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Togiola seeks to cover $900K in unpaid ASG overtime

Government risks further USDOL sanctions for non-payment
fili@samoanews.com

The American Samoa government owes just over $900,000 in overtime pay to workers for the past two fiscal years and Gov. Togiola Tulafono has submitted for Fono review and approval a proposed appropriation bill to pay this amount as soon as possible, or ASG will be subject to further federal actions and penalties.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s investigation into possible underpayment of working hours and non payment of overtime for ASG and LBJ Medical Center first surfaced late last year when medical center officials revealed the federal probe during a House hearing.

Togiola, in a letter dated Sept. 24, 2012 and received by the Fono three days later, informed Fono leaders that the proposed legislation appropriates money to pay overtime hours to ASG employees, who were found by USDOL investigation to be owed payment of overtime hours they had accrued during fiscal years 2010 and 2011 under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

USDOL’s investigation "helped uncover and identify weaknesses in ASG’s overtime and compensatory time keeping policies,” the governor wrote. He said Human Resources Department and the Attorney General’s Office “have worked to develop policies which are compliant with the FLSA and these policies are currently being implemented to ensure that FLSA compliance issues are avoided in the future.”

In accordance with FLSA and to comply with the request by USDOL, such overtime hours accrued by employees during the last two fiscal years should be paid or further action  may be assessed against ASG, said Togiola, who urged the Fono to approve the proposed appropriation.

The total number of employees affected by the USDOL investigation was not made clear in the governor’s letter, nor the proposed appropriation which totals $916,093 with the highest amount of $839,667 allocated to the Department of Public Safety.

It's believed that the DPS payment covers overtime for police officers, who have long complained to the Fono and the news media about not receiving their overtime pay. During last month’s joint budget committee hearings, DPS officials submitted to the Fono a separate request to pay overtime as well as gas expenditures.

Other departments, agencies, and office allocations are as follows:

•            Judiciary             $17,009.38

•            Legislature             $1,031.97

•            Administrative Services             $6,779.30

•            Arts Council             $12,319.12

•            Commerce Department             $1,583.61

•            Education Department             $6,136.30

•            Governor’s Office             $205.50

•            Health Department             $6,448.68

•            Human and Social Services             $2,353.74

•            Human Resources Department                        $5,473.98

•            Marine and Wildlife Resources                        $502.73

•            Port Administration                        $10,668.83

•            Procurement Office                        $780.82

•            Treasury Department                        $3,325.54

•            Homeland Security Department            $1,806.39

Funding is to come from revenues collected through administration bills submitted early last year to the Fono. These bills are to raise excise taxes on tobacco, beer and alcohol, as well as business license fees and a new corporate franchise tax. However, these measures are considered by the Senate as already rejected.

The current session of the Legislature officially ends on Wednesday and it's very doubtful any action will be taken on this appropriation, unless the governor calls a special session and this bill is included in the call letter.

At press time, Samoa News was awaiting a response from the USDOL’s public affairs office in San Francisco on e-mail questions sent last Friday morning. USDOL did acknowledge receipt of the questions but said they will get back with the answers after gathering the information.

Among the questions asked of USDOL were: how many employees have been affected, and the total amount ASG is to repay workers.



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