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A labor union representing public employees sued the U.S. Virgin Islands for US$3.8 million in raises the government promised more than two years ago, officials said Thursday. Three local chapters of the United Steelworkers of America filed the suit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in St. Croix seeking raises for more than 500 government employees, most of whom are supervisors. The employees work at 14 agencies including the finance, police, human services and tourism departments. Gov. Charles Turnbull and the Virgin Islands Senate approved the raises — which retroactively cover salaries from 1999 to 2002 — on Jan. 2, 2003, but have never paid them. The union argues in the suit that the government has breached the contract and wants accrued interest on the US$3.8 million they say is owed. Turnbull’s office deferred comment to their labor contract negotiators. Karen Andrews, the U.S. Caribbean territory’s chief labor negotiator, said she couldn’t comment on the lawsuit because she had not yet reviewed it. The 15-member unicameral legislature voted to fund the raises, including the money in the 2005 budget. Turnbull vetoed that portion of the budget, saying projected government revenues were not enough to cover the raises. Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said the failure to pay had resulted in reduced productivity and morale in government offices. “I support the lawsuit. You have people that are responsible for seeing these departments are running properly and they are not being compensated,” Malone said. Jessica Gallivan, an attorney representing the union, confirmed the suit had been filed, but declined to provide further details. Union leaders were not immediately available for comment. More than US$1 billion in debt, the three islands in the territory of 110,000 have had difficulty balancing budgets and funding programs in recent years. Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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