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More labor violation charges leveled at ICC

By Jamie Bate, St. Thomas Source, 29 November 2000

The two dozen St. Croix Cable TV employees locked out of their jobs by Innovative Communication Corp. a week ago took up positions outside ICC's brand new building Monday to protest the company's order that they join the United Steelworkers union.

The workers were refused entry to ICC's building last Tuesday because they are members of the Our Virgin Islands Labor Union and not of the USW, which has a contract with the company as the bargaining unit for employees.

Company and USW officials, who did not return calls Monday, have said the contract calls for a "closed shop," which precludes he existence of another union. They say the smaller Our Virgin Islands union should be absorbed by the larger USW because its members have no separate identity as a bargaining unit.

"That's nonsense," said Terrence Nelson, OVILU president. "The government deals with 22 unions. Hovensa has more than one. It's not uncommon."

Last month, Nelson added, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ruled that ICC should bargain with OVILU, as well as transfer workers' benefits to its members, and a District Court judge concurred. The NLRB ruling is pending approval by NLRB directors.

In fact, said attorney Lee Rohn, whose law firm represents OVILU, the NLRB administrative law judge blasted ICC for past "unfair labor practices" practically identical to the current dispute. She asserted that the company was in violation of a District Court restraining order directing it not to interfere with the new union.

Rohn said OVILU has again filed unfair labor practice charges against ICC for the recent lockout.

In a unanimous vote in September 1999, the 24 St. Croix Cable TV employees, who hold installation, technical, maintenance, clerical and customer positions, chose to join OVILU rather than the USW. OVILU was certified as a bargaining unit by the National Labor Relations Board the previous May.

The problem, however, is that ICC, owned by Jeffrey Prosser, also owns the V.I. Telephone Company, St. Croix Cable TV, St. Thomas-St. John Cable TV, Vitelcellular and Vitelcom, and has consolidated operations. According to an ICC statement last week, employees of Vitelco's sister companies were cross-trained and "are now part of the Vitelco family" that has been represented by the United Steelworkers Union for 27 years.

It is because of the cross-training that the company argues that the 24 St. Croix Cable workers should become part of the USW.

But NLRB Administrative Law Judge C. Richard Miserendino's ruling is clear: The St. Croix Cable bargaining unit's employees are not an "accretion" to the Vitelco bargaining unit, particularly since OVILU was created before a new contract was signed between ICC and the USW.

"A finding of accretion would not be appropriate because an accretion assumes that the functions and classifications of the transferred employees will remain essentially unchanged," the judge said in his October ruling. "Here, the evidence shows that the merger/consolidation of job functions will create a new job in order to allow the employees of all the ICC subsidiaries to perform telephone, cable, cellular ... functions."

That, he said, would effectively change the functions and duties of the St. Croix Cable workers.

Nelson agreed. He said that with the consolidation new jobs have been created, illustrating the differences between subsidiary employees before the ICC-USW contract was signed.

Miserendino said that a year ago, ICC violated a variety of national labor relations laws by, among other things, failing and refusing to recognize and bargain with OVILU, withholding dues on behalf of the USW from the paychecks of OVILU members without their consent; by telling them that they were required to sign USW dues check-off forms, and by giving the dues to the USW, "thereby unlawfully assisting and supporting the USW."

"Having found that (ICC) has engaged in certain unfair labor practices, I find that it must be ordered to cease and desist" and to ta action to comply with the law, Miserendino ruled.

Despite that position, attorney Rohn alleged that ICC is not only breaking the law again, but in violation of both the NLRB and District Court rulings. ICC, she said "continues to do anything they want."

Nelson, meanwhile, said the USW is trying to protect its relationship with ICC and Vitelco. He called the big union a mainland-based organization that reaps the benefits of local dues paid by local members.

"They claim ICC to be their turf," Nelson said. "Vitelco has been their turf, not St. Croix Cable TV. The turf of ICC has yet to be determined through the electoral process."