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Virgin Islands Port Authority v. Rico

decided: March 28, 1974.

VIRGIN ISLANDS PORT AUTHORITY, APPELLEE,
v.
S.I.U. DE PUERTO RICO, CARIBE & LATINOAMERICA, AFFILIATED TO THE SEAFARERS INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA, AFL-CIO AND GRANVILLE HENDRINGTON, UNION DELEGATE FOR S.I.U. DE PUERTO RICO, APPELLANTS



ON APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS, DIVISION OF ST. CROIX

Seitz, Chief Judge, and Gibbons and Weis, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Chief Judge.

Defendant, S. I. U. de Puerto Rico ("the Union"), the exclusive bargaining representative for the employees of plaintiff, the Virgin Islands Port Authority ("the Authority"), appeals from orders of the district court for the Virgin Islands enjoining the Port Authority's employees from striking and denying the Union's motion for reconsideration.*fn1 The Authority, created by the "Port Authority Act," 29 V.I.C. Chapter 10, is a government corporation. While not expressly authorized by the Port Authority Act to engage in collective bargaining, the Authority has negotiated bargaining agreements with its employees.

At the expiration of the agreement covering 1972, the Authority's marine operations employees commenced a strike in support of their economic demands against the Authority. Maintaining that the strike was prohibited by 24 V.I.C. § 64(b) (1970), the Authority sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctions. The District Court agreed that Section 64(b) proscribed this strike and granted the relief requested by the Authority. The Union appeals.

Section 64(b), in relevant part, provides:

Employees of the Government of the Virgin Islands or any agency thereof shall not have the right to strike or engage in any work stoppage whatsoever . . . .

24 V.I.C. § 64(b) (1970).

Since the Authority is expressly made a government instrumentality, Section 64(b) would seem to apply to the Authority's employees.*fn2 While there is no express provision in the Act granting the Authority's employees the right to strike, the Union contends that the Port Authority Act implicitly excepts Authority employees from the operation of Section 64(b).

The Union asserts that the Virgin Islands legislature granted the Authority complete autonomy in its labor relations, thereby evidencing an intention that the Authority and its employees conduct those relations as would a privately owned corporation and its employees. In support of its contention, the Union relies on the Authority's power to enter collective bargaining agreements with its employees and the exclusion of Authority employees from civil service protection. Neither point requires the inference that the legislature intended to exempt the Authority employees from Section 64(b).

Although the Authority is not expressly given the power to enter collective bargaining agreements, this power may be inferred from the Authority's powers to contract and to hire labor. This, however, does not place the Authority's employees on different footing from other government employees; the Virgin Islands Code recognizes the rights of all government employees to collectively negotiate with the government, 24 V.I.C. § 64(c) (1970), and directs government agencies to recognize employee organizations for the purpose of collectively bargaining and contracting with government employees. 24 V.I.C. § 64(d) (1970).*fn3

Thus, the only statutory provision from which Authority autonomy in labor relations may be inferred is the provision placing the Authority's employees outside the Personnel Merit System which grants certain protection to most government employees.*fn4 Not all other government employees enjoy the Merit System's protections, however, and the premise that the legislature did not deem it practical to afford those protections to all government employees does not mandate a conclusion that the legislature did intend to give excluded employees the right to strike. We conclude, therefore, that the Port Authority Act does not exempt Authority employees from Section 64(b)'s prohibition of strikes by government employees.

We note that Section 64(b) was passed after the Port Authority Act,*fn5 and had the legislature intended to exempt Authority employees from the clear terms of Section 64(b), it easily could have done so. The Union asserts that this was unnecessary because the Port Authority Act provides that its provisions control when inconsistent with other Virgin Islands statutes.*fn ...


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