Oct. 3, 2003 – A move to recall Gov. Charles W. Turnbull is reaching a "wide cross-section of response," Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix local of the American Federation of Teachers, said on Friday.
Molyneaux said the organization began sending out around a thousand copies of its recall petition on Tuesday, and he hopes they will attract 20 signatures apiece, for a total of 20,000 — more than the 17,000 required. (See "St. Croix teachers union seeks Turnbull's recall".)
One union on St. Thomas has joined the recall movement, and another's leadership considered it without deciding to do so.
The United Industrial Workers of the Seafarers International Union, has joined the recall movement. The union has about 2,500 members in the territory, according to a spokesperson at the SIU office on St. Thomas.
Vernelle de Lagarde, president of the St. Thomas-St. John Federation of Teachers, said Thursday that her executive board met on Wednesday. "We have not decided to ask our members" to sign the petitions, she said.
The recall petition is posted in the Source Data section and can be downloaded and printed out. To access it, click here.
Copies of the petition with collected signatures may be submitted on St. Thomas at the SIU headquarters on the second floor of the old Pennysaver Printing building across from Nisky Shopping Center, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
On St. Croix they may be turned in at the AFT office at 1-8 Clifton Hill, Christiansted, also weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Molyneaux said there is no designated place on St. John to turn in petition sheets yet.
John Abramson Jr., supervisor of elections, said on Friday if the necessary signatures are collected and verified, the petition will trigger the territory's first recall election. During Turnbull's first term in office, he noted, Naomi Joseph of the Police Benevolent Association on St. Croix filed a recall petition. And during the Schneider administration, an initiative was filed by the Board of Education. But neither received the needed number of signatures.
Abramson said recall balloting would cost the territory $168,000.
Rina Roebuck, Turnbull's public affairs officer, said on Thursday that the governor had no more to say than what he had told a Daily News reporter on Wednesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for energy-efficient homes in Estate Solitude on St. Croix: "I do my job to the best of my ability each day and with God's guidance. That's all I'm going to say."
Molyneaux said numerous concerns prompted the recall effort. The teachers are particularly disappointed in Turnbull inasmuch as the governor, a career educator and former Education commissioner, campaigned on a pro-education platform. For one thing, Molyneaux said, "he said in a conference he would address the retro [back pay owed teachers], which he never has." Also, Molyneaux said, teachers "gave up five years of increases. We lost over $50 million."
Lack of accreditation for the territory's public high schools, lack of textbooks and outdated equipment are other issues, he said. There has been no increase since 1990 in the stipend teachers receive for working in after-school programs including sports, bands, choirs and parades, he said.
Molyneaux said the proposed 36-hour work week will affect everyone on the government payroll, including retirees and prospective new teachers. He said an entry-level teacher's starting salary now is $26,500, and with the cutback it will drop to $23,500. "No new teachers are going to want to enter the profession here," he said, "when they can start at $30,000 in the states."
Turnbull has not said how his proposed reduction in the work week would affect educators. "The V.I. Code mandates a 180-day school year. Our contract outlines a 180-day school year, with salaries pro-rated over a 12-month period," Molyneaux said. "I asked him about how that would be managed when we met at Government House last month, and he said the department heads would 'take care of it.'"
Another concern, he said, is that individuals planning for their retirement would see their annuities reduced. "You take your highest salaries in the last 10 years to determine your retirement pay," he said, "so, after working for 25 to 30 years, that would drop them down. No one is going to be happy."
Also, Molyneaux said, the governor's proposed moratorium on collective bargaining is a major concern. "It would be very dangerous," he said. "That means we are at the mercy of the government; you have no say, no negotiations."
While he respects "the governor's right to propose the law and his budget," Molyneaux said, "right now we are trying to get the community to lobby their senators" about the teachers' concerns.
He expressed optimism about gathering the required 17,000 signatures by the Nov. 15 deadline. "It's not too high a mountain to climb," he said.
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