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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 16, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesDECISION MAKERS ARE NO-SHOWS AT VITRAN MEET

DECISION MAKERS ARE NO-SHOWS AT VITRAN MEET

Tuesday's St. John meeting on looming public transit layoffs and cutbacks in service was a bust, as far as the government "decision makers" who were supposed to take part — and whose participation was, in fact, the basis for scheduling the session.
"We still didn't get anything accomplished today," driver Loraine Richards said at the end of the meeting. "We're still going to get laid off."
The get-together of workers, union leaders and government "decision makers" had been announced last week as a last-ditch attempt at averting the layoffs of every Vitran worker on the island but one.
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson told Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd last week that he was willing to sit down and talk about Vitran's future on St. John. Tuesday, he failed to appear at the meeting called for that purpose. Government House chief labor negotiator Karen Andrews, who was invited to come, did not.
With no Turnbull administration decision makers on hand, Liburd, United Steelworkers Union president Luis "Tito" Morales and members of the St. John Transportation Advisory Council could only ponder possibilities.
Public Works officials announced in mid-April that, as a fiscal austerity measure, 10 of the 11 St. John Vitran employees would be laid off effective May 11. At an April 20 meeting on St. Thomas of St. John and St. Thomas public transit workers and union leaders, the workers vowed to stage a protest march at the Legislature. However, union leaders counseled the bus workers to remain on the job and pledged to meet with government officials to seek relief from the pending terminations of half the Vitran employees in the territory.
At Tuesday's meeting, Morales said he had arranged to meet with Andrews and would negotiate to preserve all jobs for Vitran territorywide. But he also said some concessions may have to be made in order to keep the transit system intact.
Transportation Advisory Council president Dionidas Anthony asked Morales what criteria would be used if layoffs could not be avoided. He replied that the union view is that there is only one criterion: Last hired, first fired.
St. John bus workers were the last to join the Steelworkers Union bargaining unit because public transportation services were only introduced on that island in the last three years. As a result, all St. John workers are slated for layoffs, with their jobs to be given to St. Thomas workers with more seniority — provided that the St. Thomas personnel are willing to relocate to St. John. Some St. Thomas employees have expressed solidarity with their St. John colleagues, saying they will not take their jobs.
Morales said that if Public Works proceeds with its announced intention to reduce public bus service by 50 percent, restoring public confidence and ridership will be difficult. But to keep the system running at its present level, he said, the V.I. government must identify a source of $6 million to $7 million a year in funding.
According to critics of the Public Works plan, some of the needed money could come from federal subsidies, but V.I. officials have not pursued such funding. Liburd said there may be unused money available in existing funds. "That's one of the problems we have in the Virgin Islands," the senator-at-large said. "We do not spend our federal funds on a timely basis."
On Monday, the 23rd Legislature approved the creation of an "impress fund" that would allow Vitran executives to draw down funds to pay for parts, tires and other items needed to keep buses from going out of service.
Management of public transit on St. Thomas went from the private Manassah Bus Co. to the Public Works Department in the mid-1990's. After the changeover, bus maintenance slowed to a crawl because of government procurement procedures, Morales said. As a result, he said, ridership dropped by 4,000 a month.
St. John workers said at the Tuesday meeting that they expect to become jobless.
Vitran St. John operations manager Donna Roberts, the one employee not scheduled to be laid off, angrily denounced appointed and elected officials, accusing them of offering empty promises and ignoring workers' offer of wage and benefit concessions. The Vitran workers have proposed to forgo sick-leave, holiday and overtime pay as a belt-tightening measure. Some have also put forth the idea of cutting back to a four-day work week. To date, there has been no public response from the Turnbull administration to the offers.
Roberts got particularly upset when Liburd said that Rodney Varlack, president of Varlack Ventures, a St. John ferry transportation company, had pledged to operate the island's bus system if Vitran collapses. Varlack Ventures, one of two companies operating publicly regulated ferry service between St. John and St. Thomas, also runs the school buses on St. John.
Roberts charged that Varlack was planning to paint over two of its school buses to use for public transit. But Delrise Varlack, general manager for Varlack Ventures, said she had spoken with legal counsel about the possibility of taking over the service and hoped her company could use the existing Vitran buses if the St. John bus system were to become privatized.
The St. John workers facing layoffs said they would follow the directions of the union leadership to remain on the job while negotiations with government officials proceed.

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Tuesday's St. John meeting on looming public transit layoffs and cutbacks in service was a bust, as far as the government "decision makers" who were supposed to take part -- and whose participation was, in fact, the basis for scheduling the session.
"We still didn't get anything accomplished today," driver Loraine Richards said at the end of the meeting. "We're still going to get laid off."
The get-together of workers, union leaders and government "decision makers" had been announced last week as a last-ditch attempt at averting the layoffs of every Vitran worker on the island but one.
Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson told Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd last week that he was willing to sit down and talk about Vitran's future on St. John. Tuesday, he failed to appear at the meeting called for that purpose. Government House chief labor negotiator Karen Andrews, who was invited to come, did not.
With no Turnbull administration decision makers on hand, Liburd, United Steelworkers Union president Luis "Tito" Morales and members of the St. John Transportation Advisory Council could only ponder possibilities.
Public Works officials announced in mid-April that, as a fiscal austerity measure, 10 of the 11 St. John Vitran employees would be laid off effective May 11. At an April 20 meeting on St. Thomas of St. John and St. Thomas public transit workers and union leaders, the workers vowed to stage a protest march at the Legislature. However, union leaders counseled the bus workers to remain on the job and pledged to meet with government officials to seek relief from the pending terminations of half the Vitran employees in the territory.
At Tuesday's meeting, Morales said he had arranged to meet with Andrews and would negotiate to preserve all jobs for Vitran territorywide. But he also said some concessions may have to be made in order to keep the transit system intact.
Transportation Advisory Council president Dionidas Anthony asked Morales what criteria would be used if layoffs could not be avoided. He replied that the union view is that there is only one criterion: Last hired, first fired.
St. John bus workers were the last to join the Steelworkers Union bargaining unit because public transportation services were only introduced on that island in the last three years. As a result, all St. John workers are slated for layoffs, with their jobs to be given to St. Thomas workers with more seniority -- provided that the St. Thomas personnel are willing to relocate to St. John. Some St. Thomas employees have expressed solidarity with their St. John colleagues, saying they will not take their jobs.
Morales said that if Public Works proceeds with its announced intention to reduce public bus service by 50 percent, restoring public confidence and ridership will be difficult. But to keep the system running at its present level, he said, the V.I. government must identify a source of $6 million to $7 million a year in funding.
According to critics of the Public Works plan, some of the needed money could come from federal subsidies, but V.I. officials have not pursued such funding. Liburd said there may be unused money available in existing funds. "That's one of the problems we have in the Virgin Islands," the senator-at-large said. "We do not spend our federal funds on a timely basis."
On Monday, the 23rd Legislature approved the creation of an "impress fund" that would allow Vitran executives to draw down funds to pay for parts, tires and other items needed to keep buses from going out of service.
Management of public transit on St. Thomas went from the private Manassah Bus Co. to the Public Works Department in the mid-1990's. After the changeover, bus maintenance slowed to a crawl because of government procurement procedures, Morales said. As a result, he said, ridership dropped by 4,000 a month.
St. John workers said at the Tuesday meeting that they expect to become jobless.
Vitran St. John operations manager Donna Roberts, the one employee not scheduled to be laid off, angrily denounced appointed and elected officials, accusing them of offering empty promises and ignoring workers' offer of wage and benefit concessions. The Vitran workers have proposed to forgo sick-leave, holiday and overtime pay as a belt-tightening measure. Some have also put forth the idea of cutting back to a four-day work week. To date, there has been no public response from the Turnbull administration to the offers.
Roberts got particularly upset when Liburd said that Rodney Varlack, president of Varlack Ventures, a St. John ferry transportation company, had pledged to operate the island's bus system if Vitran collapses. Varlack Ventures, one of two companies operating publicly regulated ferry service between St. John and St. Thomas, also runs the school buses on St. John.
Roberts charged that Varlack was planning to paint over two of its school buses to use for public transit. But Delrise Varlack, general manager for Varlack Ventures, said she had spoken with legal counsel about the possibility of taking over the service and hoped her company could use the existing Vitran buses if the St. John bus system were to become privatized.
The St. John workers facing layoffs said they would follow the directions of the union leadership to remain on the job while negotiations with government officials proceed.