By Johnnie Rosario
(Yigo, Guam) Front liners are not happy with a compromise bill that marks down the pay they have earned by 62 percent. The union that represents them is hopeful another bill introduced in the Guam Legislature passes that makes their members whole.
In every qualified emergency activation prior to this public health emergency, front liners earned, accrued, and were paid double their regular rate of pay for the hours they worked during the emergency. The front liners who have been working this emergency since March 14, had no reason to suspect otherwise until Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero stated so in her objections to the passage of Bill No. 326-35, which would have reinforced the double pay provision in the Department of Administration Personnel Rules and Regulations Rule 8.406.
By that time, the front liners had already worked a month into the emergency, many of them had accrued overtime working on Saturdays, and had not yet been paid for those hours.
The Guam Federation of Teachers began an outreach and political campaign to get nurses, police officers, medics, mayoral employees, and others paid what they have earned. Two Fridays ago, public health nurses took to the intersection of the ITC Building to protest against the governor's decision.
Sen. Joe San Agustin has been tracking the issue, writing to the governor to release the payments, and to the attorney general to issue an opinion. Attorney General Leevin Camacho did issue one, but cited Rule 8.406 in stating that front liners from Guam Memorial Hospital, Department of Public Health and Social Services, Guam Police Department, and Guam Fire Department don't qualify for the double pay because their agencies are open during the emergency.
The opinion doesn't jibe with the application of double pay in previous emergencies, when GMH, GPD, and GFD were open and their employees called to duty paid double time.
Sen. Jim Moylan and Congressman Michael San Nicolas also have chimed in, both presenting fiscal solutions for the governor to pay what the employees had earned: use CARES Act funding.
Mr. Moylan and Speaker Tina Muna Barnes participated in the nurses's protest and said they called on the governor to make the front liners whole. Yesterday Ms. Muna Barnes introduced Bill No. 359-35, which would allow the front liners to cash in no more than 120 out of 400 hours they worked between the start of the emergency and May 10. From thence forward, they would only be paid at regular rate.
Lyanne Mendiola, a licensed practical nurse with DPHSS, was chosen by her co-workers to speak for them. She tells the media:
"Though we are thankful and appreciative of the speaker’s intent on the Heroes Bill, we feel that it doesn't fully meet the terms of us front liners. This bill is trying to replace a legal obligation for pay the front liners already earned, with only a fraction of what is owed. "Perhaps they could let us understand their logic in all this, because from our interpretation we are afforded no more than 240 hours with 120 hours to be cashed out. Our concern is this, PCOR 1 lasted roughly 6 weeks, at 240 hrs, why are we only allotted 120hrs of cashing out? That's 3 weeks of pay. We are also concerned with why Robert Koss chose to agree to this without discussing it with whom he represents. If the nurses had been consulted about this, we would have helped the union to understand that it was saying yes to compensation for only 3 out of the last 8 weeks we worked. That really is a slap in the face. "Many front liners are upset - on one hand the politicians are forcing us to agree to this so we don't sound ungrateful, on the other, we find it extremely unfair. We will not choose the popular way, and continue to stand firm in our pursuit of fairness and accountability. Senator Telena Nelson’s bill seems more in line with fairness and presents itself with a clear and cut resolution." - Lyanne Mendiola, LPN, DPHSS
Vice Speaker Telena Nelson's Bill No. 357 will provide the double pay the GFT's members are fighting for, according to its president, Tim Fedenko, in a statement he released this afternoon.
"During a press conference Monday, May 18 ,GFT was made aware of Bill 357-35, introduced by Senator Telena Nelson that advocates for Double Pay to all employees," Mr. Fedenko stated. "GFT has also since learned that there is funding available that would support such a bill. We are not against any bill that supports our workforce. The better bill should win and we support any equity that supports our COVID-19 heroes. We do not know what the final bill will look like, however, if we feel our members have been equitably compensated without damaging our government and allowing money to be spent for others in need, we will seek alternative courses of action."