The Chief Negotiator and others in the government are not interested in negotiating in good faith.
(See Negotiator Says Pay Raises Granted Erratically)
If the government had no money why sign the contracts? It was an election year when the contacts were signed and the administration was positioning for votes. This tells me that the government negotiated knowing that there was no money or the negotiators were incompetent. There are many other areas that need to negotiate beside salaries. Safety being one them, but the Chief Negotiator refuses to deal with these issues.
On October 3, 2003 all three Fire Service unions filed an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employees Relation Board against Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the V.I. Government. International Association Of Firefighter Supervisors Union Local 3117, International Association Of Firefighter Local 2125, St. Thomas, and International Association of Firefighter Local 2832, St. Croix, in a show of solidarity are participants in filing the charge of unfair labor practice against Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and the V.I. Government. The unions negotiated with the government on October 7, 2002 for pay rises. Since then, the police and correction union members have received negotiated raises but not the members of the fire unions.
The fire unions have filed the charges for the government's lack of action with the completed negotiations. The Legislature has appropriated funds for raises owed members of the fire unions, but twice the governor has vetoed their efforts. The charges are as followed:
On October 7, 2002 the Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed the negotiated salary rises for the Firefighters Unions local 2125 and 2832. On October 17, 2002 Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull signed the negotiated salary rises for the Fire Supervisors Union local 3117. The effective date of the rises was FY-03 October 1, 2002. As of today Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has refused to honor the negotiated salary raise that he signed even though the legislature more than once has identified funds for these rises. As a result one year of retroactive salaries is owed to unionized fire personnel.
In retrospect the fire unions have come to the conclusion that Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has negotiated in bad faith and eagerly signed our negotiated rises for political motive to get reelected. Despite the intentions of the Honorable Gov. Charles W. Turnbull the negotiated rises are legal and binding on this government. Union members of local 3117, 2832 and 2125 demand our salary rises in accordance to the respective legally negotiated contracts and pay scales.
End of Charge
It shames that members of the governors cabinet believe that they deserved every penny of their raises but firefighter who put their lives on line everyday performing their duty do not. Member of the governor's cabinet used the pretext of police captains and fire captains making more than their supervisors to justified their raises. They fail to mention the fact that personnel that fall under this category are very few and got to that level by having seniority between twenty and thirty years in conjunction with educational credits.
Another issue that the fire unions are compelled to mention is the idea going around in the Legislature to increases the time before a firefighter can retirement. The supervisors union by casual inquiry came up with a dozen names of firefighters who have died prior to tenth year of retirement. We also came up with a dozen who have heart conditions, hypertension, cancer or diabetes. Not to mention all of the firefighters who have medical condition who are currently on duty. To increase the retirement age for firefighters in the Virgin Islands will be nothing less than an on-duty death sentence for some firefighters. This idea may be all right for some fire departments in the states were they have safety programs to protect the fire personnel from toxic and cancerous fumes but not in the Virgin Islands. We are ill equipped, lack training and our protective equipment is not properly maintained. An independent agency (OASHA) has attested to this fact by issuing citations to the V.I. Fire Service for not having a Respiratory Protection Program.
I am attaching the presentation given to the Homeland Security Committee, in March 2003. In this presentation the union outlines the state of readiness of the V.I. Fire Service.
There are five points of concern to show the lack of preparedness of the Virgin Islands Fire Service and its inability to fulfill its mission relative to Homeland Security. These areas include: Operational Readiness, Antiquated Structure, Lack of Training, Poor Budget and In-house Safety Program.
Since the World Trade Center disaster of September 11, 2001 Homeland Security has become a priority throughout the United States and its territories. It is a predominant concern now that we are at war and the threats of potential terrorist retaliation continues. Members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3117 (Supervisors Union) are deeply concerned by this situation.
Many times in the past, our unions lobbied the V.I. Government for increased funding to insure that the Fire Service meets its statutory mandates as well as the evolving needs of our community. Unfortunately, our government continues its practice of management-by-crisis and its leaders have failed to provide sufficient funding for the day-to-day operational responsibilities of the Fire Service. In addition to fire fighting and fire prevention we are now confronted with the element of terrorism and its multiple avenues for destruction deaths, explosions and uncontrollable fires.
The following points relate directly to the safety of the community as well as to the Homeland Security situation:
Fire Service Operational Readiness
For over 20 years the V. I. Fire Service has been in a state of stagnation and regression. This is due in large part to insufficient funding. Past and present directors have continually understated the needs of the V. I. Fire Service. Issues relative to the inept leadership and managerial practices were raised during a 1992 Legislative Committee on Government Operations. To date, a majority of these problems remain. Corrective emphasis was placed on repairing dilapidated Fire Stations and the purchase of a few fire apparatus and equipments, all of which were needed. But, very little attention concentrated on the most significant aspect – that of human resources. Fire services around the world are challenged to take on more responsibilities, such as: emergency medical services, rescue, public education, disaster preparedness and now homeland security.
The operational readiness of the V. I. Fire Service is limited to the extinguishment of fires and fire prevention duties. The people of the Virgin Islands in good conscience should not expect the Virgin Islands Fire Service to provide services above that which its members are not prepared. Presently, haphazard emergency responses occur as a direct result of the lack of appropriate leadership, training, standard operating procedures and agency funding.
Antiquated Organizational Structure
The present day organizational structure of the Fire Service is totally inadequate. Whereas other agencies like the V. I. Police Department, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and the Department of Human Services have all expanded their organizational structures to accommodate the growing responsibilities of their respective agencies, the Fire Service has not significantly expanded its structure since its separation from the Department of Public Safety in 1979. This reflects negatively on the present and past leaders of the Fire Service. They fail to direct the growth of the service. They fail to plan and justify the needs for expansion of the Fire Service. This is a primary reas
on the department is in a state of stagnation. Fire departments worldwide have created Divisions of Training, Bureaus of Fire Prevention, Division of Emergency Medical Services, and Division of Hazardous Materials within their fire departments. They also provide the appropriate training to the individuals assigned to these divisions. These divisions serve to enhance the overall operational effectiveness and efficiency of the agency by enabling a technical specialist to design and run the specialty areas.
It is our hope that the seriousness of Homeland Security will prompt the Governor and the Legislature to take a critical look at the emergency services provided by the Fire Service. Let us stop being satisfied with the current services. Let us stop waiting for the next serious incident to occur and employ the management by crisis policy.
(Editor's Note: The writer also included sections on lack of training, the budget, and in-house safety that are not included here.)
In addition, people throughout our community are lobbying for more development and jobs. They want more companies to come to the Virgin Islands and set up businesses, build multi-million dollar hotels, convention centers etc. The government must ensure that the infrastructure that is required to protect these investments as well as our citizens, be in place. Political talk and criticism will not make it happen. It is time that we as a people take a serious look at the agencies that we want to depend upon in times of crisis and emergencies. Ask your self, can the V. I. Fire Service deliver the services that you and your family need? The answer is no!
International Association of Firefighter Supervisors Union, St. Croix
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