Office of Collective Bargaining wants court to order 13 Youth Rehabilitation Center officers back to work


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ST. CROIX - The Office of Collective Bargaining filed a motion in V.I. Superior Court late Friday afternoon asking a judge to order 13 Youth Rehabilitation Center corrections officers back to work, officials said.

A statement issued Friday by the V.I. Human Services Department - the agency that employs YRC corrections officers - said the 13 officers had been staging a sick-out since Tuesday. Other officers continued to work, officials said.

The Daily News was unable to reach Eugene Irish, vice president of the United Industrial Workers Union of Seafarers International Union, AFL-CIO - the union that represents the YRC corrections officers - on Friday after Human Services issued the statement.

Attempts to reach the shop steward for YRC corrections officers also were unsuccessful.

Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch said the Office of Collective Bargaining had written to the union about the problem when officials became aware of it earlier this week and that the union responded that it was not aware of any job action and had not sanctioned one.

Office of Collective Bargaining Chief Negotiator Valdemar Hill said his office filed for the temporary restraining order late Friday afternoon, but he did not know whether a judge had seen it yet.

The jobs of YRC officers are considered critical for the well-being of the community, Hill said, adding that he anticipates the temporary restraining order will be issued without a problem.

According to the Human Services statement, the problem started on Tuesday when officers on the 4 p.m. shift "left early due to reported illness."

It went on to say that several officers who were due to report for the midnight shift called out and did not report to work, and multiple officers for the 8 a.m. shift also called out sick.

"None of those officers have returned to work since Tuesday, and others did not report to work," the Human Services statement said.

Finch said he believes it is a job action because the union recently had filed a grievance about its members not getting negotiated wage increases.

According to the Human Services statement, the grievance was filed April 24 by Seafarers against the Human Services Department and the Bureau of Corrections and dealt with negotiated wage increases that have not been given since 2010.

"We had to deny the grievance, because we're not able to implement the increases," Finch said. "I expected the union to take it to the next step."

That next step typically would be arbitration or mediation, according to Finch.

"You don't expect the job action. You expect that this is a process and the union will work through the process," Finch said. "The reason we're filing this is we want our corrections officers back at work, and it's not acceptable to handle the matter in this method."

It was not clear whether the Corrections Bureau was experiencing similar problems. A message to Corrections spokeswoman Juel Anderson late Friday afternoon was not returned.

Hill said Friday evening that Corrections had not reported any job action to the Office of Collective Bargaining, and the request for the temporary restraining order pertains only to YRC.

The Human Services statement notes that some YRC corrections officers and supervisors continued to work this week.

"Coverage of the facility during this job action has been maintained by an outstanding unit of correction officers, correction officer supervisors as well as treatment, kitchen and education staff," the Human Services statement said.

Finch said that some officers were working a lot of overtime to keep things going this week, but that YRC had been able to maintain "fairly normal operations."

"We're very appreciative of the people who have continued to work," he said.

The Daily News on Friday received calls from a woman who said she was a parent of a teen in YRC and had been concerned because she had been unable to visit him for two weekends because of short-staffing.

Finch said he was not aware of such a situation, but that it would not be directly related to the problem with staffing that occurred at YRC this week.

Human Services Assistant Commissioner Carla Benjamin also said that she was not aware of a problem with visitation on weekends, but she noted that those kinds of decisions are left to the security staff at YRC.

"I don't know anything about that, but it's definitely two separate things and not tied into this job action at all," she said. "In terms of visitation on weekends, those are privileges that are earned, and if ever there is a situation where the appropriate number of staff is unavailable or there is a concern that staffing may be an issue, the security component makes that determination. That's their area of expertise."

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or email jblackburn@dailynews.vi.

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