Union says ‘neglect and frustration’ at heart of Airport remuneration conflict

** Exclusively on SXM Talks, articles by Ralph Cantave **

Sharon Cangieter (WICSU President) and Shevrin Francis (WICSU Shop Steward & ATC)
~ Dispute between Union and Management is the Core of Airport’s Disruption ~
Summary of the day’s events
The air traffic controllers (ATS) of the Princess Juliana International Airport (PJIA) held an emergency meeting with their union representative the Windward Island Civil Servants Union (WICSU/PSU) due to “neglect”, “frustration” and a lack of cooperation from the management of the airport stated union leader, Sharon Cangieter. The meeting began today at 7 am and was held at the WICSU/PSU headquarters in Philipsburg and ended at 5 pm.
Cangieter said that the ATS’s issues relate to their remuneration which was ongoing before her tenure in 2021. Cangieter also mentioned that she tried many times to negotiate with management to no avail. As a result of limited ATS staff, PJIA announced a scheduled closure of the airport at 6 pm “to ensure safety.” This notice was later updated to 9 pm. Cangieter clarified that the workers are not striking or on a go slow which was rumored on social media. She stated that there are a total of 21 ATS including supervisors and 15 of them are members of the union. Not all were present in today’s meeting and of those present several were not scheduled to work.
In a press statement released this afternoon PJIA CEO Brian Mingo stated he is concerned about the action’s of the union on the airport’s busiest day. “It sends a negative message to those out there looking at how we are recovering from Hurricane Irma and the COVID-19 pandemic”. As a result of today’s events the Court of First Instance requested the union to call on its members to report to work from 5pm or face a penalty of US $100,000. Cangieter responded to this by stating she spoke to Mingo during the day to meet the members however he was unavailable due to a family matter. Their hope was to meet Mingo at 1 pm but he informed her that he will update her at 7 pm this evening after his discussion with the board. Cangieter was also in contact with the Prime Minister, Silveria Jacobs who was “very understanding” of their situation and tried to quell the situation.
Background of the dispute
According to Cangieter there are employees who are functioning at scales above their pay grade and are not receiving their due remuneration. “In essence, it stems on our pension” Shevlin Francis, a shop steward and controller, stated in regards to the labor situation. Francis said that the clarion call from their former Chief Jan Brown was “to make it work” which has shaped their work ethic despite the frustrations.
Francis also stated year over year the controllers have lobbied regarding safety issues, scheduling of flights and infrastructure developments in order to assist them but that “kept falling on deaf ears.” “I’m very grateful for that work ethic from our former chief, however it’s to our detriment. Because the people who are responsible to ensure that all those things are all in place, including proper compensation, are not making it work. So we have a one-sided relationship” he concluded.
Canegieter also stated that when the members requested an outstanding cost of living adjustments (COLA) of 3% from 2018 to the first half of 2020, the counteroffer was 1% with conditions. They received no details of the conditions and the counter was rejected by the members. The unions and workers went back to the drawing board and following a meeting on December 15, 2021, they agreed on maintaining the 3% and canceling the retroactive amount. WICSU/PSU submitted their proposal on December 17, 2021 and according to Cangieter, ‘management said it was appealing.” PJIA management then responded stating the first week of January they’ll react to the proposal. The union decided to extend more time and grant a deadline of January 14, to allow management time to “come back with a concise response.” On January 11 WICSU/PSU received a two page letter via courier which rejected the proposal. With that the members were informed and concluded that “this is the last straw.”
The union spoke to the mediator who provided advice on the way forward and Cangieter stated she urged management to reconsider the proposal.  “This is not a comfortable situation for PJIAE and St. Maarten at large.” According to Cangieter, Mingo stated he needed time to review the proposal and “crunch the numbers.” On Friday, January 14, the two spoke and he stated that consideration is needed because his staff is limited due to Covid related issues. Cangieter questioned why the numbers weren’t crunched during the period previously provided and why Mingo didn’t request more time. According to Cangieter, Mingo requested a meeting with the Supervisory Board of the company on Monday, January 17 and he stated that he has a proposal “that might make everyone happy.” She asked if the union members could peruse the proposal but Mingo stated it requires approval by the board.
Francis concluded that the concerns of the ATS are vital because they also manage the arrival, departures and in-between flights of 5 other airports. Besides their remuneration, job safety, staff reinforcement, improvements of the runway and other resources to help them enhance operations are at the forefront of the issues. “We always think about the sake of the economy, not only this economy but all the other economies that are affected by the work that we do” Francis noted.
Efforts to contact the CEO for further clarification on what took place were unsuccessful.

– By Ralph Cantave



  1. We understand the controller’s issues sounds like the airport dose not want to pay the employee’s what they are due.
    But we have been waiting to leave from Fort Lauderdale our was flight cancelled after being at the airport all day. So at our cost we had to get to Miami by cab, a hotel, cabs to the airport and again load on the plane and sit on the runway for 31/2 hours only to be cancelled again. We also waited 41/2 hours for our bags and another 2 nights in a hotel more cabs because we couldn’t rebook till Tuesday.
    Like I said all at our expense, money that we were going to spend on the island shopping eating in restaurants grocery stores car rentals.
    Well I guess the controller’s finally called their bluff and it worked they will never know the full extent of the cost of this.
    The government of St Martin doesn’t want the information to get out to the travelling public so there doesn’t seem to be any reporting of the strike and as of today no news if the strike is still happening so wondering if we should get on a flight tomorrow only to be turned away for a third time and if this happens it will be a long time before I think about going to the island that we have loved visiting very sad.

  2. When the colonial regime wants to shoot with bullets full of penalties this could backfire as well.
    Mingo, c.s., don’t think you are not vulnerable.