Tempers flare during Bill 223 hearing - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Tempers flare during Bill 223 hearing

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A public hearing on legislation that intends to increase wages for Port Authority personnel got a bit heated this morning as there was some debate among lawmakers about the standing rules and a conflict of interest. 

Senator Frank Blas Jr. asked his colleague, Senator Matt Rector, "Are you still president of the Guam Federation of Teachers?" Rector confirmed and when asked by Blas if there was a conflict, the Democrat lawmaker said he didn't think so. Blas then asked, "Are you in negotiation with the Port Authority?" When Rector denied it, the Republican lawmaker then rephrased the question asking, "Is the gft as a union negotiating with the Port?" Rector declined to answer and said, "Mr. chair, if we want to bring this up in an ethics committee then feel free to do so but this is about interrogating a senator that's sitting on this panel in his duly elected place."

It was obvious tensions were high during this morning's public hearing on Bill 223.  "My basic thing is look, Senator please don't threaten me and I will continue to do what people expect me to do," Senator Blas said.  It was later determined that Rector could participate on the panel even though he is the president of the Guam Federation of Teachers-the same union that is currently representing Port operations and maintenance divisions in collective bargaining negotiations with Port management.

While Rector questioned whether the legislation would be fair to port employees, Port Board Chair Monte Mesa urged lawmakers to support the bill saying doing so would cement a strong foundation for the port.  "We just have not succeeded yet in compensating them with that they deserve based on their performance. Mr. chair, this legislation has been thoroughly vetted and studied it is a culmination of months and months of challenge worked," Mesa explained.

But Asan resident Daniel Sommerfleck, who is also on retainer with the GFT and was participating in the collective bargaining at the Port, testified that before lawmakers look at compensating employee at the autonomous agency, they first need to begin negotiations. He told lawmakers, "What's most important to them is not what you anticipate. What's most important to them is the working conditions they work in. What's more important is knowing that the piece of equipment they're going to be using is going to be safe and if it's not safe, it's pulled off the line and not put back on the line until it's deemed safe."

While negotiations continue with some divisions at the Port, ultimately the decision on whether to pass Bill 223 is left in the hands of lawmakers.

By: Mindy Aguon

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