Dr. Lockie Johnson’s board requested immediate dismissal of university employees


Dr. Lockie Johnson, president of the University of St. Martin (USM) Board of Directors, is authorizing the dismissal of retirement age employees who were just unionized by WIFOL.

According to USM lecturer and shopsteward Rhoda Arrindell, USM employees Mr. Richard Courtney and Ms. Aida Bryson, were given their "retirement" letter on behalf of the Lockie Johnson-headed board on January 16."The USM employees are particularly upset at the manner in which our senior colleagues had been informed of their dismissal, especially since we did not get an opportunity to say goodbye to two people that we have worked with closely for so many years and who we consider like family," said USM employee Michel Chance.The letters, dated January 14 and 16 respectively, stated to Courtney and Bryson that they were being "duly served notice effective immediately" and that they had "reached the age of retirement since a few years now."

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Bryson worked as the cleaner at USM since it opened in 1989, and Courtney was the facilities manager after he was removed from the position of financial controller. USM president Josianne Fleming-Artsen signed both letters. The employees were handed the letter in a meeting with Fleming and Valerie Gitterson-Pantophlet, a USM boardmember and former commissioner, said Arrindell. Retirement age here is 60, but Aida had worked up to the age of 64, including the day on which she was sent home. "For me it is especially sad to see Aida, treated like this, since she and I have worked together since 1989," said Arrindell. "She was a loyal employee to the company and never complained about her job, even when she was sick."Union president Theophilus Thompson said a decision like this is "unethical, humiliating, and an insult to the employee and could cause the employee to be physically, mentally, and spiritually ill as it could bring about stress and other ailments." The employees were handed the letter hours after Dr. Lockie Johnson and other board members, while though on the USM campus, failed to meet, for a second time, on January 15 with WIFOL.

Bryson and Courtney also received their letter hours after Arrindell warned on St. Maarten Island Time.com and in releases to other media about "subtle or open intimidation of the unionized staff by management or the board, such as firing or laying off, e-staffing with family members of board members, and salary obstacles, while at the same taking on new staff from the USA, some beyond the retirement age, to fill the place of the St. Maarten employee or laid-off staff member."

"For years before we joined the union we were told that the university has no money to pay us better salaries and improve job security and better educational services to our students."

"Yet Dr. Lockie Johnson’s board and management recently employed Kenneth Nolan as Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Ron Pribble as Dean, and a librarian – all from the USA."

"All three together are receiving salaries, amounting allegedly over US$100,000. We would need to find out if their housing and other benefits may be in addition to their salaries," said Arrindell.

Arrindell said she has no reason to think that Nolan, Pribble, and the librarian are being paid out of the US $1.7M pledged to USM in a fundraising drive in 2008."Paying salaries is not what donors such as Scotiabank, Westin, Nagico, the Wathey Family, and the public were told by the board that the money would be for," said Arrindell.

"The funds raised" by USM were reportedly for "securing and maintaining accreditation of its programmes and constructing more classrooms, laboratories, offices, a library, and other facilities," according to a Daily Herald article last year.

Ironically, pointed out Arrindell, "While Aida and Courtney are two true St. Martin servants of USM that are being told to retire now, after standing up for their rights to join a union and right before we get a chance to meet with Dr. Lockie Johnson’s board and management for better employee benefits, Nolan and Pribble are both thought to be over the retirement age. We may also have some more questions for the board and management about Nolan."

"We know that Willy Haize, Rene Richardson, the UDTSM are among those who fought hard for workers over the years and defeated bosses that were bullies, racist and tried to push St. Maarten people around while benefiting financially like a plantation bomba," said Arrindell.

Over the weekend Chance also looked at the treatment of Bryson and Courtney within a wider question, suggesting that there is a sentiment among his fellow employees that the USM board and management are taking "retaliatory action against employees for standing up for their rights."

"USM is a tertiary educational institute which must be about providing excellent education for the people of St. Maarten."

"What precedent is the board and management setting when they deal with employees in such an unethical and vindictive manner? What examples are they setting for the students that the institution is, and will be, educating?" asked Chance.