July 30, 2008 — Government labor contracts and labor disputes are being hammered out much faster than in the past even though talks with the teachers' unions are stalled, Jessica Gallivan, the V.I. Government's chief labor negotiator told the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.
"In February 2007, I inherited 14 expired labor agreements," she said. "Only 12 labor agreements were current, four of which have recently expired."
Since then, her office has negotiated contracts with seven unions, and five new contracts have been ratified, she said.
"It might be optimistic, but we are still on track to have all negotiations completed by the end of the year," Gallivan said. "It would be the first time in years, if ever."
But the stuck negotiations with the territory's teachers' unions are one wrench in the negotiating works.
"Negotiations with the AFT (American Federation of Teachers) have moved at a far slower pace than any other," she said. ""In my view the negotiations are at an impasse. We have recommended and still recommend mediation."
"Can one party go into mediation without the other?" asked Sen. Terrence "Positive Nelson. "Do both parties say there is an impasse?"
Gallivan said there was a difference between "statutory impasse versus implied impasse," but did not directly respond.
"Perhaps we had better leave that alone at this time," she said.
Gallivan was before the Finance Committee to defend a recommended 2009 budget of $813,000 for the Office of the Chief Negotiator. This is a 14 percent increase from 2008. Of the total, $501,000 is for salaries and fringe benefits for a total of seven employees. No votes were taken.
The Casino Control Commission defended their budget in the afternoon. The commission issues licenses and permits and oversees casino operations in the territory. While St. Thomas has many bars with gambling machines called Video Lottery Terminals, casinos as such, with their broad variety of gambling games, are permitted only on St. Croix.
At present, there is one operating casino: Divi Carina Bay Resort and Casino. Golden Gaming has a reserved license for a proposed casino and resort development, but has not broken ground.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. has recommended a lump sum appropriation of $1.5 million from the Miscellaneous Section of the budget for fiscal year 2009. This is an increase of $231,000 or 17 percent over 2008 funding.
These funds will pay the salaries and fringe benefits of employees. Operating expenses for the commission come from the Casino Revenue Fund and the Casio Revolving Fund, said Debra Audain, the commission's executive director. Gross revenue taxes paid by casinos go into the Casino Revenue Fund. Of this, ten percent is used to run the Casino Control Commission, 10 percent to youth related and job training programs and the rest is split into smaller amounts reserved for numerous other government bodies.
In 2008, this amounted to $265,000 for the commission's operating expenses. Casino licensing and permit fees go into the Casino Revolving Fund. So far this year, the Casino Revolving Fund has taken in $161,000.
In the past eight years, the commission has issued approximately 1,800 work permits and approximately 800 licenses to various casino employees, commissioner Lloyd McAlpin said.
By law, the Casino Control Commission is supposed to have five members, but currently only has three, Sen. Ronald Russell said. Also, the term of the commission's chairwoman, Eileen Petersen, has expired and under the law, she cannot continue to serve. Russell asked whether a replacement had been appointed.
"Petersen has not actually left," said Devin Carrington, one of the three commissioners. "She is still there. The law requires the governor to fill positions with the term of the person has expired." "Or what happens if that doesn't happen?" Russell asked.
"I can't say," Carrington said. He went on to say the commission expected a replacement appointment at any time.
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