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DIVI UNION, MANAGEMENT CITE OPTIMISM OVER TALKS

Oct. 22, 2003 – The leader of the union representing casino workers at the Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino and the lawyer representing the resort say they are pleased with progress made this week in negotiating a new agreement.
The talks between negotiators representing Divi management and the Virgin Islands Workers Union were held under the auspices of the Labor Department with Sen. Norman Jn Baptiste, who chairs the Senate Labor and Veterans Affairs Committee, also in attendance.
At the end of the discussions on Monday, both sides agreed to schedule two more days of talks, on Oct. 30 and 31. In advance of those talks, management has agreed to turn union members' personnel files over to the workers' bargaining unit.
A pre-negotiation agreement was signed at the end of the Monday meeting by Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin; Baptiste; David DeShaw, the new general manager at Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino; Ralph Mandrew, VIWU president; and two attorneys representing the Divi and VIWU, respectively.
Both sides agreed to honor whatever contract terms emerge from the upcoming negotiation session. However, they said the agreement will not extend to issues involving vacation benefits, about which the parties declared themselves at odds.
Several parties taking part in the Monday talks expressed concern that protracted attempts earlier this year at reaching a new three-year collective bargaining agreement had caused hard feelings in the community toward the casino and resort at a time of economic difficulty for St. Croix.
Benjamin expressed satisfaction at being able to get the parties to recommit to contract talks, crediting a change in Divi management for the progress made. "There has been a serious dispute between the resort and the union that probably started before I took office as commissioner," he said Tuesday night. The Divi has "had some changes with management — at least three different persons," he said. "That's one of the reasons they were not able to arrive at a settlement."
Earlier this year, agitating for Senate hearings on the status of the Divi's casino workers, Mandrew complained about a lack of responsiveness on the part of former resort executives and accused them of summarily firing a number of employees and replacing them with workers from the U.S. mainland.
Now, the union leader said, things have changed, and "we look forward to working with the new general manager … And hopefully we will get things back on track." Mandrew said he is especially pleased that Divi management has agreed to consider establishing an employee grievance policy.
Divi attorney Charles Engeman said on Wednesday that company officials, too, "were pleased with the meeting" on Monday. "We are looking forward to meeting with the union next week and resolving the outstanding issues," he said.

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