The V.I. Government is not forcing unions to waive retroactive pay in order to receive pay raises, Chief Labor Negotiator Natalie Nelson-Tang How insisted during a press conference Friday. But there is no money budgeted for retroactive pay and workers should not be expecting it, she said.
The St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John locals of the American Federation of Teachers issued a statement earlier this week, complaining the government issued what it called a "stipulated agreement” on Tuesday, saying the government wants to dispense with retroactive salary increase payments for Sept. 1, 2011, through Aug. 31, 2015, which had been negotiated and promised to teachers in a 2010-11 collective bargaining agreement.
“It’s illegal and insulting for the government to refuse to pay teachers what has been negotiated fairly,” St. Croix Federation of Teachers President Rosa Soto-Thomas said in the statement. “The government’s disrespect for public education and its teachers and students seems to know no bounds. Our schools continue to have deplorable conditions, affecting safety, health, teaching and learning.”
Nelson-Tang How said Friday that any suggestion that the government is forcing the unions to waive the retroactive pay in exchange for pay raises is untrue.
"I have spoken with and am still in negotiations with the unions that are slated to get salary increases," she said, adding the Office of Collective Bargaining has made an offer to the unions as part of contract negotiations that includes language to waive the retroactive pay.
"We asked if they would agree to waive retroactive wages for those periods. However, they have asked for time to respond," she said, describing the offer as a part of negotiations but not a unilateral mandate.
The Legislature recently approved funding to pay contracted raises for many government employees, using remaining funding from the recent sale of the Hovensa refinery. Asked if the pay raises could in any way be held up over whether unions agreed to waive retroactive pay, Nelson-Tang How said they were not connected.
"We know they are owed those salary increases and we took the necessary actions to ensure they will get those salary increases,” she said.
“There is a proposal that was submitted to the unions and it us up to the unions to respond. That is what negotiations are. … But that has nothing to do with the fact that at the end of the day, the salary increases have been implemented," she said.
At the same time, however, retroactive pay is not in the works for the foreseeable future.
"The raises are owed, just as the retro is owed,” Nelson-Tang How said. “The difference is there is no money to pay the retroactive wages while there is money to pay the salary increases."