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Former GFT president: union laws never enabled

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by Michele Catahay

Guam - Amendments to the Guam Federation of Teachers' constitution have recently caused concerns from union members. While members want some answers as to why such changes were made without their knowledge, a former GFT president says these new laws were never implemented during her term years ago.

Elizabeth Taimanao Hanzsek was the head of GFT from 2001 through 2004. Prior to and during her tenure, elections were conducted every two years by members of the bargaining unit. According to the laws during her term, individuals are supposed to announce their candidacy and are usually sworn in during the last part of April.

Before, those qualified to become president had to be a member of the union and working full time at their positions. Unlike current president Matt Rector, Hanzsek wasn't a salary employee. She had a stipend of $200 per month.

She told KUAM News, "There was no such thing as a salary. That happened during Mr. Rector's time. That was never in my time. So I don't know how that happened. The presidency, any at large office position was not a salary employment. It wasn't even an employment."

Recent concerns were raised by GFT members and teachers at Agana Heights Elementary School. The group questioned why recent elections haven't been held for the president position, also questioning Rector's role as president and the head of the executive council.

GFT Steward Carol Sommerfleck says Rector's two positions don't allow checks and balances, saying, "I feel that position of the president has taken on a new, totally new position. I think the position of the president that still keeps on their full-time job.  If you're a firefighter, you're still a firefighter. If you're a teacher, you're still a full-time teacher. The executive council always had a separate position as the one who ran the day-to-day operations of the GFT."

Members also questioned why the GFT has added a fee for those wanting to leave the union. Hanzsek says that fee was never implemented during her time, saying, "That fee was never there. Originally, the membership card states that you can only withdraw from the union one year - that fee was imposed later. It wasn't there at my time."

Members even questioned why Rector failed to inform them about changes made to the constitution. According to Hanzsek, during her term it was much more difficult to make changes without input from members. Although changes have been made in the last several years, Hanzsek says doesn't even know what these changes are.

She said, "It's unclear as long as they inform them. I can give you two days notice, like, 'Hey, I'm going to make some amendments' because they changed that portion but, I know for a fact that in order for you to amend it, it would have to happen during general membership meetings and the membership has to be informed."

While Hanzsek says she's not implying that Rector be removed, she says he should be transparent about what's going on in the union, which currently has over 3,000 members, adding, "It's clear that there are some active members that want the president to be transparent in what is going on. That's all they're asking. Before, you can walk into the union office and you can walk back like nothing, like it was your home. Now you have a door and in order for you to go through that door, you have to go through the guards."

In the meantime, Sommerfleck says all she wants is answers. A couple of days ago, Rector turned her away after she requested to see the new constitution and financial documents.  "That information was not disseminated to the members to let them know that changes were occurring. A lot of us have been members way before they said they put it in. they should've put in more effort to let us know. Unfortunately, these are hard times," she said.

With the lack of transparency, Sommerfleck says she will take the issue until the end.  She concluded, "It does take a toll on me. But it's something that I feel that the way things have occurred, I feel like I need to take it to the end. He's actually spurred me on to take it to the end."

Rector declined to comment on the matter, only saying it's a GFT-internal issue and that it cannot be addressed at this time.

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