We write directly to you in our capacities as Chairman of the Faculty and President of the UVI-AAUP because it is ultimately the responsibility of the Board of Trustees to guide relations between the University and the union representing the full time teaching faculty of the University. The purpose of this letter is to ask the Board to take a first step to make that relationship productive and beneficial to both the university and the faculty.
First, let us cite relevant statutes that gave the faculty the right to form a union with collective bargaining rights to represent the teaching faculty. The Virgin Islands Code states as follows: "The academic freedom of the teacher and the full enjoyment of his political and civil rights is hereby guaranteed to all members of the teaching, technical and administrative personnel of the University of the Virgin Islands" (Title Seventeen, Chapter 33, § 458). Since the University of the Virgin Islands is explicitly defined by the Virgin Islands Code as a public employer (Title Twenty-Four, Chapter 14, §362), one of the political and civil rights guaranteed by this clause is the right granted to employees of the University as public employees to "form, join, assist and participate in, or to refrain from forming, joining, assisting or participating in any labor organization of their choosing," and to "be represented by labor organizations and to engage in collective bargaining . . . in the determination of the wages, hours, or other terms and conditions of employment" (Title Twenty-Four, Chapter 14, § 363).
In the light of those statutes we will now review what has happened and why it should not have happened. For more than five years now, the University administration and Board of Trustees has been attempting to deprive the members of the faculty of their right to form a union. With the approval of the Board of Trustees the UVI administration has used legal tactics to oppose and delay certification of the UVI-AAUP to represent the teaching faculty. This opposition is in direct contradiction to the findings and purpose of that section of the VI Code governing public employee relations, which is intended "to provide for orderly and constructive relationships between public employers and their employees": "The Legislature finds and declares that the Government of the United States Virgin Islands shall fully accept the principle and procedure of collective bargaining and shall bargain in good faith with valid public employee organizations." (Title Twenty-Four Chapter 14, § 361).
Up until a short time ago, the conduct of the University administration and Board of Trustees in attempting to deprive the faculty of their right to form a union and bargain collectively with their employer had been unethical, but it had not been illegal. While the University's lawyers used spurious arguments and "the law's delay" to prolong the battle against unionization of the faculty, they stayed within the letter of the law, even while violating its spirit.
The fact is, however, that on March 12, 2009, after an overwhelming majority of the faculty voted to establish a union, the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) certified the University of the Virgin Islands Chapter, American Association of University Professors (UVI-AAUP), as the exclusive collective bargaining agent for the full-time teaching faculty at the University. On April 5, 2009, the PERB dismissed UVI's objections to the election and indicated it would not entertain further objections to certification.
On two separate occasions since the PERB's actions, on April 17 and on April 27, UVI-AAUP has formally called on the University to begin contract negotiations; our first request was dismissed, and our second request was and continues to be ignored. This is by definition an unfair labor practice, as defined by the VI Code: "Unfair labor practices: It is hereby expressly prohibited for any public employer or agent of a public employer willfully . . . to refuse to bargain collectively in good faith with an exclusive representative" (Title Twenty-Four, Chapter 14, § 378). For the University to refuse to negotiate with the UVI-AAUP, therefore, which has been certified by the PERB as the exclusive representative of the full-time teaching faculty of the University, is an act in open defiance of the law. The UVI-AAUP has filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) complaint with the PERB, which the University is obliged by law to respond to very quickly.
Moreover, in blatant disregard of the rights of UVI-AAUP as the exclusive representative of full-time teaching faculty, the University has continued to issue contracts to individual faculty members while refusing to negotiate with their union. The University has also attempted to negotiate individual contracts with Departmental Chairs for summer responsibilities despite the formal request of those Chairs, through the UVI AAUP, to negotiate such contracts through collective bargaining. This further violation of law is also cited in the ULP complaint filed with the PERB.
The relief sought in the ULP is simply that the University returns to adherence to the law by negotiating with the union, which represents the full time teaching faculty. We are, through this letter, asking the Board of Trustees to provide this relief immediately and avoid the continuation of expenses and poisoning of relationships caused by obstructive legal processes.
According to the By-Laws of the University of the Virgin Islands (Article I), and the Virgin Islands Code, it is your responsibility as trustees of the University of the Virgin Islands, who hold positions of public trust, to act "as a body politic and corporate for the purpose of exercising general management and control of the affairs of the University (17 V.I.C. Section 453)." Trustees are also required by their own rules and regulations "to adhere to high standards of ethical conduct and to comply fully with laws relating to conduct of public officials and Boards" ("Trustee Statement of Expectations"). It is therefore your collective responsibility to ensure that the University, which is under your control as a "semi-autonomous" public institution, fully complies with the laws of the Virgin Islands. It is incumbent upon you, at your upcoming annual meeting on June 13, to rescind your previous authorization for the University's lawyers to continue to fight against unionization of the faculty, and direct the University administration to cease its open defiance of Virgin Islands labor law. To do anything less is a dereliction of your public trust.
The UVI teaching faculty is loyal employees. They accept and value the mission of the University. They constantly strive to serve the students and community. They sincerely wish to establish an orderly and productive process that will create enforceable conditions of service that enable them to pursue these goals.
We ask that the Board of Trustees acknowledge this commonality of intentions by extending a hand of welcome to the bargaining unit of the teaching faculty and beginning open and honest negotiations.
David Gould, faculty chair
John Munro, president, UVI-AAUP
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