CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senator Janette Millin Young said that she was an eyewitness and “willing listener” to the “strong protests” that WAPA employees voiced at the Earle B. Ottley Complex on Wednesday.
The most important issue before the employees was a proposed bargaining agreement that WAPA employees said “did not give them a fair compensation package.”
The proposed agreement merely gives a partial pay increase to account for some cost of living expenses, according to Millin Young. The proposed increase of four percent “barely accounts for inflation.”
“An equitable pay increase would provide for industry rates of pay, and even more, the agreement does not account for the natural disasters that struck,” Millin Young said. “As is well known, the WAPA infrastructure had been destroyed at least five times over the past 30 years. Each major hurricane means catastrophic destruction to WAPA infrastructure: poles, transformers, electric lines, water pumps, and potable water lines.”
At each instance of natural disaster, WAPA linemen and other professionals must work overtime and in worst case conditions, she said.
“They must leave at home family members who are in want and have no water and power of their own,” Millin Young said. “They must work long hours to restore those same services to the community.”
“Just last year, with the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, their massive destruction led to WAPA contracting supplemental linemen and technical professional from abroad,” she said. These “outside linemen” were paid handsome salaries and compensation packages. On the other hand, WAPA linemen were “paid peanuts.”
“Even more treacherous, one of our sons of the soil lost his life seeking to restore electric power for the St. Thomas-St. John District,” she said. “Blood was shed for our recovery.”
“Yet, our own linemen were not paid equitably and by this fact, they were disrespected, dishonored, and disregarded. I am calling on the WAPA Board to rise to the occasion and be just with our own people. The protesters were not anonymous complainers, but hardworking professionals who only want to be treated fairly and appropriately. I urge the Governor to use his immense influence and do what is right for our people. If there is an issue the governor and I can agree on in this period of reconstruction it must be fairness to the true heroes of the recovery of the Virgin Islands-WAPA workers.”