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Senate Labor Committee Looks at Resurrecting Wage Board

Oct. 12, 2007 — Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville’s Labor Committee took a look at the status of nominees to the dormant Wage Board Friday during a morning session in Frederiksted.
The Wage Board has several vacancies and has been inoperative for a long time. It was originally created to establish minimum wages, maximum hours worked and labor conditions, Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan testified to the committee.
There are currently two members on the board, and their terms expire in 2009. Gov. John deJongh Jr. is pursuing appointing new board members, Bryan said. While he found evidence the board met in the past, details were sparse.
"Information on the activities or the reports of the last named Wage Board, which dates as far back as 1994, are unavailable," Bryan said. "In 2005, the Department of Labor put forth an all-out effort to locate the records of the Wage Board, enlisting the assistance of individuals who served on the board in the past, people at the (Enid) Baa library, former Labor employees and a Senate researcher, but to no avail."
Government employees’ wages are determined through labor contracts negotiated through the Public Employee Relations Board and the Office of Collective Bargaining. For union workers, their labor contracts would probably take precedence over the Wage Board, Bryan said.
"It is my understanding that under law all union contracts supersede other wage laws," he said. "But most workers are not under a labor contract, and they would be affected by a policy of the Wage Board."
Despite this theoretical authority, Bryan said he couldn’t recall ever hearing of the Wage Board setting wages in his lifetime, and no record of any action was uncovered in his research.
"Nevertheless, please be reminded that in the absence of the Wage Board, the prevailing wage rate that is generated through the Occupational Employment Survey program set the standard or guideline for wages in the territory," he said. "In addition to this, there is the federal minimum wage."
Whatever mechanism is used, Bryan said, the primary concern is that residents get paid a living wage.
If the board is to be revived, he suggested it could be adapted to take on a role in determining the pay of political employees of the government. Although appointed, Bryan said such a board would be an independent voice on the question of what to pay the governor, lieutenant governor, senators and political appointees, possibly avoiding the politically messy situation of elected officials voting on their own pay. (See "Still No Senate Action to Repeal Unpopular Pay Raises.")
On an unrelated labor issue, Figueroa-Serville asked Bryan if there were any local problems with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration monitoring private businesses in the Virgin Islands from an office based in Puerto Rico.
"I agree with you that we should have full control over the private sector," Bryan said. "But we have not controlled the government sector yet. (OSHA) actually took half the load off us, leaving us with the government while we get our system up to par. First we need to do that. By next year, our government monitoring should be up to A-1 standards. Once that is accomplished, we will be better able to take on the private sector."
Bryan said he felt the territory will be close to taking charge of OSHA enforcement for the private sector within four years.
Friday morning’s hearing was informational. No legislation was proposed and no votes were taken.
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Oct. 12, 2007 -- Sen. Juan Figueroa-Serville’s Labor Committee took a look at the status of nominees to the dormant Wage Board Friday during a morning session in Frederiksted.
The Wage Board has several vacancies and has been inoperative for a long time. It was originally created to establish minimum wages, maximum hours worked and labor conditions, Labor Commissioner Albert Bryan testified to the committee.
There are currently two members on the board, and their terms expire in 2009. Gov. John deJongh Jr. is pursuing appointing new board members, Bryan said. While he found evidence the board met in the past, details were sparse.
"Information on the activities or the reports of the last named Wage Board, which dates as far back as 1994, are unavailable," Bryan said. "In 2005, the Department of Labor put forth an all-out effort to locate the records of the Wage Board, enlisting the assistance of individuals who served on the board in the past, people at the (Enid) Baa library, former Labor employees and a Senate researcher, but to no avail."
Government employees’ wages are determined through labor contracts negotiated through the Public Employee Relations Board and the Office of Collective Bargaining. For union workers, their labor contracts would probably take precedence over the Wage Board, Bryan said.
"It is my understanding that under law all union contracts supersede other wage laws," he said. "But most workers are not under a labor contract, and they would be affected by a policy of the Wage Board."
Despite this theoretical authority, Bryan said he couldn’t recall ever hearing of the Wage Board setting wages in his lifetime, and no record of any action was uncovered in his research.
"Nevertheless, please be reminded that in the absence of the Wage Board, the prevailing wage rate that is generated through the Occupational Employment Survey program set the standard or guideline for wages in the territory," he said. "In addition to this, there is the federal minimum wage."
Whatever mechanism is used, Bryan said, the primary concern is that residents get paid a living wage.
If the board is to be revived, he suggested it could be adapted to take on a role in determining the pay of political employees of the government. Although appointed, Bryan said such a board would be an independent voice on the question of what to pay the governor, lieutenant governor, senators and political appointees, possibly avoiding the politically messy situation of elected officials voting on their own pay. (See "Still No Senate Action to Repeal Unpopular Pay Raises.")
On an unrelated labor issue, Figueroa-Serville asked Bryan if there were any local problems with the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration monitoring private businesses in the Virgin Islands from an office based in Puerto Rico.
"I agree with you that we should have full control over the private sector," Bryan said. "But we have not controlled the government sector yet. (OSHA) actually took half the load off us, leaving us with the government while we get our system up to par. First we need to do that. By next year, our government monitoring should be up to A-1 standards. Once that is accomplished, we will be better able to take on the private sector."
Bryan said he felt the territory will be close to taking charge of OSHA enforcement for the private sector within four years.
Friday morning’s hearing was informational. No legislation was proposed and no votes were taken.
Back Talk 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.