Government Retirees United For Fairness (GRUFF) took the opportunity Monday evening to have one of its key issues heard before the VI Legislature where it received unanimous* approval for the return of the 8 percent removed from their retroactive checks.
GRUFF, made up of retirees who were unsatisfied with how the government had handled a retroactive salary payment, began holding meetings last fall at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School. During their meetings they discussed several GERS-related issues, decided to hire an attorney, and began requesting $50 “dues” from all persons attending the meetings.
During GRUFF’s first meeting, retirees signed petitions requesting that the Legislature consider the group’s concerns. These petitions, containing hundreds of signatures, is what prompted the legislative session as a Regular Session by Petition.
The several hundred-member St. Thomas based group, headed by Helen Hart and Barbara Isaac, had two major issues that they felt needed to be addressed. The first issue revolved around the 8 percent taken from a retroactive check retirees received in 2010. They felt that, as retirees, the 8 percent should not have been removed from their monies because it represented the routine GERS contribution that would only be made by an active employee. The second issue relates to retirees receiving a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).
On Monday evening the 14 Senators present in the Legislative chamber agreed with the retirees and granted their request to have the funds returned to all retirees who had the 8 percent incorrectly removed from their retroactive monies. Amendment to Bill Number 30-0318, sponsored by Senators Alecia “Chucky” Hansen, Tregenza A. Roach, Shawn-Michael Malone, Donald G. Cole and Sammuel Sanes, instructs the GERS “ to refund to the retirees any such contribution withheld from the payment of retroactive wages” and to do so within 90 days of the effective date of the Act.
Two additional points were discussed in relation to the return of retiree retroactive payments. The first had to do with retirees having spent four years waiting for this opportunity to receive the 8 percent wrongfully withheld. Joseph B. Arellano, the attorney hired by GRUFF, indicated that it was only fair that his clients also receive adequate interest on the money that had been withheld. Arellano proposed 9 percent per annum as an appropriate interest rate.
The second point was brought up by the Bill’s sponsor Senator Hansen. She felt that it was inappropriate for retirees to have to hire an attorney to threaten litigation in order to “make retirees whole.” Instead, Senator Hansen suggested that the Legislature find a means whereby funding could be identified to pay the attorney fees so that seniors could benefit from the return of the entire 8 percent that was withheld.
Although Bill Number 30-0318 passed the Committee of the Whole, it still needs to go to the Governor for his signature. GRUFF expects that the Governor will support this measure.
The two additional points, payment of the 9 percent interest and payment of GRUFF’s attorney are expected to be brought up for discussion by Senator Hansen at the Session to be held on April 8th.
Senator Clarence Payne was unavailable to attend this session and was officially excused.