Labor Department reorganization approved by Puerto Rico Senate
SAN JUAN – In a day marked by debates on several of the Puerto Rico governor’s reorganization plans, the Senate ended its session Monday by approving the Reorganization Plan of the Labor & Human Resources Department, without holding public hearings and only with the support of the majority New Progressive Party (NPP).
The passage of Senate Concurrent Resolution 37 is a stepping stone to the beginning of the transition to the proposal that is expected to save the local Treasury Department more than $2.2 million the first year and about $11.5 million during the next five years. This sum is added to the annual savings of $851 million that the government hopes to achieve with other consolidations.
This plan would create the Auxiliary Office for Labor Relations that would be in charge of the operations currently carried out by the Public Service Appeals Commission, the Labor Relations Board and the Investigation, Processing and Appeals Commission. It will also assist the operations of the Office of Mediation and Adjudication and the Conciliation and Arbitration Bureau.
The proposal seeks to “avoid duplication of programs, efforts and expenses, transferring to the Department of Education the programs of the Training, Employment and Business Development Bureau and the Vocational Technology Education Bureau,” which currently fall under the Labor Department’s purview.
Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) minority Sen. Juan Dalmau, who voted against the measure, criticized that the plan seeks to consolidate three entities “with quasi-judicial powers, with adjudicative powers in worker-employer processes” in a support office, under the command of a secretary turned “adjudicating judge.”
“One of the arguments that is repeated in these reorganization processes that they propose is they guarantee savings to the public treasury. Although there are figures presented in the reorganization plan, […] apart from being a written expression, there is no type of evidence, there is no type of fiscal projection, there is no guarantee that these consolidations will in effect result in savings,” Dalmau said.
The lawmaker said he believes the priority of the government now must be “to protect the rights of workers, particularly female heads of household” and criticized that the assistant secretary would be appointed by the Labor secretary and not have to be confirmed by the senate despite possessing “enormous adjudicative powers of three entities.”
In a release, Ramón Rosario Cortés–Secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy of the governor’s office, La Fortaleza–requested the withdrawal of Reorganization Plans 1 and 4, which proposed changes to the Economic Development & Commerce Department (DDEC by its Spanish initials) and the Education Council, respectively.
“After submitted [plans 1 and 4], the Executive and the Legislative have brought communications to make changes to them. Since they cannot be amended, we will send the revised plans shortly to reorganize these two entities,” the La Fortaleza release reads.
With 21 NPP majority votes in favor and the opposition of Dalmau, the Popular Democratic Party caucus and independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, the proposal now passes to the House, which will meet again Feb. 15. The Legislature has until Feb. 17 to approve or reject the two reorganization plans that remain before their consideration.
The reorganization plan that seeks to create the Public Service Regulatory Board–which consolidates the operations of entities such as the Energy Commission, the Public Service Commission and the Telecommunications Regulatory Board–is still awaiting passage in both legislative chambers. The Senate is expected to address this plan during its session Wednesday.