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BREAKING NEWS: Governor denies emergency pay for GovGuam frontliners; emergency to last through July

By Troy Torres

(Tumon, Guam) GovGuam employees who have been working during the Coronavirus emergency may have reason to file a class action lawsuit: the governor won't be paying them the emergency pay rate they are entitled to by law.

For now, they must continue to work at the regular rate of pay. Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, in a veto letter on a bill passed unanimously by the Guam Legislature setting out hazard pay entitlements and reinforcing the emergency pay rate, stated in no uncertain terms her defiance of the law.

Since the activation of the emergency response in mid-March, government employees who have been called in to work have been entitled to pay at the rate of double their base pay. This is the standard rate of emergency pay for every declared federal emergency activation in Guam for decades, and is spelled out in the Government of Guam Personnel Rules and Regulations.

The emergency pay provision was reinforced in Bill No. 326-35 by Vice Speaker Telena Nelson. The bill mainly was about hazard pay, but was amended to include the emergency pay rate in the law itself.

The governor returned the bill to the Legislature today with her objections, also known as a veto of the measure.

"Should this measure become law, millions in cash must be paid in double pay and COVID-19 differential pay," Ms. Leon Guerrero stated in her objections addressed to Speaker Tina Muna Barnes today. "It is unclear if federal funds can be used to fund double pay as constructed in this measure."

The governor need not look far back in the books to find an answer. Federal Emergency Management Agency funds have been used to reimburse the government of Guam for the double pay incurred by government workers, who worked during previous emergencies.

The governor estimates that the double pay and hazard pay will cost $36 million, if the public health emergency runs through July, which she stated in her letter she anticipates.

Whether the double pay statutory reinforcement becomes law is beside the point, however. The government has an existing contractual payroll obligation to its employees who have been working and will be working under the public health emergency of the emergency pay rate.

The government has lost class action suits by employees and retirees in the past for payroll breaches that were less clear.

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