November 25, 2016
By Steven Wishnia and Neal Tepel
St. Thomas, VI – A federal appeals court Nov. 15 struck down a 2011 Virgin Islands law that cut public employees’ pay by 8%, ruling that it had unconstitutionally abrogated union contracts.
The decision, by a three-judge panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania, reversed a lower-court ruling from 2012 that upheld the pay cuts. It held that the territorial government had agreed to give raises to teachers and other government workers when it knew it was facing severe budget deficits, and that unions had made concessions to avoid pay cuts. “The government chose the politically expedient route of reducing wages after it had received its benefit of the bargain,” Judge Dennis Fisher wrote. “This ruling makes it clear that the government cannot just break our contracts,” said Rosa Soto-Thomas, president of the St. Croix Federation of Teachers, one of the seven unions that challenged the law. The decision sends the case back to the federal district court in the Virgin Islands. It does not order the government to pay its employees the wages they lost. “We will work vigorously there to hold the government accountable for its contractual obligations to workers covered by the USW agreements,” United Steelworkers District 9 Director Daniel Flippo said in a statement. Read more