worded letter to Turnbull decrying the government's failure to release the money. (See "Firefighters vow to fight for raises".)
On Saturday George said that the union has been so far unsuccessful in its attempts to meet with Turnbull in order to reach an amicable settlement. "We've been trying to get in touch with the governor," he said, "but we haven't gotten any response."
George is particularly galled by legislation of Turnbull's utilizing the Indirect Cost Fund, which George had been told could not be used for the firefighters' raises. "The governor said he couldn't use the ICF to pay our raises, and now I see he is using that same fund," George said.
Money in the ICF, and in other government funds, is being appropriated to cover operating costs of the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Property and Procurement, the Division of Personnel and the Department of Finance.
"It just shows again that it's a plot against the firefighters," George said Saturday. "I am not encouraged by the response from the governor it is no response," he added.
While the governor has yet to meet with George concerning the raises, Turnbull did call the union leader on Tuesday. "He called me the same day he announced the vetoes to say he couldn't fund the raises. I respect him for calling. It was a noble thing to let (the labor leaders) know what he was up to," George said.
But the gesture was hardly enough. "Our people are ready and willing to work with the governor. They think we could work things out. But, if we don't, we will go to Plan B after the first of the year," George said. "He still has to roll back those executive branch pay raises. I see where top management is living large and putting taxes on the little people who are suffering. It's a disservice to the people. I see this as a problem."
While George acknowledged that firefighters and police are by law prohibited from striking, nothing else seems to be ruled out. "After the holidays, all labor leaders are supposed to meet and come up with a strategy. We are prepared to take serious action."
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