Oct. 28, 2004 University of the Virgin Islands President LaVerne Ragster, speaking after addressing a staff meeting on academic restructuring Thursday afternoon, said she was still awaiting "something in writing" from the UVI staff and faculty.
Both groups on the St. Croix and the St. Thomas campuses staged a sickout Thursday in protest to a compensation package to which they vehemently object. (See "UVI Faculty, Staff Stage Major Sickout").
Ragster had held a meeting late last Friday afternoon to detail the compensation package. "It was a contentious session," UVI spokeswoman Patrice Johnson said Thursday, "with lots of questions to the administration."
Those questions have remained unanswered, say staff and faculty representatives, and that is the core of their objections. They say they have not been consulted by the UVI board of trustees or administration on the package.
The UVI employees groused among themselves about it all week, said one staff member who didn't wish to be identified, with the result that, "spur of the moment Wednesday, we decided to do something about it and do a sickout Thursday."
At its Oct. 16 quarterly meeting, the UVI board authorized a compensation plan for UVI faculty and staff for fiscal year 2005. Salaries, the board noted, have not been adjusted since fiscal year 2002. The board approved the rescinding of the current merit award policy and replaced it with a new performance incentive plan, which was approved subject to the availability of funding.
It is the cancellation of the merit policy which has the employees irate, along with the fact that they were not consulted in creating the package, staff and faculty members said.
Ragster said Thursday, "We have been trying for years to pay our employees at appropriate levels, given what we get from the V.I. government. The board passed a plan that tried to address [the situation] overall."
She said UVI hasn't been able to improve salary compensation for three-and-a-half years and the compensation package tried to address that.
Ragster said that a 3 percent bonus for staff and faculty is only for fiscal year 2004-2005 to all who are not going to get equity and market adjustments. "This wasn't acceptable for some of the members of the university community," she said.
Johnson said Thursday morning, that part of the compensation plan is dependent on getting allotments from the government on time: "Market and equity adjustments for some employees in some cases means new employees are earning more than faculty who have been on staff for a long time. The plan is trying to bring those who have been here for a long time up to those that are new."
"Lots of the faculty who weren't brought to equity immediately felt it wasn't fair," Johnson said.
Aletha Baumann, chair of the faculty committee for both campuses, expressed Thursday afternoon just how unfair she views the package.
"The accrued merit raises were just wiped out, and the staff, the backbone of the organization, getting a mere 3 percent one-time bonus, with all the merit raises wiped out, thought it was an insult," she said.
Baumann, a psychology professor on the St. Croix campus, made it clear that she was speaking for herself only. "The faculty won't be meeting on this issue until next week," she said, "so I am not speaking now for the faculty." She added, "I can't speak for the staff I don't believe they have an organization.
"In all our board resolutions, we've been told 'we recognize it's your money you've earned, and as soon as it's available, we will award and pay the merit increases,'" Baumann said.
"The other concern is that the process didn't include any faculty or staff," she said. "As recently as 2003, the faculty manual said the board [would] join with faculty representatives in exploring an approach to future compensation planning," she said.
"We are committed to one principal: shared governance," Baumann said. "We have people with Ph.D's in labor management, people with advanced training; we want to be involved."
What put the icing on the cake, Baumann said is that the faculty has been working with the administration on UVI's academic restructuring for months. "The faculty was feeling a ray of hope," she said, "because we were working with the administration and we were able to present a restructuring plan. We had a real interactive collaboration, and we were feeling pretty good about this.
"Here, we've been working for several months thinking we were working collaboratively, and nobody asked us about compensation a subject near and dear to our hearts. It makes you feel undervalued."
Baumann said the faculty and staff are preparing a resolution which is being circulated. "It says if we only have a certain amount of money, pay the merit increases." She said she had heard about 100 signatures have been collected so far.
Baumann reiterated that after last Friday's meeting, which was simulcast on the St. Croix campus, many people were "dumbfounded. They couldn't believe they had been treated that way."
She said she had heard about Thursday's sickout only "after class last night."
A staff member, who did not wish to be identified, said the sickout was an idea which "spread by phone in about an hour and a half Wednesday. The fact that we got such a response in that time tells you that morale is not good. It wasn't anything organized; we just said, spur of the moment, 'let's do it.' We will be back at work Friday," she said.
"I didn't take what was said last Friday very well," she said, pointing out that although speaking for herself, she was expressing concerns felt by her colleagues.
"There are lots of issues of that staff and faculty that go unheard," she said. "People think things are hunky-dory at UVI, and they are not." She hastened to add, however, "We want to make sure that the university is not tarnished. We care about our students and we don't want them to think they are coming to an environment not professionally run. This isn't about salary alone."
She said she couldn't remember how long it has been since she has had a raise: "About seven years. I don't know; I stopped counting."
"Part of our concern is that they have moved the parameters. In the past our raises have been based on merit, so at some time or other you will get rewarded for excellent work. We have been working toward that.
"Seven years ago when we received our last merit raise, there was a percentage left back with the understanding that we would receive that balance. Now, we are told the balance has been rescinded, too."
She continued, "There is a lot of frustration out there when you don't ask us how we feel. If you have a meeting, and you voice a concern that should be taken as a cue, as opposed to waiting for something in writing," she said in reference to Ragster's earlier comment. "That's all well and good, but the custodial worker and the physical plant worker aren't going to sit down and put something in writing."
Any tension in the air was not reflected on the St. Thomas campus Thursday. In several classrooms, classes were in session.
Ryan Moron and Chantel Skelton, both business majors, were sitting outside one of the buildings awaiting their next class, unconcerned about the sickout. "I am going to my philosophy class," Moron said. "And I am going to my history class," Skelton added.
Hubert Brumant, biology major, said he was having a slight problem. "I can't get to my plants," he said. "They are in th
e refrigerator in the lab, and I need to identify them for my class this afternoon."
Brumant, who manages the Humane Society of St. Thomas when not at class, took it in good stride, however. He walked off with a smile and an "Oh, well."
According to both the faculty and staff representatives, all will be back at their posts Friday.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.