Sept. 3, 2006 — With most of the territory's workers observing the Monday Labor Day holiday, local labor officials weighed in on the current labor situation in the territory.
Tito Morales, president of the Central Labor Council, said the problems facing labor could be worked out if labor leaders and elected officials worked together. "We need better working conditions," he said, adding that low wages and the high cost of living force many people to work two jobs. He said this means children don't get enough attention, adding that an increase in the minimum wage would help solve this problem.
Gerard "Jerry" Jackson, president of Local 8525 of the United Steelworkers of America, said that workers in the territory face rising prices with no cost-of-living increases. "Everything is going up based on gas prices," he said, adding that he feared that the business community will falter because residents will be forced to cut spending.
Jackson, whose local represents Hovensa workers, said that he thinks unemployment will go up when the oil company wraps up projects in May 2007.
While Jackson represents workers in the private sector, he did note that those who hold government jobs are "still looking for their retroactive pay."
And he added that all workers face a stagnant minimum wage. "People cannot live on the minimum wage," he said.
Hovensa worker Cynthia Martin, who serves as the Steelworkers financial secretary, also complained about the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment to her wages. "Right now things are through the roof, but you don't have any choice but to pay it," she said.
She pinned some of the problem on the fact that suppliers like the V.I. Water and Power Authority hold a monopoly.
Martin said that while unionized workers get a decent wage, those without union representation and on a fixed income are struggling. "How do they manage," she said.
The Labor Department's Web site indicated that as of June 30, the territory's unemployment rate stood at 6.5 percent, down from 7.3 percent the previous June.
St. Croix's rate stood at 7.8 percent, down from 9.1 percent in June 2005; while the unemployment rate in the St. Thomas/St. John district stood at 5.6 percent, down from 6 percent the previous June.
According to U.S. Labor Department statistics, the national unemployment rate was 4.6 in June, down from 5 percent last June.
The territorial Labor Department's Web site, vidol.gov, indicates there was a slight overall increase in June's total employment, but the private sector lost 164 jobs, concentrated mainly in the retail sector, hotels, bars and restaurants, health care and miscellaneous repair services.
The Web site credits the increase to temporary summer youth programs in the public sector. Since temporary summer employment doesn't usually impact the unemployment rate, private sector increases in the number of job seekers were solely responsible for the higher rates during this period.
Statistics for January through May show the territory had an average of 47,410 people working across the territory. This figure breaks down to 27,020 for St. Thomas/St. John, which is down 3.6 percent over the same period last year. On St. Croix, 20,390 people held jobs during that period, up 4.7 percent from the same period a year ago.
The Labor Department's Web site is chock-full of interesting and useful statistics, including information on where job growth is expected to occur. Called the Demand Occupation List, it indicates that jobs are currently available in business and financial operations, construction/building maintenance, health, hospitality and service, industrial maintenance, information technology, and professional service.
The highest paid jobs are chief executives, lawyers, engineering managers, industrial production managers, general operations managers, construction managers, and computer and information systems managers.
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