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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, July 3, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesEND TO IMPROMPTU TEACHER STRIKES ORDERED

END TO IMPROMPTU TEACHER STRIKES ORDERED

A Territorial Court judge will take a week to think about a St. Croix teachers’ union request to reverse a government decision docking educators’ pay for recent school sickouts. In the meantime the judge barred the union from staging further job actions without 72-hour notice.
On Friday, Judge Edgar Ross continued hearing the teachers' request that he block Commissioner of Education Ruby Simmonds’ decision to dock the pay of teachers who participated in alternating sickouts at every school on St. Croix in the past two weeks.
While Ross said he’d take the issue on advisement until early next week, he did support a counter motion by the V.I. government seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against any more job actions on St. Croix.
"It prohibits the union from encouraging or sanctioning a strike without giving the government 72 hours notice, which in this instance it failed to do," said Ross. "Any other concerted or collective action by the employees will be in direct violation of the court order."
Meanwhile, the 20 percent of teachers at Central High School and another 60 percent at Charles H. Emanuel Elementary who failed to report to work Friday narrowly missed being held in contempt of a temporary restraining order Ross had issued against the AFT on Thursday.
When the government’s attorney, Assistant Attorney General Jessica Gallivan, was informed of the absences at the schools on Friday, she asked Ross to find them in contempt of his order. But Ross said the government had to prove the teachers were knowingly in violation, even though AFT President Cecil Benjamin went on the radio Thursday informing the membership about that day’s temporary restraining order.
"To show that they violated the court order, you must show they knew and they willfully violated the court order," Ross said.
As for Simmonds’ decision to dock teachers’ pay, Gallivan contended the AFT should go through the Department of Education’s grievance process or the Public Employees Relations Board for relief rather than to the court.
But in arguing the AFT’s motion for an injunction against Simmonds’ decision, attorney Ned Jacobs said the formal process would take too long, especially in light of the government’s financial situation. He said teachers might never see the 10 percent of their biweekly paycheck once it was docked, even if the AFT were eventually to win the grievance.
"If employees have their pay docked now," Jacobs said, in the future, "the government may say, we don’t have the money to pay you."
Gallivan, meanwhile, said Ross would be setting a bad precedent if he didn’t grant the government’s counter motion to enjoin further job actions.
"It would be sending a message that employees can . . . violate the law without consequence," she said.
Despite Jacobs’ claim that the union needed a quick decision or members would never see their pay, Ross said he wanted time to decide on the AFT’s motion because he wasn’t convinced that the union couldn’t go through the PERB or the DOE’s grievance process.
"The court is not convinced at this time that a showing of irreparable injury has been made," the judge said.
After the decision, Benjamin said the union’s "problem is still there."
"It’s government defending government," he said. "The problem isn’t resolved. This is all about punishment."

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A Territorial Court judge will take a week to think about a St. Croix teachers’ union request to reverse a government decision docking educators’ pay for recent school sickouts. In the meantime the judge barred the union from staging further job actions without 72-hour notice.
On Friday, Judge Edgar Ross continued hearing the teachers' request that he block Commissioner of Education Ruby Simmonds’ decision to dock the pay of teachers who participated in alternating sickouts at every school on St. Croix in the past two weeks.
While Ross said he’d take the issue on advisement until early next week, he did support a counter motion by the V.I. government seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction against any more job actions on St. Croix.
"It prohibits the union from encouraging or sanctioning a strike without giving the government 72 hours notice, which in this instance it failed to do," said Ross. "Any other concerted or collective action by the employees will be in direct violation of the court order."
Meanwhile, the 20 percent of teachers at Central High School and another 60 percent at Charles H. Emanuel Elementary who failed to report to work Friday narrowly missed being held in contempt of a temporary restraining order Ross had issued against the AFT on Thursday.
When the government’s attorney, Assistant Attorney General Jessica Gallivan, was informed of the absences at the schools on Friday, she asked Ross to find them in contempt of his order. But Ross said the government had to prove the teachers were knowingly in violation, even though AFT President Cecil Benjamin went on the radio Thursday informing the membership about that day’s temporary restraining order.
"To show that they violated the court order, you must show they knew and they willfully violated the court order," Ross said.
As for Simmonds’ decision to dock teachers’ pay, Gallivan contended the AFT should go through the Department of Education’s grievance process or the Public Employees Relations Board for relief rather than to the court.
But in arguing the AFT’s motion for an injunction against Simmonds’ decision, attorney Ned Jacobs said the formal process would take too long, especially in light of the government’s financial situation. He said teachers might never see the 10 percent of their biweekly paycheck once it was docked, even if the AFT were eventually to win the grievance.
"If employees have their pay docked now," Jacobs said, in the future, "the government may say, we don’t have the money to pay you."
Gallivan, meanwhile, said Ross would be setting a bad precedent if he didn’t grant the government’s counter motion to enjoin further job actions.
"It would be sending a message that employees can . . . violate the law without consequence," she said.
Despite Jacobs’ claim that the union needed a quick decision or members would never see their pay, Ross said he wanted time to decide on the AFT’s motion because he wasn’t convinced that the union couldn’t go through the PERB or the DOE’s grievance process.
"The court is not convinced at this time that a showing of irreparable injury has been made," the judge said.
After the decision, Benjamin said the union’s "problem is still there."
"It’s government defending government," he said. "The problem isn’t resolved. This is all about punishment."