Oct. 10, 2002 – A striking Innovative Communication Corp. employee broke picket lines Thursday, but instead of returning to work, he wound up behind bars.
Police arrested Glen Freeman around 9 a.m. near Innovative headquarters at Beltgen Place on St. Thomas. According to Police Chief Novelle Francis, he was apprehended after he allegedly took a bag of tools from the vehicle of an Innovative Telephone employee working to repair phone lines damaged in a recent spate of vandalism.
Francis said Freeman, 37, was at first suspected of being involved in the vandalism that has caused disruptions to phone service affecting thousands of customers in the last week. "His name originally came in as the vandal," the police chief said Thursday night. "But that's a negative, as far as I know."
Freeman, the only person arrested to date in connection with the eight-day-old strike by United Steelworkers union members against Innovative Telephone and Innovative Cable-TV, was charged with grand larceny, Francis said.
Since Oct. 3, service has been cut to more than 4,000 residential and business phone lines on St. Croix and St. Thomas because of vandalism, according to Innovative. The company had said that as of Wednesday night the phone system was 99 percent restored, but that picture changed on Thursday morning, Innovative said, when vandals damaged three cables in the vicinity of Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, cutting service to about 1,000 subscribers in the Anna's Retreat, Wintberg, St. Joseph and Rosendahl, and Mandahl areas.
In a release issued Thursday evening, Innovative Telephone's chief executive officer, Samuel Ebbesen, termed the action sabotage and said repair crews hoped to have service restored within 12 hours.
Some 310 unionized telephone and cable-television employees went on strike last week when negotiations over renewal of their three-year contract broke down, primarily because of rank and file dissatisfaction with ICC's benefits package.
Innovative management, until Thursday, was tight-lipped about the details of the company's final offer — in keeping with ground rules of the negotiation process, Innovative Telephone spokesman Thomas Dunn said last week.
But "because of the many inaccurate and misleading public statements now being made, we no longer feel that this is prudent," company officials said in a statement published in full-page advertisements in The Avis and The Virgin Islands Daily News on Thursday.
According to the ad, ICC's final offer to the Steelworkers included a choice of two options regarding wages and pension: wage increases of 10 percent over three years with an increase in pension benefits of 3.7 percent; or wage increases of 6 percent over three years and an increase of pension benefits of 7.41 percent.
Innovative said the offer stands as such because union members in past negotiations opted for higher wage increases rather than a boost to pension benefits.
"Now they want, in one contract period, to retroactively make up for what was not bargained for in the past," the ad read. "This is in addition to the usual wage increases. Innovative is unwilling to make pension promises that may not be feasible in the long run."
A footnote in the ad said that, "based on the average current age and service time of the bargaining unit employees, they will be eligible for retirement at age 58 with a benefit of $810 per month before the current increases."
Other terms of Innovative's offer include an increase in insurance deductibles, a life insurance benefit increase of 16.67 percent and an additional 15 sick days.
On Oct. 16 and 17, a federal mediator will sit down with both sides in an effort to work out their differences. Innovative has said its final offer is on the table. The union membership rejected that offer in ratification votes on Oct. 1 and went on strike the following day.
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