By Troy Torres
(NOTE: This is part two of a two-part report on nurses working at Guam Regional Medical City. We expanded our coverage in this part, which centers on double pay, to include the government's utilities agencies)
(Tumon, Guam) The Guam Federation of Teachers has put the government of Guam on notice that the school nurses working during the public health emergency are entitled to emergency pay of double their hourly rate. The Department of Education superintendent, however, is waiting for legal guidance on the matter, while the governor is refusing to pay it to any government employee earning that rate of pay during this emergency.
The discussion occurred this past Saturday in a meeting among GovGuam and GRMC officials with the GFT regarding the work conditions of eight Department of Education school nurses forced to work at GRMC by the governor.
"GFT and DOE want DOE nurses paid at 2.25 times base pay," GFT vice president Sanjay Sharma said, regarding the weekend meeting. Mr. Sharma said two deputy superintendents of education were at the meeting. The "2.25 times" refers to the sum multiplier of double pay plus hazard pay at the rate of 25 percent of base pay. This is standard for frontliners in any qualified emergency activation.
"[GMH administrator] Lillian [Perez-Posadas] said GRMC is not a COVID-19 hospital. so the nurses will get only 15 percent hazard pay," Mr. Sharma said of the government's response to GFT's demand for the school nurses to be paid according to the Government of Guam Personnel Rules and Regulations. "We are working on this."
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero on Tuesday night made it clear in a veto message to the Guam Legislature on a related matter that she will not be paying employees who have been working since March 14 (start of the emergency activation) the emergency rate of pay spelled out in Rule 8.4 of the GGPRR.
By contrast, the management of Guam Power Authority and Guam Waterworks Authority are paying their employees who are on the clock the double pay they are entitled.
Although DOE is a semi-autonomous agency of the government that issues payroll checks to its employees, its superintendent, Jon Fernandez, is not ready to issue backpay to his employees for the double pay entitlement, or to pay them at this rate moving forward.
Here is the conversation between Kandit and Mr. Fernandez:
KANDIT: Are [the nurses] getting the double pay they are entitled to?
FERNANDEZ: They will be getting the differential pay based on the Gov’s executive order as well as hospital differential pay depending on their assignments. Some details still remain to be worked out. I understand that GFT is pushing double pay but there is a need to sort through the executive orders to clarify this issue.
KANDIT: Is DOE pushing for its nurses and anyone else who may be working during this emergency to receive double pay, as set forth in Rule 8 of the GovGuam Personnel Rules and Regulations (this particular rule applies to all GovGuam instrumentalities)?
FERNANDEZ: We haven’t yet pushed for any particular pay yet except to ensure at a minimum that there is parity. So we are paying in accordance with the executive order. However, we know that the GFT has raised the issue and we will work with them to clarify the obligations to the employees.
KANDIT: Is it your position that the plain reading of the rule entitles your employees who work during this public health emergency be paid at double their rate of pay? Or is it your position that this is a gray area that the lawyers need to weigh in on?
FERNANDEZ: The second executive order declares all employees to be on regular duty subject to being told to report physically. The differential pay order then outlines that employees reporting as part of COVID-19 get differential pay. Whether this overrides other laws or agency rules needs to be clarified. It’s a gray area that may need to be further clarified as we make our way through this situation. Whatever employees are owed for their service on the front line, we should be willing to pay once it is all clarified. They are the ones putting themselves directly at risk to protect the community.
KANDIT: Sanjay Sharma told me that in a meeting with DOE either yesterday or today that DOE and GFT agree the nurses should be paid at 2.25x base (which is double pay for emergencies and 25% hazard pay at the regular rate). Please correct this assertion if what you know about what was said in that meeting is different from Sanjay's version.
FERNANDEZ: There was a meeting between GRMC and GDOE nurses but that part was not relayed to me. My deputy attended. Let me circle back. The lawyers have been asked to clarify the different laws, rules and executive orders. Awaiting their review. I would not be able to verify that except to say the my deputies informed me that that position was put forward by the GFT. GDOE’s official position is that we will pay employees what they are owed but I am awaiting legal review based on the various laws, rules and executive orders that have been issued.
KANDIT: So are the two deputies saying that Sanjay was incorrect in his statements to us about their position at that meeting?
FERNANDEZ: All of this is second hand. I guess you can quote Sanjay on his position and his observation. Neither of my deputies indicated an official position from the department, nor are they responsible for the personnel charged with implementing pay. They oversee the nurses and school principals. The deputy for finance and administrative services was not in attendance and she is the person working to ensure we are complying with all legal requirements. We were in attendance at the meeting due to concerns about working conditions and assignments. Having said that, we are aware of the GFT’s interpretation and will take that into account in our legal review. It’s important to us that we get final clarity on what is owed to employees and to ensure that they are treated equally and fairly. Whatever that amount ends up being, we will be requesting for reimbursement for those amounts.