Puerto Rico Labor Secretary ‘frustrated’ over job losses at Sam’s Club
SAN JUAN — Puerto Rico Labor & Human Resources Secretary Carlos Saavedra assured he was “frustrated” over the closure of three Sam’s Club establishments on the island, which had an impact on hundreds of local employees Thursday.
“[This is] another blow, which isn’t what we needed, but it happened. We are talking about nearly 700 people. It is frustrating because that corporation is taking this action and decided to impact Puerto Rico [at this time] with what we are going through after Hurricane Maria; but this [also] affected Texas, Florida, New York, Arkansas, so it is still a negative impact,” Saavedra commented during a WKAQ 580 radio interview.
The official said that on Thursday several government agencies activated an immediate response plan to assist dismissed employees under the Economic Development & Commerce Department’s Labor Development Program.
Saavedra explained that the program includes assistance for unemployment, job offers through the employment service of the Labor & Human Resources Department, workshops to update résumés, interview skills, and assistance from the Family and Health departments.
As for Labor services, he indicated that the department provides unemployment insurance and, although he acknowledged it does not replace having a regular salary, it serves as transitional assistance.
As for Sam’s Club, “the company announced, in compliance with the federal law known as the ‘WARN Act,’ that people will keep collecting [their pay] for 60 days. In addition, they indicated that part of the group [from Sam’s Club] will be able to join other stores. In addition, the company emphasized that if employees were hired before Jan. 26, 2017, prior to the labor reform, that there would be no changes to their employment terms,” he said.
“I know they always try to qualify this issue as related to labor reform; I believe the people already understand that discourse is a little trite, but the state will certainly provide unemployment assistance,” Saavedra added.
The decision to close three Sam’s Club discount warehouses and eliminate duties from its central offices in Caguas is not directly related to the devastating onslaught by Hurricane Maria last September, as revealed to Caribbean Business by Walmart U.S. public relations spokesperson Daniel Morales, after multiple attempts to inquire about the determination that affects the hundreds of employees who have also lost their jobs.
Morales explained that the closures were a corporate move that had been scheduled since last year to perform structural changes and strengthen the chain’s presence.
“This really has more to do with the fact that last year a new strategy was announced for Sam’s Club business, and since then it has continued to make changes in its position, so the company continues to grow in a healthy way. These changes will affect communities and our associates but we remain committed to the island, as well as to Walmart,” Morales said.
As for the strategy to “better” position the brand, the Walmart spokesperson said that at this time he doesn’t have information regarding the existence of plans for expansion in Puerto Rico. However, he announced that the starting wage increase, from $9 to $11, which goes into effect in mid-February–along with an in increase to some fringe benefits–applies to Puerto Rico.
With the closure of two establishments in Bayamón, plus Barceloneta and Humacao, along with Carolina’s Los Colobos on July 19, Sam’s Club’s presence on the island has been reduced to seven establishments. The membership club celebrates its 25th anniversary in Puerto Rico this year.
The MSSS human resources company announced Friday that it has job opportunities for displaced Sam’s Club employees.
The HR company’s executive director, Alma Iris Acosta, mentioned that her offices and staff are also available to receive the dismissed employees and help them identify new opportunities, prepare résumés and provide the tools needed so they may be successful in interviews.
To access the employment services, visit the main MSSS office at 145-A Roosevelt Ave. in Hato Rey, San Juan. Open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Appointments can be scheduled at 787- 758-7700.