Police Union Vote Opens Door to More Pay Raises Before the Runoff Election

Police car on St. Croix

The St. Thomas and St. Croix Policeman’s Benevolent Association’s voted Nov. 7 to approve proposed wage increases and issued a statement over the weekend thanking Police Commissioner Delroy Richards and Gov. Kenneth Mapp.

The news is a sharp turnaround from late October, when the St. Croix chapter issued a statement saying its members had passed a resolution declaring no confidence in Mapp’s administration and demanding a meeting with the governor. The PBA demanded a meeting with the governor “to address the administration’s unlawful pay increases to entry level officers only, continuous and unacceptable disrespect by its chief negotiator, and the conditions of employment.”

The Mapp administration responded in turn that the dispute was “politics” and fault for the delay in negotiations lay with the PBA.

“My office is very successfully working with the territory’s collective bargaining units, but the PBA’s counsel/chief negotiator was unavailable for most of October and then tried to confirm a date at the last minute, which was no longer available following her absence out of the country for almost a month,” Chief Labor Negotiator Natalie Nelson Tang How said in a statement at the time.

The pre-election raises’ unilateral nature and focus on entry-level pay raised hackles with several unions. Teachers temporarily called off contract negotiations before reaching an agreement for more pay raises.

The new statement from the two PBA chapters thanks Richards and Mapp “for keeping their word to ensure a smooth negotiation process.”

It says the membership voted to approve “the proposed wage increases to the police officers, detectives and corporals, many of whom have not seen a step increase for eight years.”

“The St. Croix leadership of the Police Benevolent Association greatly appreciates the administration’s attention to their concerns, which concern were addressed last Monday.” St. Croix PBA President Jason Viveros said.

“We look forward to the signed agreement and the realization of the wage increases,” St. Thomas PBA President Kerdin Lewis said.

These latest government employee pay increases come shortly before a runoff election between Mapp and Democratic Party challenger Albert Bryan, scheduled for Nov. 20. There is a runoff because no candidate received 50 percent of the vote. On Nov. 6, Bryan was the front runner with almost 38 percent and Mapp came in second with nearly 34 percent of the vote.

Mapp has announced several government pay increases this year. A few days before the Democratic Party primary in August, Mapp issued an order raising the minimum pay of government employees and increasing V.I. Police Department starting pay for recruits to $40,953 – more than $15,000 above the $25,248 the VIPD listed as salaries for vacant police officer positions in 2017.

His administration later negotiated pay increases in a new contract for teachers. And in late October, Mapp announce a three percent bump to about 1,200 non-union, classified and exempt employees. It was made retroactive, ensuring government employees would see the increase in their final paycheck before the Nov. 6 election.

During legislative hearings on an earlier round of pay raises, Budget Director Julio Rhymer told senators the government had a structural deficit of about $200 million per year and the government had budgeted about $36.4 million for pay raises for the year. Rhymer said the raises were “sustainable” because a partial restart of the St. Croix refinery at Limetree Bay would generate new tax revenues. If it happens, the partially restarted refinery is projected to generate around $22.5 million per year directly to the government and additional revenue from payroll taxes and the positive economic impact of the hoped-for new spending. The deal includes a $40 million short term loan to the V.I. government and another $30 million from a land sale, to be paid when the final contract to actually restart the refinery closes.

As of Nov. 13 there is no binding commitment and no contract in place to restart the refinery and the $70 million has not been released, although subcontracts for purchases from the refinery have been announced.

The several pre-election pay raises are smaller than those Mapp approved in 2016.