Emergency session ended Thursday shy of an hour and without any debate on four bills drafted to address double pay and other compensation matters for essential government workers. Instead, the bills were referred to the committee on appropriations and lawmakers agreed to have them publicly heard on May 29. The bills were introduced this week.
Many front-line government workers argue they are owed pay at double the regular rate for work done during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bills were introduced in response to these concerns and to a recent opinion from the attorney general, which clarified rules around double pay but also pointed to apparent disparities in their application. A condition to double pay is that the work facility must be closed, which would seem to rule out certain nurses and other workers whose facilities do not close during emergencies.
Except in certain autonomous agencies, essential government workers were not paid double during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Department of Administration Director Edward Birn argued that facilities in which they worked were not closed and the other employees were not on excused leave, so the requirements for double pay were not met.
A lawsuit has now been filed by attorney Thomas Fisher on behalf of a police officer, and another, from the Guam Federation of Teachers, is expected soon.
But other than the legal interpretation, another issue with double pay is the cost. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero said she did not know how much double pay would cost the government of Guam.
"I would like to see how much it would cost the government of Guam. And I, being fiscally responsible and fiscally disciplined, would need to know what that means in terms of how the impact is in the finances of our government, and am I able to still continue on with the public services we so need in our community," the governor said Thursday afternoon.
Furloughs may be needed if GovGuam is required to pay double out of the General Fund, she's said in the past.
Speaker Tina Muña Barnes is a sponsor of one of the bills to be heard next week, Bill 359-35. This measure would grant leave, up to 240 hours, for classified essential workers, who would also have the option to cash out up to 120 of those hours. This bill hasn't been popular with front-line workers, who have been more favorable toward Bill 357-35 from Vice Speaker Telena Nelson. This bill allows double pay to certain essential workers. The vice speaker also introduced Bill 358-35, which codifies the differential pay established by the governor and sets it retroactive to the beginning of the public health emergency, in March.
On Tuesday, Sens. Joe San Agustin and Kelly Marsh introduced Bill 361-35, which covers classified and unclassified employees working during any emergency. It sets double pay as the maximum compensation an employee can get while working during an emergency.