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ICC: OVILU no longer exists

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

In the continuing battle over the representation of 24 St. Croix Cable TV employees, Innovative Communication Corp. officials Tuesday declared that the Our Virgin Islands Labor Union, which the cable workers voted unanimously to join last year, no longer exists.

In a release Tuesday, Holland Redfield, ICC's vice president for corporate affairs, quoted a portion of a District Court judge's September decision that said the OVILU members would be absorbed by the United Steelworkers of America when a new contract between ICC and the USW went into effect.

Redfield said that the accretion of OVILU into the USW occurred Nov. 21, when the company opened its new St. Croix building. The opening coincided with ICCs consolidation of its subsidiary holdings - the V.I. Telephone Corp., St. Croix Cable TV, St. Thomas-St. John Cable TV, Vitelcellular and Vitelcom - into one company, Innovative.

"The Vitelco - Steelworkers agreement will become applicable to the St. Croix Cable TV employees only when they are accreted into the larger (Steelworkers) bargaining unit," the ICC release quoted District Court Judge Thomas Moore's decision as saying.

On Nov. 21, ICC locked out the 24 cable workers who make up OVILU because they wouldn't sign with the USW. ICC and USW officials contend that their's is a "closed shop" that doesn't allow another union to represent workers who perform similar duties. Redfield said the company's position is "consistent" with the judges order.

"We are abiding by the court's order in this matter," Redfield said. "For some reason, OVILU, through Terrence Nelson (OVILU's president), has apparently refused to acknowledge or accept this court order."

Redfield added that the company's position is that accretion has occurred and that OVILU "no longer exists and the OVILU members are now Steelworkers members."

While Moore's ruling says OVILU members will only be affected by the Vitelco-ICC contract "when they are accreted" into the USW, a National Labor Relations Board administrative law judge ruled in September that the operative date to determine accretion was Aug. 30, 1999. That was the date the USW demanded to be placed on the ballot with OVILU when the cable employees voted for their representation. In September 1999, the cable workers unanimously chose OVILU.

"The evidence shows that as of Aug. 30, 1999, the St. Croix Cable employees were not an accretion to the Vitelco bargaining unit," NLRB Administrative Law Judge Richard Miserendino wrote in his September ruling that ICC had violated fair labor laws regarding previous actions against OVILU.

Miserendino added that OVILU members were totally separate from Vitelco USW members both in their physical location and job functions. He also said the cross-training of ICC subsidiary employees, including cable workers, would not begin until after Oct. 1, 1999.

"There is no evidence that the operations of Vitelco and St. Croix Cable were integrated," he said.

"When viewed as whole, the evidence shows that (ICC's) accretion argument is based, not on facts that existed on Aug. 30, 1999, or any time soon afterwards, but on a prospective view of how it anticipates things will be after the training is completed, after the job functions are merged, and after St. Croix Cable bargaining unit employees are moved to a new facility."

Miserendino also said that even if the consolidation into a central location did occur, "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."

He said the consolidation of job functions would create a new job for the cable workers so that they could also perform telephone, cellular and all other communications functions.

"Thus, I find that the St. Croix Cable bargaining unit's employees are not an accretion to the Vitelco bargaining unit," Miserendino wrote.

Redfield, meanwhile, said the only other option, other than the company's position that accretion has occurred, is for an election where all USW and OVILU workers vote to determine representation.

On Monday, OVILU filled unfair labor practice charges against ICC for locking out the cable employees. Redfield said OVILU apparently did so to avoid accretion or an election.

"Clearly, OVILU and Terrence Nelson have the right to file whatever charges they would like to file with the NLRB. The company will respond to those unfair labor practice charges in due course," Redfield said.

Nelson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday night to confirm reports that some OVILU members had signed with the USW.

But in an interview on WSTX radio earlier in the day he said OVILU is waiting on a final decision by the NLRB board of directors.

"We are going to take our position and the law will be determined by the NLRB," he said.

In the meantime, he said OVILU members are willing to sit down at the negotiating table with ICC.

"We want to get the employees back to work as soon as possible," he said.