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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, August 9, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesISOLATED LABOR PROTESTS ON FIREBURN ANNIVERSARY

ISOLATED LABOR PROTESTS ON FIREBURN ANNIVERSARY

A union protest scheduled for the 121st anniversary of Contract Day, which in 1878 turned into a mass labor uprising called Fireburn on St. Croix, didn’t materialize on the Big Island Friday.
According to Barbara Gumbs, a civilian employee at the V.I. Police Department’s Patrick Sweeney Headquarters, different unions were to assemble at the governor’s headquarters Friday morning.
The plan, said Gumbs, who is a shop steward with the United Steelworkers of America, was to march into Christiansted and burn their contract with the government to protest, among other things, the lack of salary increases.
"We were told to meet at the Orange Grove Shopping Center for a march," Gumbs said in an interview on WSTX radio. "But just the civilian employees of the police department showed up."
Friday’s sickout of 24 civilian police department employees is the fourth in a week. In addition to issues about retroactive pay the workers say the headquarters building is in disrepair.
Some 40 percent of police officers on the first shift had cases of the "blue flu," said police officials.
Gumbs said support from the leadership of the United Steelworkers of American was lacking.
"I haven’t heard from the people we should be hearing from," Gumbs said. "We don’t feel we are getting the representation we should."
Despite a Territorial Court judge’s temporary restraining order on Thursday against teachers calling in sick to work, 20 percent of teachers at Central High School and 60 percent at Charles H. Emanuel Elementary failed to report to their jobs on Friday. Unionized teachers and support staff are owed more than $100 million in retroactive wages dating back to 1993.
St. Croix Fire Services officials on Friday, the 121st anniversary of Fireburn, said that some 90 percent of 23 firefighters didn’t report to work. Because of the sickout, officials had to close the Cotton Valley Fire Station east of Christiansted.
Firefighters have met recently with Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II to discuss working conditions at fire stations and lack of equipment.
In 1878, 30 years after emancipation was to have freed the enslaved Africans on St. Croix, strict labor regulations were still being enforced by Danish plantation owners. Laborers had to sign year-long contracts each October, weren't allowed to change jobs, and freedom of movement was restricted.
On Oct. 1, 1878, contract-signing day — a free day with no work — St. Croix's workers, led by Queen Mary and three other teenage girls, made their way into Frederiksted and united in a fiery protest.
By the time the smoke had cleared, some two-thirds of the plantations and great houses on the island sat smoldering. The fires were aimed at driving the white growers away, or at least to press the point that the Danish Crown's emancipation proclamation some 30 years earlier was hollow.

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A union protest scheduled for the 121st anniversary of Contract Day, which in 1878 turned into a mass labor uprising called Fireburn on St. Croix, didn’t materialize on the Big Island Friday.
According to Barbara Gumbs, a civilian employee at the V.I. Police Department’s Patrick Sweeney Headquarters, different unions were to assemble at the governor’s headquarters Friday morning.
The plan, said Gumbs, who is a shop steward with the United Steelworkers of America, was to march into Christiansted and burn their contract with the government to protest, among other things, the lack of salary increases.
"We were told to meet at the Orange Grove Shopping Center for a march," Gumbs said in an interview on WSTX radio. "But just the civilian employees of the police department showed up."
Friday’s sickout of 24 civilian police department employees is the fourth in a week. In addition to issues about retroactive pay the workers say the headquarters building is in disrepair.
Some 40 percent of police officers on the first shift had cases of the "blue flu," said police officials.
Gumbs said support from the leadership of the United Steelworkers of American was lacking.
"I haven’t heard from the people we should be hearing from," Gumbs said. "We don’t feel we are getting the representation we should."
Despite a Territorial Court judge’s temporary restraining order on Thursday against teachers calling in sick to work, 20 percent of teachers at Central High School and 60 percent at Charles H. Emanuel Elementary failed to report to their jobs on Friday. Unionized teachers and support staff are owed more than $100 million in retroactive wages dating back to 1993.
St. Croix Fire Services officials on Friday, the 121st anniversary of Fireburn, said that some 90 percent of 23 firefighters didn’t report to work. Because of the sickout, officials had to close the Cotton Valley Fire Station east of Christiansted.
Firefighters have met recently with Lt. Gov. Gerard Luz James II to discuss working conditions at fire stations and lack of equipment.
In 1878, 30 years after emancipation was to have freed the enslaved Africans on St. Croix, strict labor regulations were still being enforced by Danish plantation owners. Laborers had to sign year-long contracts each October, weren't allowed to change jobs, and freedom of movement was restricted.
On Oct. 1, 1878, contract-signing day -- a free day with no work -- St. Croix's workers, led by Queen Mary and three other teenage girls, made their way into Frederiksted and united in a fiery protest.
By the time the smoke had cleared, some two-thirds of the plantations and great houses on the island sat smoldering. The fires were aimed at driving the white growers away, or at least to press the point that the Danish Crown's emancipation proclamation some 30 years earlier was hollow.